British Columbia

Q&A: Meet B.C.'s new child advocate Bernard Richard

Richard, replacing Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, is a former child and youth advocate for New Brunswick

CBC News

November 16, 2016

Bernard Richard, who was the former ombudsman and child and youth advocate for New Brunswick, is replacing Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond as B.C.'s representative for children and youth.

From lawyer to social worker to politician, New Brunswick's Bernard Richard is bringing plenty of experience to his new role as B.C.'s representative for children and youth.

Richard, who has been New Brunswick's ombudsman and child and youth advocate, will be replacing outgoing B.C. representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond.

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Turpel-Lafond praised the appointment of Richard, and said she was confident it will be a smooth and effective transition. 

Stephanie Cadieux, the minister of children and family development, said she looked forward to supporting Richard's advocacy work.

He is scheduled to begin his position on Nov. 28.

On Wednesday, he spoke with host Rick Cluff of CBC's The Early Edition.

Rick Cluff: Why did you want this job?

Bernard Richard: One could wonder [laughing]. Certainly, this kind of work is something that I've been totally committed to for the last decade or more.

I have no doubt it will be challenging, but it is an opportunity for me to continue to contribute in a different geographic location, but on issues that I'm familiar with and totally committed to.

What's been your experience working with outgoing representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond?

She's fantastic! I couldn't say enough about her. I'm a big fan, and we were both appointed at the same time in 2006 as the first child and youth advocates for our respective provinces. We've worked on certain initiatives together in the perspective of the Canadian Council of Child and Youth Advocates, so I know of her work and I'm humbled by the fact I'm asked to follow in her footsteps.

Was your role as children and youth advocate in New Brunswick similar to the role of representative for children and youth in B.C.?

Some of the issues are the same. In New Brunswick, I spent a great deal of time on the youth criminal justice system relating to Ashley Smith. Her awful death is known nationally. She died in a women's institution in Kitchener, Ont., but spent her youth here in New Brunswick and a fair bit of time in the youth correctional centre here.

I will certainly speak truth to power when that needs to be done. - Bernard Richard

I've investigated the quality of child protection services in First Nations in New Brunswick after the tragic death of a young girl in foster care. It's obligated me to learn more about the conditions of First Nations in Canada, and I've been appalled.

You've worked on both sides of government. Here in B.C., there have been times when the relationship between the province and the youth advocate has been quite tense. Is that unavoidable?

I think in large part it is. The nature of the beast is that you can't be too friendly.

My own life changed almost overnight when I left the legislature and was appointed the ombudsman. I lost all my friends, and I couldn't go to the restaurant with any of my former colleagues.

It really changes your perspective. It forces you to be truthful and honest about what needs to be done. You're not trying to make it sound better because you have to tow some kind of party line or something.

On the other hand, it's necessary to be civil. I have a reputation for being blunt at times, but also respectful. I will certainly speak truth to power when that needs to be done.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

With files from The Early Edition


To listen to the interview, click on the link labelled Meet B.C.'s new child advocate Bernard Richard

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