Last April, former conflict of interest commissioner Ted Hughes released 62 recommendations to repair British Columbia child protection system - recommendations the Campbell administration has committed to act on. So it seems somewhat curious children and family development deputy minister Lesley du Toit doesn't reference his British Columbia Children and Youth Review in any correspondence she sent between May 1, 2006 and December 8, 2006. This, according to a New Democrat freedom of information request response released today.
Asked for comment, Children and Family Development Minister Tom Christensen told reporters, "What I'm interested in is not the words that are used by the work that is being done. And, if we reflect on the work that the deputy minister is doing with the aboriginal community, the work that's going on around transformation and how we're engaging communities and regions and how we make decisions, that's all very consistent with a number of the recommendations Mr. Hughes has made. So I'm comfortable in terms of the work my deputy is doing that is relevant to Hughes. I'm committed - and the government remains very committed - to implement the recommendations." The following is are edited selections from that scrum.
Media Maybe you can explain to us why there aren't any emails from Lesley du Toit referencing the Hughes report within this time frame?
Minister Christensen Well, as I said in the house, we very much appreciate the work Mr. Hughes did and the recommendations that he's made. And the government's commitment to implementing those recommendations. We established a transition team at the time we received Mr. Hughes's report so that we'd have a strong team in place to ensure implementation ocurred. That team is led by the deputy attorney general. So that's where the leadership at the public service level is coming from. That work is ongoing. We've made significant progress in terms of the recommendations that are specific to the ministry of children and family development. I think it's worth recalling that Mr. Hughes actually was encouraged by a number of the shifts the ministry was making. And he encouraged us in that work in terms of how we're working with aboriginal communities. That work has continued throughout the course of the last year and will continue. The deputy minister - my deputy minister - is key to that work. We've implemented the recommendation to establish the independent officer of the legislature. That legislation was passed within days of when Mr. Hughes's recommendations came down. Government acted very quickly. We're happy the representative is now in place. We're looking forward to working with her and getting her input in terms of some of the recommendations going forward. And we've added staff within the ministry. We've focused on quality assurance. So that work is being done.
Media But Tom, doesn't it seem odd to you that, given how much Lesley communicates via email - and goodness knows I've received more than a few of them - that she wouldn't at some point in time, as the deputy minister responsible for MCFD, reference the Hughes report in her emails?
Minister Christensen Again, what I'm interested in is not the words that are used by the work that is being done. And, if we reflect on the work that the deputy minister is doing with the aboriginal community, the work that's going on around transformation and how we're engaging communities and regions and how we make decisions, that's all very consistent with a number of the recommendations Mr. Hughes has made. So I'm comfortable in terms of the work my deputy is doing that is relevant to Hughes. I'm committed - and the government remains very committed - to implement the recommendations.
Media Do you have a timeline in mind for covering all these 62 recommendations?
Minister Christensen I think it would be irresponsible of me to give you a specific timeline. But we're going to continue working on them. Some of them we believe would be helped by some input from the representative. So, once she's firmly established in her office, I think that will help on that front. And we'll continue this work. What I will add is that if the leader of the Opposition has concerns about specific recommendations, I'm more than happy to hear those concerns from her and to follow-up on those. Mr. Hughes made one recommendation that the Opposition is key to assisting in implementing that. And that is to try to take some of the partisan politics out of issues to deal with children and youth. I've seen no indication that the government wants to do that.
Media Can you explain the difference between transformation at the ministry and the recommendations in the Hughes report? Because I know that might be a relevant question for a lot of people.
Minister Christensen Well, the ministry is undergoing a process of transformation that I believe Mr. Hughes reflected on in his report where we're doing much more to engage aboriginal communities in defining the direction that government should be going and delivering services to those communities. So that's a key element of transformation. It's a key direction that Mr. Hughes was encouraging in. And Mr. Hughes made a number of other recommendations that supported that around the need to hire more aboriginal social workers. We've implemented steps forward around that. One is a new program at UNBC where we've just - I believe - graduated the first ten people that will be specialized in child protection that are aboriginal students. That's a big step forward. That's going to make a big difference in the north. That's consistent with Hughes. So we're very much on the right path. And I believe we'll continue on this path.