Randy Hawes and Christy Clark offered up two very different visions of what MLAs are supposed to be doing on Monday.
And our democracy, and society, would be a lot better if more politicians acted like Hawes.
In the morning, New Democrat Nicholas Simons introduced a motion calling on the government to halt the closing of group homes for people with mental handicaps.
About 65 have been closed, almost 10 per cent, often forcing long-time residents into new, less supportive settings. Community Living B.C., the Crown corporation delivering services to people with developmental disabilities, is trying to cut costs.
The motion was a gesture. It will never be passed.
Liberal MLA Kevin Krueger, briefly the minister responsible for CLBC, spoke against it. The closures are good, he said, everything is fine. Nanaimo Liberal MLA Ron Cantelon offered the same general view.
A couple of New Democrats, as expected, supported the motion put forward by Simons.
And then Hawes spoke. He talked about the concerns his constituents had raised. A man in his 70s, with a wife slipping into Alzheimer’s, had cared for their developmentally disabled son for 50 years.
The father still wanted to care for his son, and his wife, and thought he could — if he get two more days a week of respite care.
But CLBC couldn’t provide it, so the man faced the “heartbreaking choice” of placing his son in care, which would cost the government much more, Hawes recounted.
A single mother, who had worked and raised and supported her mentally handicapped daughter who needed round-the-clock care, was told supports would be cut when the girl turned 19. The mom was told she would have to quit her job, go on welfare and try to provide the care her daughter needed.
Hawes said this just wasn’t right. He said the former minister responsible, Harry Bloy, had told the legislature no clients were being forced out of group homes against their will. That wasn’t true, he said.
Simons’s motion was simplistic, said Hawes, MLA for Abbotsford-Mission.
But something has gone wrong, he continued.
There should be a “top-to-bottom examination of CLBC, which included the parents and the self-advocates that originally set this up.”
And while that’s happening, Hawes said, the government should immediately provide services to those who need them.
“We need to give those families that today aren’t seeing hope… We need to give them hope, and we need to give it them now,” he said.
About two hours later, CLBC was the topic in question period, the 30 minutes allocated for the opposition to raise issues with the government. The New Democrats, again, pressed Premier Christy Clark for a review of CLBC and a moratorium on group home closures.
Clark said the government is spending quite a lot — about $50,000 per client a year, if you count welfare — on people with developmental disabilities.
But she rejected, again and again, calls for an independent review of CLBC — the “top to bottom examination” Hawes had urged.
And then Clark offered up something revealing.
New Democrat Carole James prefaced a question with a reference to the “heartbreaking stories from families about a lack of care for their children.” She cited the case of a mentally handicapped woman forced from the group home she had lived in for 19 years.
Clark said the opposition is being negative.
“And you know what?” she said. “I don’t necessarily begrudge them that. I used to sit as children and families critic. I know the game the member is playing.”
I didn’t realize Clark was playing a game back then, as I watched the debates. I thought the lives of children at risk were important enough that MLAs would be serious and honest.
Just like Hawes on the lack of support for people with developmental disabilities,
“In the over 10 years that I’ve been in this legislature, there’s no issue that’s caused me more loss of sleep or more concern for those most vulnerable people,” he said. “We need to act now.”
I’d rather have an MLA who loses sleep than one who thinks the legislature is a place to play political games.