British Columbia

Province's watchdog for children says government 'retaliated' against her

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond will end her 10 year stint as the province's representative for children and youth today and says the province often moved slowly and in some cases treated her as a 'member of the opposition and intentionally targeted' her.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond wraps up her 10 year stint as B.C.'s representative for children and youth today

A woman speaks into a microphone.
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond on Oct. 24, 2016, her final day as B.C.'s representative for children and youth. (CBC)

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond will end her 10 year stint as the province's representative for children and youth today and says the provincial government often moved slowly and in some cases retaliated against her.

"At times I felt there was a spirit of retaliation towards me," she said in an end-of-term interview.

"At the same time I couldn't get distracted by the Victoria parlour games, I had to stay focused on kids which is what I have done. This is an essential position, the work has to be done in a non-political way.

"Even though at times they have treated me as a member of the opposition and intentionally targeted me in that regard to destabilize my work."

B.C. Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond says the provincial government moved too slowly to put in place many recommendations. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Decreasing number of kids in care

One of the Turpel-Lafond's proudest accomplishments has been lowering the number of children in care from 11,000, 10 years ago to 7,000 now.

But the province's watchdog for children blames current Minister of Children and Family Development Stephanie Cadieux for not increasing wage rates for care workers as the primary reason for why that number didn't go even lower. 

Stephanie Cadieux, Minister of Children and Family Development, is accused of moving too slowly by Turpel-Lafond (CBC)

"I would have liked her to have brought more spirit of change. I think she has been very slow on improvements," said Turpel-Lafond.

"I am confident I could have got [children in care] to 4,000 if the government would have actually paid foster care rates to Aboriginal kinship placements. We could have gotten more Aboriginal children out of care."

Finding a replacement 

Minister Cadieux's office turned down an interview request about Turpel-Lafond's tenure coming to an end.

A parliamentary committee was struck in the spring to find a replacement for Turpel-Lafond but so far no one has been hired.

This has created concerns that the job will remain empty for months, with dust already accumulating on the empty shelves and desk in the representative's office. 

"It's hard not having the transition. It's disappointing despite the committee being struck in April, we are here in October ... and it doesn't appear I will be able to play any role in that transition," said Turpel-Lafond.

"The hiatus causes a lot of stress and anxiety for a lot of people whose cases need urgent attention."

By the numbers

Since the Representative for Youth's office was created in 2006, it has handled more than 17,000 cases, delivered 92 reports and provided the government more than 200 recommendations.

Paige, 19, died of a drug overdose after a troubled life on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. (B.C. Children's and Youth Representative)

When asked about one report that stood out, Turpel-Lafond mentioned the Paige report.

It uncovers the story of an aboriginal teen on the Downtown Eastside who for years suffered abuse and neglect, persistent inaction from front-line professionals and an indifferent social care system.

Paige died of an overdose in 2013 when she was 19-years-old.

Turpel-Lafond will now take some time off to spend time with her children, joking she is dropping from, "a daily caseload of about 200 a day to four kids of my own."

With files from The Early Edition