The ministry of children and family development made $560,120 in renovations to the fourth floor of its Victoria headquarters, Public Eye has learned. That amount was $300,000 more than the original budget suggested the ministry's executive financial officer Sarf Ahmed. This, according to documents obtained via a freedom of information request. And it included spending $41,500 on a consultant who was to "incorporate design elements that create a warm, welcoming environment" for the First Nations community. Among those elements: an $8,500 seven-foot cedar totem pole and additional art pieces totalling $21,877.51.
An information note dated January 24, 2007 also states the renovations were, in part, undertaken to "create a larger meeting space filling in a much needed and long standing shortage of a suitable sized room" to host gatherings of 50 people or more.
In an email, top ministry bureaucrat Lesley du Toit stated the "Minister agrees on why we are doing (the renovations) and is OK with going ahead." Indeed, children and family development communications director Barb Wright defended its cost, saying the renovations are "$68,762 less than a typical project for B.C. government office space of a similar size."
But provincial New Democrat children and family development critic Nicholas Simons slashed out at the expenditure, saying, "I think most First Nations and aboriginal people would like the ministry to focus on more important things like maybe reducing the number of aboriginal children coming into ministry care, maybe making sure social workers are adequately resourced. And they should probably pay a little more attention to substance over style."