Christy Clark faces tough questions
Christy Clark promised to put families first on her agenda when she announced on December 8 that she wants to become B.C.’s next premier.
Even though she was in Gordon Campbell’s first B.C. Liberal cabinet, which saw severe funding cuts to public services, Clark told supporters at SFU’s Segal Graduate School of Business that being “outside the cocoon of Victoria” for the last several years gave her a “fresh perspective”.
But perhaps families straining under the weight of poverty due to low wages shouldn’t expect too much relief under a Clark administration.
Fielding questions from journalists, Clark said that while she’s in favour of raising the minimum hourly wage of $8, she’s against immediately increasing it to $10, a level that has long been suggested by antipoverty groups, as well as the B.C. NDP.
“The NDP’s plan for a 25-percent increase in the minimum wage all at once is just unworkable,” Clark said. “It will have long impacts, deep impacts on our economy.”
Linda Korbin, executive director of the B.C. Association of Social Workers, wants to know how Clark intends to flesh out her families-first agenda. “Addressing poverty is really the foundation for addressing most family problems,” Korbin told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.
According to her, the Campbell government hasn’t done a good job of lifting families out of poverty. Korbin’s prescriptions are straightforward: increase the minimum wage, raise welfare rates, provide more child-care supports for families, and ensure that the Ministry of Children and Family Development has enough funds and professional staff.
In November, First Call: B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition released a report stating that more than 182,400 workers in B.C. earn less than $10 an hour. In 2008, some 165,000 employees were paid between $10 and $12 per hour. “A single parent with two children working full-time, full-year, but earning only $12 an hour, would earn total wages of $24,960, close to $9,000 below the poverty line of $33,933 for a family of three in a large city,” the report notes.
The minimum wage has been frozen since 2001, the year Campbell, Clark, and the B.C. Liberals formed a government after a decade of NDP rule. At her announcement, Clark was asked by one journalist how she could bring a fresh start when she was part of the Campbell administration that slashed spending on public services.
For that, Clark had the previous NDP government to blame. She said that the New Democrats had made a mess of the economy. Were the cuts by the Campbell administration justified? “We’re doing far better because of that foundational work that we did in that first term of government,” she said.
The effects of these cuts were noted by retired judge Ted Hughes in a scathing review of B.C.’s child-protection system.
“In early 2004, a group of people in the child protection system felt unable to communicate with the government about the impact these budget cuts were having on children,” Hughes wrote in his 2006 report. “They turned to Dulcie McCallum (former Ombudsman), Joyce Preston (former Advocate for Children, Youth and Families), and Cindy Morton (former Children’s Commissioner) and asked them to use their influence to bring these concerns to the attention of the Premier.”
It was in January 2004 that Clark became the minister of children and family development. She served until September of that year.
“In June, 2004, these individuals wrote to the Premier, pointing out the absence of an independent voice for children and youth who have concerns about the care or services being offered or denied to them,” Hughes reported. “They also noted the lack of public accountability in the Ministry, with no vehicle for informing British Columbians about the resolution of difficult cases, or about the overall performance of the child protection system.”
According to Vancouver-Kingsway NDP MLA Adrian Dix, the Ministry of Children and Family Development suffered its biggest funding cuts in dollar terms during the first years of the Campbell administration.
“I find it distressing that not only would she continue disastrous policies, but then she would leave the ministry in a disastrous state,” Dix told the Straight by phone regarding Clark’s record as minister. “What that says to me is she shouldn’t be premier.”
At the announcement, the Straight asked Clark about her legacy as minister of children and family development. According to her, during her term the ministry worked hard to “make it accountable” and to help “keep families together”.