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Rights + Justice
BC Politics

Children and Youth Representative Announces Resignation After 14 Months

Office in good shape and time to return to New Brunswick home, says Bernard Richard.

By Andrew MacLeod 12 Apr 2018 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

After 14 months on the job, Bernard Richard announced Wednesday he is stepping down as British Columbia's representative for children and youth.

"I can leave and feel pretty confident about the future of the work of the office and I feel privileged to have been given this chance, but it is time to go," he said.

"It's a great job. The independence of the office is fantastic. As someone who's been a civil servant, who's been an MLA, part of caucus, part of cabinet, not always having the independence we have as officers of the legislature, it really is a privilege. It's hard to walk away for sure."

Richard, 67, will leave the job at the end of August to return to New Brunswick where he will work as an advisor to a new Mi'kmaq agency focused on supporting families.

An Acadian, he said he misses living his daily life in French and looks forward to living near his 93-year-old father. "I talk to my father once a week. Every time I talk to him he says, 'When are you coming home.' It's time."

Richard is the second person to hold the representative for children and youth position, having replaced Mary Ellen Turpel in February 2017.

He said his main accomplishment was re-setting the relationship with the government and the ministry of children and family development (MCFD).

"Early, when I first arrived, every meeting I attended, there was a kind of a tension that wasn't healthy. I really saw my role quickly as re-establishing trust between our office and primarily MCFD. That, I think, has happened."

Asked for his advice to his successor, Richard said, "You have to take advantage of the independence you have."

Turpel was "supreme" at using the office's independence and was an amazing representative, he said.

"It was hard to follow in her footsteps, but you also have to maintain a level of balance - I'll call it that. It's never personal. The systems operate in the way systems do. They're imperfect. Bureaucracies are imperfect. Finding ways to make progress happen is more important sometimes than making a point."

Richard said he remains concerned about the over-representation of Indigenous children in government care, the need for better mental health and addictions services, and insufficient support for young people aging out of care.

"Too many children and young adults are found on the streets in Vancouver, here and elsewhere, suffering from addictions and just not prepared to become adults," he said. "They don't have the same kinds of supports that our children have and they face a very rough world and we need to do a much better job in that regard."

NDP MLA Nicholas Simons, the chair of the legislature's select standing committee on children and youth, said he could understand Richard's decision. "The reasons he gave are very difficult to have any issue with."

Richard has done a good job, Simons said. "We're obviously sad to see him go. He brought a different perspective to the job... He was starting to get into his groove a little bit."

The relationship between the representative's office and the government was productive under both Richard and Turpel, he said.

"He showed legislators that there are many ways to be a strong advocate. We had a different tone than the previous representative and I think it's good that we have that variety as well."

The Green Party's spokesperson for children and youth, Sonia Furstenau, said in an emailed statement that she'd greatly appreciated Richard's advocacy for children in the province.

"He has continued to shine a light on the challenges of failures of the child welfare system," she said. "In particular, his advocacy for Indigenous communities and for the best interests of infants has been in invaluable contribution to our province."

Furstenau said she looked forward to the swift appointment of a new representative as there's much work remaining to be done.  [Tyee]

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