By Shari Narine
Opposition leaders have joined forces, calling on the Alberta government to have its recently announced ministerial panel to focus on recommendations already in-hand to improve the lives of children in care.
In a press conference attended by all four opposition party leaders Dec. 13, Alberta Party leader Greg Clark singled out for attention the Richter report, tabled with the government in February 2015.
Ted Richter was mandated by then Progressive Conservative Minister of Human Services Heather Klimchuk to chair a Child Intervention Implementation Oversight Committee. The committee was to “guide action … to improve outcomes for children and ensure action on priorities and recommendations for improving the Child Intervention system.”
Klimchuk also directed the oversight committee to focus on the over-representation of Aboriginal children and families in the child intervention system.
“We know what’s wrong. We need to set about fixing it,” said Clark.
Last week, Human Services Minister Irfan Sabir fought off calls for his resignation over the failures of his department in the death of Serenity, a four-year-old child in kinship care. Instead of resigning, he announced the creation of an all-party ministerial panel that would deliver immediate and long-term recommendations for changes to strengthen the child intervention system.
Prior to Sabir’s announcement of a panel, interim PC leader Ric McIver called for an all-party committee.
McIver said Sabir’s terms of reference made the panel “a sham for a government currently whitewashing the incompetence of at least two of its ministers.” He said Sabir was proposing a panel that would meet behind closed doors, would “muzzle” the opposition, and would limit what the public could know about the proceedings. It would also mean that Sabir, who would sit as an ex officio member, would not be required to answer questions.
McIver said the terms of reference presented by the opposition parties are for “a streamline children in care panel that would work rapidly and effectively to make substantive changes to the child intervention system.”
Along with focusing on previous recommendations, the minister could be questioned, frontline workers given protection to speak freely, and, as deliberations would occur in the public forum, Albertans could have confidence in the process.
“What we’re looking for is .. a nice accountable, public effort to deal with the shortfalls. Shortfalls by our government, shortfalls by the current government. All of it needs to be talked about,” said McIver.
The opposition parties have reeled in their calls for Sabir’s resignation, stating it was more important to work with the government to ensure no more children in care were abused or died.
Wildrose leader Brian Jean said they would wait to hear the government’s response to the framework proposed by the opposition parties before making a decision on whether or not to participate in the process.
Premier Rachel Notley said Wednesday that there was room for negotiations regarding the panel’s framework.
“There are elements of what the opposition put forward that I think we can absolutely incorporate into the terms of reference. We’re still working on them,” Notley said at her year-end news conference.
She also said that seats will remain open on the all-party ministerial panel for whenever opposition members decided to join the process.
“This (is a) collective desire to make progress on an issue that quite frankly has challenged governments across partisan lines, across jurisdictions, across decades,” said Notley.
Serenity was the focus of the most recent investigative report by the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate. The four-year-old First Nations girl died from a traumatic head injury in September 2014 after being placed in kinship care. Her death sparked outrage because of what wasn’t included in the report—that she had been suffering from serious hypothermia, catastrophic malnutrition, and sexual abuse—and then the subsequent knowledge that the RCMP were not active in the case—despite what the NDP claimed.
The RCMP were only given the necessary documentation on Dec. 6, 2016. Sabir refused to blame any individuals or agencies and instead took responsibility for the delays.