If you'd cast an eye down the ranks of Premier Christy Clark's backbench last week, trying to pick out a likely leader for a caucus revolt, Randy Hawes would not immediately have leapt to mind. His attacks on an especially effective government critic, B.C.'s representative for children and youth, made him look more like a lapdog eager for elevation to cabinet.
But there was Mr. Hawes on Monday, openly challenging his boss over her handling of Community Living B.C., the beleaguered government agency responsible for providing services to developmentally disabled adults.
In doing so, he exposed frustration in caucus, almost nine months after Ms. Clark took over from the controlling and insular Gordon Campbell, that the new premier might be just as tone-deaf to concerns from the backbench as the last one.
For weeks, members of the government had raised issues about CLBC behind closed doors. Ms. Clark did respond by dumping the hapless Harry Bloy as minister, and the agency's CEO was let go.
But there was no comfort offered to families that their issues would be addressed. The new minister responsible, Stephanie Cadieux, promised a series of internal reviews but continued to deliver the same old message-box fare, that everything is pretty fine.
So Mr. Hawes stepped up, leading other government MLAs – some publicly and others privately – to echo his concern that Ms. Clark's supposedly family-centric government is continuing to try to spin its way out of the problem instead helping thousands of families struggling to get assistance.
In particular, he called the government on its claims that it wasn't forcing adults with severe developmental challenges out of group homes to save money.
"There's some empathy that is missing here," Mr. Hawes said this week.
Some of Mr. Hawes' caucus colleagues were furious with his action this week, but his sincerity isn't in question. Although it hasn't made big headlines, they all know him as a passionate advocate for the disabled in his community.
"I'm a cold-hearted, bottom-line banker who actually cares about kids," he said in an interview. After 10 years in the BC Liberal caucus, Mr. Hawes broke ranks because he couldn't stand it anymore.
The three government MLAs who publicly sided with the families this week, led by Mr. Hawes, have been hailed as heroes by advocates for those who rely on CLBC for housing, respite care and other support.
"It's being taken seriously now," said Dawn Steele, of the advocacy group Moms on the Move. Her group has been fighting the group home closures for 15 months, and the opposition New Democrats have pushed diligently, to no avail. She hopes that this week will provide the critical mass. "It's inspiring."
Ms. Steele wants an independent review of CLBC because she doesn't believe anything substantial will change so long as the agency pays out bonuses to its executives for finding efficiencies. "In other words, the more people you can kick out of group homes to move to cheaper accommodations, the more you are rewarded," she said.
This week the interim head of CLBC, Doug Woollard, played down the scale of the problem, and refused to push for the $65-million it would take to deal with the agency's waiting lists for service.
Mr. Hawes, it seems, won't score an immediate victory. He emerged from a caucus meeting after his outburst with a few bruises and a defiant tone: "I'm a big boy, if you want to give me a verbal licking, fine. I knew what the consequences would be."
The question now is, how will Ms. Clark respond to this mini-revolt? Just seven weeks ago she called off plans for a fall election, which means she really is only now settling in to govern. She could take this opportunity to develop a new relationship with her own caucus, to end the disconnect that has simmered for such a long time.
"When you get a new leader, it takes a bit of time. The Premier is trying to set a new direction a little, it takes time for us to settle in to that," Mr. Hawes observed. "Maybe it takes a catharsis."
BY THE NUMBERS
Community Living B.C. has a budget of $710-million this year to provide support and services to developmentally disabled adults.
Some other numbers, big and small:
10,856 - number of clients who are receiving "appropriate" service
2,089 - number of clients seeking additional services
751 - clients waitlisted for service
$65-million - amount needed to alleviate the wait list
65 - number of group homes closed in the past two years
200+ - number of people moved as a result of closures
$25,000 - contract for an outside media consultant to help CLBC respond to concerns that it isn't spending enough on its clients
3 out of 3 - executives at CLBC who maxed out their bonuses last year
Editor's note: Three executives at CLBC maxed out their bonuses last year. A previous version of this article contained a typo. This online version has been corrected.