How much would a child advocate cost? asks P.E.I. Green leader

Questions around how much it would cost P.E.I. to create an office for a child advocate during question period led to charges from the premier the opposition parties are "more concerned about themselves" in their dogged pursuit of the position.

Opposition “more concerned about themselves” in dogged pursuit of oversight position, premier maintains

P.E.I.'s lack of a child advocate became a topic in the provincial legislature once again on Wednesday. According to official records it's at least the 19th time since the fall of 2015 the issue has been brought up in the House.

Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker asked the premier during question period how much it would cost the province to create an office for a child advocate.

"Some may suggest the government is just being stubborn in refusing to act on repeated calls for a child advocate," he said.

"But I believe that, actually, every member of this Legislature is sincerely committed to the wellbeing of every single Island child. Therefore, I ask the Premier to table all of the research and analysis, including costs that informed his decision to reject calls for a child advocate."

Green party leader Peter Bevan-Baker in debate in the P.E.I. Legislature. (P.E.I. Legislative Assembly.)

P.E.I. is the only province in Canada without a child advocate. A 2015 inquest into the murder-suicide deaths of four-year-old Nash Campbell and his mother Patricia Hennessey resulted in 15 recommendations from the jury, including that P.E.I. create a position for a child advocate.

As a result, the province's chief coroner asked government to "assess the need" for the position. Ultimately, government decided against creating one, saying other improvements to services and protections for children would achieve the same end.

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Government avoiding independent oversight, says Green leader

During Wednesday's debate in the legislature, Bevan-Baker suggested government has shown itself to be "extremely uncomfortable with independent oversight of its work," alluding to the independent and sometimes critical view child advocates in other provinces have taken when it comes to government services and protections for children.

That led to a charge from Premier Wade MacLauchlan that opposition parties have been trying to serve their own ends by continuing to press for the position.

Premier Wade MacLauchlan on the floor of the P.E.I. Legislature. (P.E.I. Legislative Assembly)

"I think there is a basic difference here," he told the House, comparing government's view with that of the opposition parties.  

Opposition 'more concerned about themselves': Premier

"As government, we believe in a professional public service that will give service and work together with the proper resources and the proper team to protect children in this province. I believe the opposition is more concerned about themselves because they want to – because they don't really expect to be in government and they just want somebody who's going to serve the opposition."

Afterwards, Bevan-Baker described the notion that a child advocate would serve the opposition as "a bizarre response."

I just found the whole response rather unusual.- P.E.I. Green leader Peter Bevan-Baker

"An independent of the child advocate is there to serve children. That's what it's about. It's about looking after the welfare of children. … It's giving children a voice."

Bevan-Baker said the position for a children's lawyer government has created as part of its response to the inquest recommendations "just looks after one aspect of what a child advocacy office does in other jurisdictions. We need to widen that mandate."

"I just found the whole response rather unusual."

Focus on front-line services, says MacLauchlan

"My point on that is that we favour front-line services," the premier explained afterwards. "The children's advocate does not provide a front-line service directly to children and families. That's where I make the distinction between our approach and the position that we've heard repeatedly from the opposition."

When asked about his suggestion opposition parties were advocating out of self-interest, MacLauchlan said: "There's always in question period the opportunity to have a little test between opposition and government, and I wouldn't take it any farther than that."

In assessing the need for a child advocate, MacLauchlan told reporters government had conducted a review of child advocate offices across the country, and he "wouldn't have any trouble" bringing that forward to the House.


Kerry Campbell

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Kerry Campbell is the provincial affairs reporter for CBC P.E.I., covering politics and the provincial legislature.