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Thanks for stopping in at my website.  We, the Official Opposition, are focusing on the government’s neglect of the basics in health care, seniors care and education. We are also sharply criticizing the government for its growing sense of entitlement and obsession with pet projects such as LEAN.

In the Legislature I was pleased to bring forward questions about housing, bullying, human rights and labour issues. On several occasions, I raised the importance of a Saskatchewan-made poverty reduction strategy. Children in care continue to be very significant issues as the Children’s Advocate released two major reports this May.

In the spring session we exposed inappropriate travel expenses of Social Services Minister June Draude and I questioned Saskatoon Sutherland MLA Paul Merriman’s demand for paid leave from the Saskatoon Food Bank while he was also being paid by his own campaign as a Sask. Party candidate in the last election. I also questioned the Social Services Minister’s decision to appoint her long-time close friend to the Social Services Appeal Board, which is supposed to be an independent tribunal that passes judgment on ministry decisions.

Our leader Cam Broten says “For me and my team, politics isn’t just about the province doing well – it’s about people doing well.” He believes people should be benefiting more from our province’s strong economy, but the reality for far too many hardworking families right now is that extra costs just keep piling up while the services we should all be able to count on, like health care, seniors care and education, are getting worse because of this government’s neglect.

Please check back again as we update this site regularly. I appreciate any comments you might have or further questions.

 

Yours

David Forbes, MLA
Saskatoon Centre

NDP backs idea of mandatory licensing for foster homes

Sarah Stone, paNow.com, September 26, 2014

Following the push by Saskatchewan’s Advocate for Children and Youth for the province to make it mandatory for foster homes to get licensed to ensure child safety, the government is responding.

Natalie Huber with the ministry of social services said the regulations currently in place are very similar to the requirements around licensing.

Huber explained there are rigorous processes currently in place to be a foster home.

“Whether a home is licensed or approved, the license or approved home status indicate to the community essentially that the home meets the ministry requirements,” Huber said. “They’re actually very similar just in terms of the requirements, whether it’s home safety checks, or requirements in training.”

However, even with these similarities, Huber said the ministry isn’t opposed to the idea of foster home licensing.

“Whether to move to licensing of our foster homes is something we are currently examining and certainly open to. It’s part of our legislative review process that is currently underway,” Huber said.

She added whatever avenue they pursue they need to make sure it is better than what is currently being offered. She said they need to understand the benefits of licensing and decide if it’s an improvement.

“We’re always interested, of course, in improving our system; there’s always room for improvement. Anytime a child dies it’s just absolute tragic. I have children of my own and I just can’t imagine a loss of a child as a parent and certainly as a community and citizens of Saskatchewan we don’t want to see any child die in a situation where the death could have been prevented.”

The licensing recommendation comes after the release of a detailed report about a toddler who died in care in 2009.

Bob Pringle with Saskatchewan’s Advocate for Children and Youth recognizes the positive changes the improvements made to foster care regulations since 2009, but said the support consistency level has to be higher.

“It boils down if you got good policies then put those down into law,” Pringle said, adding many other states and provinces, including Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta, have moved to licensing.

“I like the Alberta model. Where the focus is on capacity of the foster families so for example when a foster home gets approved it can have two children, then as you get the experienced and develop your skills and so on, you can go up to four children,” he said. “There are common themes in our review and the common themes are foster families are overloaded, and they’re not getting good communication, they’re not getting as much in-home support as they need.”

He said the vast majority of foster families are good, but usually overloaded. He said he is interested to see the report that’s going to be put out by the government on what’s a reasonable workload on these families.

Most of the calls he’s received from foster parents, he said, have actually wanted licensing as well to ensure they receive more support.

“It enshrines in law the requirements to deal with things … children’s who have been brought into care are vulnerable and deserve the highest level of accountability as possible and in our view it’s about putting those standards of care for children being put into law rather than just policy,” he said.

“The safety of should be paramount and as the ministry continues to provide more prevention services, more earlier intervention services, fewer children will come into care, which is the trend actually,” he said.

No one should feel threatened with higher accountability, he said.

Social Services Critic David Forbes said there have been too many tragedies and he’d like to see foster homes licensed as well.

“We know there’s been 81 kids who’ve died in care … this is just unacceptable,” he said.

“We want to make sure those homes are safe for vulnerable kids and whatever we can do to make that happen we’ve got to do it.”

Forbes said the issue is one that the NDP will press this legislative session.

With other provinces on board he said he feels Saskatchewan is the “odd man out,” and this begged the question of why.

Forbes said it makes “common sense” to license foster care homes and doesn’t know what the drawbacks would. He also couldn’t name the exact reasons why it works better.

“It’s a good first step to having confidence in [foster care] homes.”

According to the minister of social services, Donna Harpauer, the province is consulting with First Nations groups on the idea of licensing, but there is no timeframe on when a decision will be made.

-with files from Nigel Maxwell

sstone@panow.com

On Twitter: @sarahstone84

Children’s advocate report shows Social Services in disarray

A special report released Tuesday by the Advocate for Children and Youth describes a Social Services Ministry that is understaffed and struggling to meet the basic needs of vulnerable children.

Throughout the report, Lost in the System: Jake’s Story, the advocate describes medical care referrals and developmental assessment requirements that were regularly not followed through on; Assessment and Care Plans that failed to be approved within timeline policies; and understaffed, overcrowded foster homes and emergency care centres that didn’t have time for proper follow-up on red flags.

The cause of Jake’s sudden death in December 2009 can’t be determined, but NDP Social Services critic David Forbes said proper medical and developmental assessment throughout Jake’s short life should have been done along with proper follow-up.

“We’ll never know if anything could have been done to prevent Jake’s death – but we know that he wasn’t given every opportunity and advantage he should have, because we see how the medical and developmental check-ups just weren’t done. We see how often he was moved from one foster home or emergency home to another. We see how infrequently he was looked in on at night,” said Forbes.

“This report is heartbreaking, and it describes a Ministry that is so short-staffed and under-resourced it doesn’t seem to be able to follow its own policies.”

Jake had an inadequately investigated broken leg shortly before his death, and documents noted issues including muscle weakness and a lack of motor skills, a lack of language benchmarks for his age and frequent tantrums. Jake was repeatedly given a referral for a developmental assessment and a referral for a hearing exam – but both needs slipped through the cracks, leaving pediatricians and other professionals to work with an incomplete picture of Jake’s health.

Forbes said while Jake deserves the investigation into the tragedy of his personal circumstance, investigating Jake’s story isn’t just about one child. Between 2010 and 2013, 81 children died while in the province’s care or having recently left the province’s care. That number excludes children who died of natural causes.

“This government is just not getting its act together when it comes to vulnerable children in care,” said Forbes. “There are more children than ever in the care of the province, and this government has made cuts to the number of staff in the Ministry of Social Services, despite warnings from the children’s advocate that the caseloads are too high and are putting children at risk.

“This is not a matter of government spending and investment choices or efficiency – it’s a matter of life or death for these children.”

Forbes said the NDP supports the recommendations made by the children’s advocate in Tuesday’s report.

Government more concerned about its friends than those who desperately need housing: NDP

Some Saskatchewan families need an affordable place to live – a reality this out-of-touch government doesn’t understand, according to comments it made following the revelation it’s choosing to walk away from a 48-unit affordable housing development.

Minister of Social Services Donna Harpauer dismissed the government’s decision to ditch the affordable housing project by saying Tuesday, “you’re assuming that there’s these desperate homeless people.”

Harpauer defended the government’s decision to allow the developer to break the affordable housing contract with the government, penalty-free, by saying “I think that our relationship with [the private developer] warrants the fact that we don’t thump on them when they’ve had a misfortune.”

NDP Leader Cam Broten called the comments disgusting.

“For the Social Services Minister to question whether homeless people in our province are actually desperate for housing is absolutely ridiculous,” said Broten. “It screams of a government that is completely out of touch with the reality for some families. But what’s especially shocking is that this government is using its relationship with the private developer as the reason it abandoned this project and let the developer commercialize it. Clearly this government’s top priority is looking out for its own friends and insiders. That’s completely unacceptable.”

The government sold off 40 housing units in Regina that were previously set aside for low-income residents, with plans to sell another 260. Those units were supposed to be replaced by this new project. But, when the private developer tallied a four per cent cost overrun on its construction, the government allowed it to break its fixed pricing contract without penalty so it could make more money by commercializing the units and charging much higher prices for them.

“It’s frustrating enough that this government can’t get the job done on affordable housing,” said Broten. “But it’s appalling that this government is more worried about its friends than it is about vulnerable people in our society. What exactly is it about the relationship between this government and this particular private developer that’s so special? The government should explain that.”

Government’s failure to enforce contract means end of affordable housing project

The government has walked away from a new 48-unit affordable housing project in Regina, and is now allowing the private developer to rent out the units at full market price instead.

The government sold off 40 housing units in Regina that were previously set aside for low-income residents. Those units were supposed to be replaced by this project. But then the government decided to turn this project over to the private developer because of a four per cent cost overrun on its construction.

“It’s frustrating that this government can’t get the job done on affordable housing,” said David Forbes, NDP housing critic. “This government needs to give a better explanation for why it just handed this project over to the private developer. It’s not fair for the private company to have the government insure and underwrite the construction project and then, for that same private company, to break the contract and be allowed to commercialize the project on their own.”

The NDP says the government should have stood strong and, if necessary, taken the private developer to court in order to enforce the fixed-price contract it had in place.

“It’s basic common sense that any contract should be clear and enforceable and, if there’s still a major disagreement about it, the contract should be able to withstand scrutiny in court,” said Forbes. “So there must have been significant problems with the government’s contract with the developer. Why else would this government just walk away from a much-needed housing project like this?”

Forbes said this mess up is just the latest bad deal between the government and the private companies it selects for projects.

“The government enters into these weak contracts with private companies, and whenever those deals go bad, it’s Saskatchewan people that pay the price,” said Forbes. “We’re seeing that with the $47 million smart meter fiasco, we’re seeing that with this failed affordable housing project, and we’re bound to see it with this government’s private rent-a-school scheme for P3 schools. Enough is enough. Saskatchewan people deserve so much better than this.”

Government fails to submit report on child protection system

NDP wants to know if government is taking its foster system problems seriously

The government has failed to hand in its first report on the activities of the Social Services Ministry when it comes to caring for foster children.

The reports, due every three months, were called for by the Children’s Advocate after six-year-old foster child Lee Bonneau was murdered by another child, a 10-year-old also receiving services from the ministry. Bonneau was killed one year ago, and the Children’s Advocate released recommendations in response on May 14. One of those recommendations required reports from the ministry – the first due Aug. 14.

“Is the government taking its problems with child protection seriously?” asked David Forbes, the NDP critic for social services.

From 2010 to 2013, 81 children in the care of the government died. That number does not include a number of foster children who died from natural causes.

“We know the government’s cuts have left too few front-line case workers with an extremely heavy workload,” said Forbes. “We don’t know if the government is taking any steps at all to follow the Children’s Advocate’s recommendations and stop putting foster kids at such risk.

That’s why it’s necessary for the government to file that report with the Children’s Advocate.”

In May, the Children’s Advocate called on the ministry again to address a short-staffing practice that’s putting children at risk.

“If workloads aren’t addressed, and workers are saying we didn’t do this because they didn’t have time, that’s a non-compliance issue. If workers don’t get the training some of them are saying they need, if the quality of supervision doesn’t improve, if the oversight doesn’t get better, if we don’t start measuring the quality of casework, then bad things are going to happen,” Children’s Advocate Bob Pringle told the media in May.

In 2012-13, the government hired 90 social services employees, but laid off more than 100 full-time employees.

Pride parade puts the fun in fight for equal rights

Matt Gardner, Prince Albert Daily Herald, June 7, 2014

Intermittent rain couldn’t dampen the spirits of participants in this year’s Pride parade.

For many the highlight of Pride Week celebrations in Prince Albert, the annual parade and community rally continues to grow in strength, attracting almost 50 participants from communities across northern Saskatchewan.

“I was really impressed … especially to hear about some people coming from different communities like Duck Lake, James Smith, St. Louis, Meadow Lake, and some attending their very first Pride parade and choosing to do it here,” Prince Albert Q-Network president Jennifer Brockman said.

“It’s always a stressful time organizing it and I wonder, sometimes … are we making a difference?” she added. “That’s when I know we’re making a difference, is (when) I see those couples holding hands, and those people just coming from other communities and attending and celebrating — it just makes it all worthwhile.”

Revelers assembled in front of the Court of Queen’s Bench in the early afternoon before setting out down Central Avenue, attracting supportive honks from many passing vehicles.

Vehicles decked out in rainbow flags paved the way for pedestrians walking behind. One of the vehicles, dubbed the Trans Pride Van, blared trans-friendly music such as Dude (Looks Like A Lady) by Aerosmith and Lola by The Kinks.

The parade route took participants down Central Avenue, west along 28th Street and back down First Avenue West before settling at Kinsmen Park. Participants there enjoyed a range of guest speakers and live entertainment along with a barbecue.

Kicking off the presentations, emcee Stephanie Bourne read out a list of prominent individuals who came out over the last year, such as Canadian actress Ellen Page.

Noting the theme of this year’s Pride Week festivities, “Out and About,” she added, “It’s about honouring ourselves and others and being out — not only to our personal circles, but also in the community and making a difference for those people who don’t have that support group around them.”

In her own remarks, Brockman thanked the work of pioneering activists over the years who helped make Prince Albert more friendly to the LGBTQ community by establishing social support groups and gay-straight alliances (GSAs).

“Anybody who did anything to help support the community, I thank them because they’re the reason that we’re able to be here,” she said.

Other speakers included representatives of communities from across Saskatchewan.

Hailing from Regina was TransSask Support Services co-ordinator Mikayla Schultz, who also helped found the provincial trans support organization.

“It’s great to be here again representing the trans community of Saskatchewan and TransSask Support Services,” Schultz said. “Prince Albert’s always welcoming to us in the trans community and it’s just great to be a part of the festivities.

“As of last year there’s been huge growth for the trans community in Saskatchewan, especially in regards to human rights. We’ve undertaken a human rights awareness campaign called the Time 4 Rights … We encourage all the allies of the transgender community to show their support for gender-diverse people, all gender-diverse people.”

The Time 4 Rights campaign calls for the inclusion of “gender identity” and “gender expression” in the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code. Additional information is available at www.time4rights.ca.

Schultz noted that TransSask Support Services is currently in the process of creating a branch in Prince Albert.

“We are actually in the process of establishing one. We’ve made contact with a few trans people in the city here, so (we’re) just trying to get coordinated and appoint a facilitator and hopefully we’ll have a chapter here. We’ve got chapters in Moose Jaw, Regina and Saskatoon already.”

Two-Spirit elder and Duck Lake resident Marjorie Beaucage reiterated the significance of so many LGBTQ individuals from different areas of Saskatchewan attending.

“This is the first time we have so many from away, away,” she said. “It’s really important … Our communities need to support the youth and the people that are not ‘out and about’ yet because it’s not safe.”

Another speaker on Saturday was Saskatoon Centre MLA David Forbes.

As the Saskatchewan NDP critic for human rights, diversity and equity, Forbes annually attends pride parades in other communities across the province, including P.A., Moose Jaw, Regina and Saskatoon.

“There was this demonstration in Weyburn that I was at earlier in April that was talking about protecting human rights for the rainbow community, and so I think it’s just important to get out and stand in support and solidarity as an ally with the community,” Forbes said.

The MLA noted that many challenges still remain when it comes to acceptance and support for the LGBTQ community, pointing to a recent conference in Weyburn that featured a speaker in which “his main thesis was really around hate and not tolerance for the queer community.”

Forbes noted that the NDP is fully supportive of efforts to include gender identity and gender expression in the provincial Human Rights Code.

“It’s important both those pieces are in place,” he said. “Across Canada, we know human rights codes are being amended to be more proactive. We’re behind here in Saskatchewan.”

He also pointed to other ongoing issues, such as the need to have a discussion about gender markers on provincial identification cards and the presence of GSAs at schools in Prince Albert.

“That’s hugely important that kids in our schools have safe spaces,” he said. “So we’ve been advocating in the provincial legislature that they get moving on the bullying legislation and the initiatives that should be there.”

Another speaker represented the progressive role that can be played by faith when it comes to support of the LGBTQ community.

Calvary United Church congregational designated minister Lorelei Clifford noted that the United Church of Canada had “proudly embraced” members of that community since 1988, when the United Church’s 32nd General Council declared that anyone who professes faith in Jesus Christ — regardless of sexual orientation –was welcome to membership in the church.

Clifford recently hosted a local Bible study entitled “Queer and Christian Without Contradiction.”

“We specifically looked at Bible readings that have been used to condemn homosexuality and we looked at what they really said and how the Bible as a whole really is talking about God loving everyone,” she said. “It was a really good study.”

Following the speakers, local musician and Search for the Stars winner Daniel LeBlanc offered live entertainment for the crowd.

His set included an original song, Yellow Lines, written specifically for the occasion, with lyrics expressing support for ongoing LGBTQ struggles.

One promising sign of growing acceptance from the younger generation came from nine-year-old Arianna Hovdebo, who attended the parade to support her aunt, Prince Albert Q-Network co-chair Nicole Milas.

Hovdebo offered a cogent summary of one of the day’s key messages.

“It’s OK to love a girl if you’re a girl,” she said. “And it’s OK to love a boy if you’re a boy.”

Cabinet shuffle must end entitlement culture

The Leader of the Opposition is calling on the premier to end the culture of entitlement growing throughout his government as he considers a cabinet shuffle.

“Mr. Wall needs to change the culture of his government, and set a new tone for his cabinet.” said NDP Leader Cam Broten. “It’s not just about who is in cabinet – it’s about using this shuffle to create a new culture – one that’s respectful of taxpayer dollars.”

Shocking expense and entitlement scandals have been surfacing. Deputy Premier Krawetz used a British Heritage Tours limousine for days without asking about the price. Social Services Minister and Sask. Party founder June Draude took a family-and-friends trip to Ghana and the United Kingdom and slotted in a few, unnecessary meetings in order to bill taxpayers for their meals, luxury hotel and chauffeur. Paul Merriman demanded the Saskatoon Food Bank pay him to campaign for the Sask. Party, and pressured the charity for other payments when they refused.

“Government MLAs obviously affected by the sense of entitlement in that government’s culture – like Draude, Krawetz and Merriman – should not be appointed to cabinet,” said Broten. “But, the culture comes from the top. We don’t know how many bogus expenses and outlandish demands Mr. Wall’s government is responsible for, but we know the change has to start with the premier and his attitude, and a cabinet shuffle is the time to do it.”

Broten said he has been shocked to see the Premier stand by his MLAs when their unjustifiable expenses and selfish actions were exposed by the NDP.

“It’s time for the premier to stop defending entitlements for government politicians and start defending Saskatchewan families. A lot of people are looking for relief from the high cost of living and the extra costs the government keeps piling on. There’s such a disconnect between what Mr. Wall seems to believe he and his cabinet deserves, and what he seems to believe everyday Saskatchewan families deserve.”

Broten added that there are must-haves for the cabinet shuffle.

“I want to see a new minister of health that will use common sense and end the fat, cash cow Lean consulting contracts, $3,500 a day Lean senseis and $17 million Kaizen Promotion offices. It’s also time for a new minister of education that will start to show respect to educators and our children – that includes listening, and it must include cancelling the Lean claw back the government’s using to take dollars out of the classroom.”

Teachers’ pay delay, deep cuts result of government underfunding

The government’s failure to properly fund schools has reached a tipping point in the province’s French-language school division, where the board has been forced to delay payday for teachers. The extreme measure comes on the heels of a round of deep cuts in those schools.

In a letter from the teachers’ association to its members, teachers at Conseil des Écoles Fransaskoises schools are told the board wants to delay June’s payday until the next funding deposit from the government. The request comes on the heels of $4.4 million in cuts at French-language schools – laying off teaching assistants and support workers and cutting programming.

“We have a strong economy, but the government has failed to translate that into better schools and classrooms,” said NDP Deputy Leader and education critic Trent Wotherspoon. “Cutting millions from classrooms and forcing a school board into a position where it has to delay payroll for teachers – that’s shocking, truly disturbing evidence of just how much this government is dropping the ball on the basics.

“It’s painful and unfair for students and teachers today, and a shameful way for this government to put our province’s future at risk.”

Wotherspoon said years of chronic underfunding have been exacerbated by the provincial budget, which called on teachers to do more with even less.

“Classrooms are crowded and have more students with complex needs than ever before,” said Wotherspoon. “Cutting staff and cutting supports make absolutely no sense. Why is this government willing to spend untold millions on consultants and efficiency programs like the fat Lean experiment, but not willing to properly fund the teachers, educational assistants, supplies and supports our kids need?”

Wotherspoon called on the government for immediate mid-year funding adjustments to stop the cuts in schools throughout the province – including an immediate adjustment for French-language schools.

NDP: Spring session exposed government’s neglect of what matters

The spring session of the Legislative Assembly saw the Official Opposition NDP focused on the government’s neglect of the basics in health care, seniors care and education.

The NDP also sharply criticized the government for its growing sense of entitlement and obsession with pet projects.

“For me and my team, politics isn’t just about the province doing well – it’s about people doing well,” said NDP Leader Cam Broten. “I believe people should be benefitting more from our province’s strong economy, but the reality for far too many hardworking families right now is that extra costs just keep piling up while the services we should all be able to count on, like health care, seniors care and education, are getting worse because of this government’s neglect.”

The government’s own statistics show that health care is getting worse under its watch. With more and more concerns being raised about the quality of seniors care, the NDP pushed the government to fix the basics in health care and seniors care, instead of investing well over $100 million into its Lean pet project. The government’s Lean spending includes $40 million for one American consultant, over $17 million per year for Kaizen Promotion Offices, and $3,500 per day for Japanese senseis. The NDP exposed the government’s intimidation tactics against frontline health care workers who raised concerns about Lean and it also revealed that the government is providing bonus pay to senior health administrators simply for holding Lean-focused events where staff learn to fold paper airplanes.

As a positive step toward fixing the seniors care crisis, the NDP introduced legislation that would have required the government to establish minimum quality of care standards and a residents-in-care bill of rights. The government voted unanimously against the NDP’s bill, despite its own Law Reform Commission recommending such legislation.

The NDP also pushed the government to fix the basics in our education system, like overcrowded classrooms, schools that desperately need repairs, and students that are not getting the one-on-one attention they need. The NDP called on the government to reverse the “Lean initiative claw back” that was sprung on schools and classrooms on budget day and to take the $5 million earmarked in the budget for standardized testing and immediately redeploy those funds to the front lines of education.

“Unfortunately for Saskatchewan families, this government’s obsession with pet projects means it is continually neglecting the basics and failing to focus on what really matters,” Broten said. “The government should be focusing its resources on fixing health care, seniors care and education, instead of pouring untold millions into consultants and flavour-of-the-day management programs.”

The government’s growing sense of entitlement was also on display during the spring session. The NDP exposed inappropriate travel expenses of Deputy Premier Ken Krawetz and Social Services Minister June Draude. It questioned Saskatoon Sutherland MLA Paul Merriman’s demand for paid leave from the Saskatoon Food Bank while he was also being paid by his own campaign as a Sask. Party candidate in the last election. The NDP also questioned the Social Services Minister’s decision to appoint her long-time close friend to the Social Services Appeal Board, which is supposed to be an independent tribunal that passes judgment on ministry decisions.

Throughout the session, the NDP also asked many questions and raised concerns about the rising cost of living in Saskatchewan; the need for a comprehensive anti-poverty strategy; urgently required enhancements for child protection; the grain transportation crisis; environmental protection and climate change; highways and infrastructure; and troubling aspects of the TransformUS review at the University of Saskatchewan.

“Throughout the spring session, we worked hard to bring forward the important issues we’ve been hearing about from Saskatchewan families,” Broten said. “Over the coming months, we will continue reaching out across the province, listening to concerns and ideas, and holding the government to account, not only for what it does but also for what it neglects to do – because far too often we’re seeing this government neglecting the basics and failing to focus on what really matters to Saskatchewan families.”