MY COMMENTS ON THE MOTION ON REVOCATION OF APPOINTMENT OF MINISTER ABERNETHY

Below are the comments I made on the floor of the house on October 31, 2018, on the motion of Revocation of Appointment of Minister Abernethy.

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MR. VANTHUYNE: Mr. Speaker, clearly, this is not a happy day nor a happy debate for
anyone here. When you become an MLA, you never envision calling any of your fellow
Members’ conduct into question, much less your friend’s conduct.

Yes, the Minister in question, I consider a friend, and I know he is a friend to all of us in
this House. However, I believe that this is a very important motion, and we must engage
in this debate with courage and conviction. Like others, I was deeply concerned to hear
the Auditor General’s report on Child and Family Services last week. I have heard from
a number of constituents who are equally concerned. Some are very angry, Mr.
Speaker. Sadly, the children and families who find themselves in the care of the
Department of Health and Social Services are often the most defenceless and exposed
people in our society.

Out of all of our citizens, it is these people who require and deserve the best service,
care, and protection that our system can offer. Yet, the opposite has happened. The
most vulnerable of us have fallen through the cracks, and the cracks themselves have
grown wider and deeper. It’s absolutely unacceptable for this to have happened, Mr.
Speaker, and since it has, we have to now insist on the highest level of accountability
from the Minister and his department, and that leads us to today’s motion and debate.

I’ve said many times, Mr. Speaker, that I support building critical infrastructure for our
territory. I will support measures to bolster our economy, create wealth, and allow our
communities to grow, but I will not ever, Mr. Speaker, invest in bricks and mortar over
investment in our people. Now, it’s clear that our people have fallen by the wayside.

Many people have been referring to the 2014 Audit of Child and Family Services which
found many of the same problems that still exist, but I’d like to go back further, Mr.
Speaker. The responsibility for heath was devolved to the GNWT from 1982 to 1988.
Like many things that came to us from the federal government, the devolved healthcare
system was a product of old colonial times. The act has been amended more than a
dozen times since, but those changes, obviously, haven’t brought our system into the
21st century.

Today’s debate convinces me of that. Surely, the laws on our books should reflect the
Indigenous character of our population and reflect the conclusions of the Truth and
Reconciliation Commission, but that has never happened. Instead, most of what we’ve
heard from the Minister for years has been about the new Regional Wellness Board, the
super board with its super powers that’s going to fix all the problems, Mr. Speaker, but
org charts and job descriptions don’t mean much to kids in trouble, so we fail to
overhaul antiquated laws, to recognize our Indigenous state. We have failed to take
seriously the need to move toward reconciliation and self-determination. The fact is, this
government’s laws don’t recognize the social and cultural reality of our citizens. What
was needed was less time with org charts, and more time with real children and real
families.

Mr. Speaker, for additional context on where I am coming from, when the community of
Deline was negotiating its self-government agreement, the GNWT wanted to devolve
our existing childcare system to the community. “Here’s our system. Do it this way, and
over time, we will grant you full authority to manage it on your own.”

Essentially, Deline said, “No way. We don’t care for our children that way. We won’t swoop in and pluck a child away from here. We look after our children as a community.” Surely, that should have been a lesson for this government.

After the grim results of the Child and Family Services audit in 2014, we were told by
this Minister that heads were going to roll, that the highest level of accountability would
be executed, but obviously no heads have rolled and no accountability was taken
because four years later, circumstances have not changed. Actually, I stand corrected,
Mr. Speaker. They have changed for the worse.

Now, in 2018, the Auditor General says that all the responsibility for making changes
was offloaded onto social workers without resources to solve the problem. There were
no new social workers, no funding for more social workers, and no new training to
implement new processes. Mr. Speaker, that’s a complete and utter failure. Instead, the
top priority of our Ministers when they started this term was to cut $150 million in
spending. No matter what it takes, we must get our fiscal house in order, was the
repeated message to the public. No wonder we have lost sight of human needs out
there, Mr. Speaker.

If our government machine is so big and expansive, if our laws are out of date, if we’re
focused on cutting spending while people and families are suffering, then it’s time for a
fundamental shift. Accountability has been the catch phrase of the whole 18th Assembly,
yet it seems there is little interest in it. Maybe it’s not surprising that, three years later,
things haven’t gotten better. In fact, Mr. Speaker, I hope the Minister responsible for
accountability and transparency will actually analyze this situation as a case study and
help the government learn lessons from this unacceptable failure.

Now, we’re speaking to a motion to revoke a Minister’s appointment because he has
lost the confidence of the Members of the House. Just introducing such a motion is a
serious step and one that Members on this side of the House do not take lightly. Like
many things we do in this Chamber, removing the Minister probably won’t have much
direct impact on vulnerable children and families who need our help. Mr. Speaker, it
saddens me to say, but as we speak, children are at serious risk.

This motion to remove the Minister is about accountability. The Minister has accepted
the Auditor General’s report, but in my view, not the responsibility that goes with it.
Without taking responsibility, there’s no accountability, and there is too little will to really help the children in this government’s care.

Again, it is a sad state of affairs. Mr. Speaker, Regular Members have resorted to a
revocation motion today because all other efforts have failed to bring about desperately
needed change. We have tried working with the Minister to make sure the Auditor
General’s past recommendations were followed. Standing committee have had
meetings after meetings on strategies, and frameworks, and business plans, and
Members have raised these issues time and time again.

We are taking this action today because we will not accept putting children’s lives at risk
due to the negligence of this government. The Minister needs to hear this message loud
and clear, and so does the public.

Perhaps the voices of the people added to our Regular Members will light the fire of
change to protect children in our government’s care. Whether or not our vote allows the
Minister to keep his job, he must take full responsibility for his department’s wrongdoing and inaction, not to us in this House or to his colleagues in Cabinet; he must make a public apology to the children, families, and foster families who are struggling through a broken system, and not allow it to break down even further under his watch. He must also make the department accountable, not in the government boardrooms, but in the classrooms, kitchens, and living rooms, where people actually live their lives.

As the recent audit makes clear, the children, the most innocent, vulnerable, and
precious among us, will remain at risk until the promised changes are made. That must
be the Minister’s next job, or the next Minister’s job. He or she must not rest until it’s
done.

Mr. Speaker, my comments and position today are on behalf of those whose voices
have not been heard. I will be voting in support of the motion. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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