Advocate’s budget cut
VICTORIA – The legislature’s finance committee has recommended trimming $750,000 from the budget increase sought by the province’s new Representative for Children and Youth.
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the Saskatchewan judge hired last year to oversee the Ministry of Children and Family Development, started work eight months ago. So far she has issued a critical report on the ministry’s progress in implementing the recommendations of former conflict of interest commissioner Ted Hughes, who roasted the government for cutting the ministry budget and imposing restructuring while child protection services struggled with their caseload.
Turpel-Lafond wants to expand her mandate to oversee children in the care of family members as well as those in foster care, and she told the committee she needs a 36 per cent increase from her startup budget to get the work done.
“We gave her $1 million of new money,” said MLA Bill Bennett, chair of the Liberal-dominated finance committee. “That’s 21 per cent increase, and... I did not hear her ever say that she needed 36 per cent to achieve the mandate of her office. She said she needed more money.”
NDP leader Carole James said her party members on the committee were in favour of giving the new office its full request, but were outvoted. She called it “outrageous” that the government running a $2 billion surplus approved expensive renovations to the children’s ministry offices in Victoria, then refused the new watchdog’s request.
“That’s what makes me so angry about this decision,” James said. “They can certainly find a half a million dollars to put artwork in a ministry office.”
Turpel-Lafond described her budget request as a “Chevy or Buick model” to perform her duties as set out by the legislature.
“I’m not sure that after eight months we know that it is a Chevy or a Buick or a Cadillac or what it is,” Bennett said. “We’re not trying to be stingy here, we’re just trying to be prudent with the use of public money.”
The committee recommended the office budget be increased to $5.8 million for each of the next three fiscal years.