Times Colonist

For re­gion’s new­est cab­i­net min­is­ter, this is why she got into pol­i­tics

- JACK KNOX jknox@times­colonist.com Society · Democratic Party (United States) · England · John Horgan · British Columbia · George Abbott

Jim Hartshorne is a West Shore de­vel­oper, hardly the image that comes to mind when think­ing of who might heap praise on a New Demo­crat politi­cian.

But then that politi­cian, Mitzi Dean, doesn’t ex­actly fit the mould, ei­ther. First thing you no­tice is the ac­cent, which is more Kent than Col­wood. The Esquimalt-Metchosin MLA em­i­grated from Eng­land 15 years ago, might be the only per­son in her con­stituency who uses the word “whilst” with­out it sound­ing like an af­fec­ta­tion.

In Eng­land, she worked for the coun­try’s largest child-pro­tec­tion char­ity. On this side of the pond, prior to her elec­tion in 2017, she was ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the West Shore’s Pa­cific Cen­tre Fam­ily Ser­vices As­so­ci­a­tion, which of­fers pro­grams tack­ling is­sues rang­ing from men­tal health, to drugs and al­co­hol, to domestic vi­o­lence.

That’s where she crossed paths with Hartshorne, a sup­porter of the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s ef­forts.

“What I re­ally liked about her was she didn’t re­ally care about the po­lit­i­cal lines in the sand,” he says. She worked hard, would team up with any­one who could help get the job done.

Well, Dean has a big job now, be­ing el­e­vated to John Hor­gan’s cab­i­net as B.C.’s new min­is­ter of chil­dren and fam­ily devel­op­ment this week.

In a way that makes her a bit of a rar­ity. Some­times cab­i­net min­is­ters are odd fits, hav­ing no pre­vi­ous knowl­edge of or par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est in the port­fo­lios in which they sud­denly find them­selves the big boss. Not this time. Dean might have been an MLA for only three years, but she has been in this field for 30.

It’s her pas­sion.

It’s an area of gov­ern­ment that can eat up those in charge, though. A cau­tion­ary tale is pre­sented in for­mer Lib­eral cab­i­net min­is­ter Ge­orge Ab­bott’s new book Big Prom­ises, Small Gov­ern­ment, which dives in grim de­tail into what hap­pened after his party took power in 2001.

Back then, the com­bi­na­tion of a 25 per cent per­sonal in­come tax cut and a tanking econ­omy col­lided with a de­mand that the pro­vin­cial bud­get not only be bal­anced, but that it be bal­anced with­out cut­ting into health or ed­u­ca­tion, two ar­eas that con­sumed the ma­jor­ity of gov­ern­ment spend­ing. That re­sulted in the re­main­ing min­istries bear­ing the brunt of the cuts.

Hard-hit were not just the so­called “dirt” min­istries — those deal­ing with trans­porta­tion, the en­vi­ron­ment, forests, agri­cul­ture and the like — but peo­ple­fo­cused port­fo­lios like Chil­dren and Fam­ily Devel­op­ment and Hu­man Re­sources. The min­is­ters them­selves, de­cent peo­ple, ag­o­nized over the de­ci­sions they were forced to take.

Even in the best of times, such port­fo­lios are tough. When tragedy strikes chil­dren in gov­ern­ment care, re­spon­si­bil­ity stops with the min­is­ter. For­mer TC colum­nist Jim Hume used to re­fer to Hu­man Re­sources as the Min­istry of Mis­ery.

Dean, the mother of a 10-yearold daugh­ter, says she has no il­lu­sions about the po­ten­tial sor­rows of her new ap­point­ment, but the chance to make a mean­ing­ful dif­fer­ence in the area is why she got into pol­i­tics. “I’ve al­ways done hard and dif­fi­cult work,” she says.

That in­cludes ground-level ex­pe­ri­ence in child pro­tec­tion. “I have lit­er­ally car­ried a six-week baby out of a hospi­tal to take it to a fos­ter home.”

It all left her with a clear sense of pur­pose. “I know what I’m do­ing and why I’m do­ing it.”

In an in­ter­view five years ago, Dean spoke of the chal­lenges fac­ing so­cial-ser­vices agen­cies like PCFSA. “Broadly, our sec­tor is dy­ing the death of a thou­sand cuts,” she said then.

“It’s get­ting worse. It’s grind­ing us down more and more and more.”

Now she has gone from there, the pas­sen­ger seat, to the driver’s seat of a min­istry with a $2.3-bil­lion bud­get. Out­go­ing min­is­ter Ka­trine Con­roy, who has shifted to the forests port­fo­lio, leaves the min­istry with the low­est num­ber of chil­dren in care in 30 years, the low­est num­ber of In­dige­nous chil­dren in care in 20, Dean says. “We’re on the right tra­jec­tory.”

Like all of the new cab­i­net min­is­ters, she has much to learn about her new job. She only got her man­date let­ter from Hor­gan on Thurs­day night, then spent Fri­day try­ing to ab­sorb a mind­numb­ing amount of in­for­ma­tion. Time to get to work.

 ??  ??
 ??  ?? Mitzi Dean, NDP MLA for Esquimalt-Metchosin.
Mitzi Dean, NDP MLA for Esquimalt-Metchosin.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada