A Yellowknife MLA is calling on Glen Abernethy to resign as NWT Health and Social Services Minister.
The call by Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart was made on the floor of the Legislative Assembly on Friday.
It comes after a scathing report from the Office of the Auditor General of Canada (OAG) this week.
The audit found that not only had the territorial government not acted to improve social services for children in the NWT as the auditor recommended in 2014, but in fact had allowed conditions to worsen.
The auditor says that has put the health and safety of vulnerable kids, the vast majority of them Indigenous, at risk.
Testart says Abernethy has failed on the file and it’s time for him to step aside.
“This report is shocking – the auditor general’s findings that things are worse now than they were four years ago, for a multitude of reasons. The fact remains that this is a very personal matter of interest to (Abernethy). He has lots of expertise with this and it’s pretty clear…that this is a problem and demands accountability,” Testart said outside the house on Friday. “The public servants who are struggling with new rules, with limited resources – they aren’t the ones to blame. In our system of government it’s the minister whose accountable.”
Abernethy gave no indication that he intends to resign and when Premier Bob McLeod was pressed on the issue he said he could fire Abernethy as minister or assign him to another portfolio.
He gave no indication that he intends to do either.
Among the auditor’s findings was that the government continues to not do proper background checks on potential foster parents.
That led to a child in foster care being assaulted by one of his foster parents.
The child was then moved to a different foster home but again the government failed to screen those foster parents.
Parents are often outraged when their kids are taken from them by the government but their frustration can only build when social services doesn’t monitor whether the home they have sent them to is any better than their biological home.
Testart insists he does not have a personal problem with Abernethy adding that his concern on this issue is with caring for vulnerable children something he says that as a father is very important to him.
Testart pointed out that fully 98 per cent of children in the territory placed in foster care are Indigenous.
“It’s easy for non-Indigenous politicians to stand up and say we support reconciliation and we support Indigenous people. But those are just words and you have to back that up with meaningful action,” Testart said. “This issue of displacing children from their homes is a serious, live issue for Indigenous people in Canada. We’re failing.”
Testart says the fact that the number of Indigenous children in foster care in the territory has risen in the past few years shows that not only is the territorial government failing on the social services file but it is failing on its reconciliation efforts as well.