THE BLOG

Our Bully Government Fails Children At Risk

01/30/2014 08:50 EST | Updated 04/01/2014 05:59 EDT

2014-01-29-206812690_b25e70627d_n.jpgMuch of what I've written here at the Huffington Post Alberta has focused on the attacks on workers by Alberta's bully government. To be sure, those attacks have been numerous and reprehensible. But in light of the government's child intervention roundtable that is wrapping up, I'd like to take a moment to focus on a different, though not unrelated topic.

When discussing the actions of our bully government, I've often made mention of Alberta's working families as the recipients of abuse. That term, "working families," is neither accidental nor unimportant.

Why else do we work so hard at jobs that can be difficult and in some unfortunate instances, unsafe, if not to provide for our families?

We commonly separate our "work life" and our "family life". That separation is important to ensure that time spent working doesn't unduly impede on our ability to spend time with family. But the time that we do spend working, while not time spent with family, is in reality time spent in service to our family.

Families are important to the labour movement. Workers and their families are a packaged deal - ultimately inseparable - and form the bedrock of our movement.

In this regard, when our bully government attacks us in our workplaces, they are not just attacking individual workers; they also attack the families that we work so hard to support.

For these and many more reasons, I was deeply disturbed to read about our bully government's failure of our province's families, and in particular our province's children.

I suppose that we owe Human Services Minister Manmeet Bhullar some credit for releasing the numbers, acknowledging the deaths of more than 700 Alberta children while receiving some form of provincial care, and organizing a roundtable to discuss the issue. Of course, that acknowledgement and subsequent action came only after a joint investigation into the matter by the Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald. And the transparency and discussion Minister Bhullar touts is only as good as the reform it produces.

Let's be frank about this situation and call these deaths what they are: unnecessary, preventable, and shameful.

To say that no child in a potentially dangerous situation of which our government is aware should ever come to harm is probably unfair. Borrowing a glib, but perhaps apt saying, "things happen." We cannot control the outcomes of every situation of which we're aware.

But more than 700 deaths is a bridge too far for this reasoning. And let's not let that number wash over us like so much "data", as Minister Bhullar refers to the deaths.

We're talking about children. 741 children.

Close your eyes and imagine an empty room. Now one by one, place each of those 741 children in that room. That's a lot of bright, new souls to have lost - too many. As the richest province in the country, we owe our children better, especially those who's safety has been compromised.

That suggestion is more than just a platitude. The effective operation of a ministry like Human Services, which is in part charged with protecting children from harm, requires significant resources. While the moral obligation to deliver on the promise of safety is unwavering, more cash-strapped provinces might encounter real logistical challenges finding sufficient monies to meet it in the provincial coffers.

But those are challenges that do not beset our province. We have the moral obligation and the financial resources to ensure we do the best we possibly can by our children in need. It is hard to imagine that we have fulfilled that duty given recent revelations.

It is equally difficult to imagine that there will be a sudden turnaround on our failures given the austerity budget that our government recently introduced slashing resources for precisely the kind of work described above. Indeed, the ministry of Human Services received a $9 million cut in the 2013 Alberta budget.

Those cuts are a direct result of our provincial government's unwillingness to address the real problem: their cuts to royalty revenues. As the Alberta Federation of Labour has pointed out, cuts to royalty revenues implemented in 2010 were bound to create deficit budgets in the future. But our bully government has chosen to ignore this inconvenient truth and pass the problems (sometimes fatal) on to the most vulnerable in our province.

Hardly the accountable behavior we'll no doubt here trumpeted by our bully government following the conclusion of their roundtable.

If you return to the Edmonton Journal story on this issue, you will see a picture of a father named, "Merle" visiting the gravesite of his lost infant daughter. The scene is heartbreaking beyond words and it is just one example of the suffering our government's failures have caused.

It is one image too many. Our job as the residents of this province is to hold our government account on their shameful failings and ensure there are no more of these pictures moving forward.

Image by D. Sharon Pruitt (http://www.pinksherbet.com)