The CLBC Controversy

By Victor Schwartzman and Paul Caune 
November 26, 2011

“CLBC exists to support British Columbians with developmental disabilities and must return them to the centre of decision making”—B.C. Minister of Social Development Stephanie Cadieux, November 18, 2011.

Community Living British Columbia (CLBC) is a crown agency of the B.C. Government.  It provides services to adults who have developmental disabilities, and  answers to the Ministry of Social Development. 

CLBC was created in 2005 with enormous promise.  On November 19, 2011 a Vancouver Sun headline blared CLBC was “struggling to meet (its) mandate”. CLBC admitted it had cut “services because it doesn’t have enough money to meet growing demand.” 

The growing demand was completely predictable.  It was also completely predictable that the government would be far more interested in lowering budgets than improving services to people with disabilities.  Individualized funding for the 13,700 people “served” by CLBC was the goal.  That goal remains in
the dust.

CLBC Damned By Its Own Report

The article noted that “Community Living B.C. has ‘pushed too hard’ to get some of its clients out of group homes, that it routinely downgrades services for young people with developmental disabilities, and that it does not have enough funding to keep pace with growing demands”.  All this was in a report from CLBC’s own “top brass… Coming after a year of criticism, Friday’s [CLBC Interim] report paints a picture of an organization struggling to meet its

Should we note that it is not CLBC which is really struggling?  Who is really struggling are CLBC’s clients, the people it is dedicated to serve. 

The report notes CLBC has cut $81 million in services to existing clients.  The cuts were made to ‘free up’ money for new clients.  So the plan was to damage old clients to better serve new clients. 

Although the government has increased funding each year of CLBC’s existence, it decided to not increase the funding enough.  What looks good on paper has forced CLBC into a horrible dilemma: either go public and pressure the government to provide more funding, or deliberately abuse the citizens CLBC exists to serve. 

Guess which CLBC chose? 

Where Does the Controversy Come From?

Paul Caune, Executive Director of Civil Rights Now! (
) has followed the CLBC controversy with interest.

“First, we should see where the controversy has come from.  Knowledge about the problems has been around for a long time.  Some of the recent criticism of CLBC has been orchestrated by public sector unions. 

“Their duty is to protect their membership.  That means job security and safe working conditions are their main interests.  Fair enough.  But it also means unions only support service delivery models which make it easier for them to organize their membership. The quality of life a service delivery model gives for citizens with disabilities is irrelevant to public sector unions compared to fighting to preserve the jobs of their members. 

“We must never forget BC public sector unions fought against liberating people with disabilities from institutions such as Woodlands.  They have also stymied reform at Vancouver’s George Pearson Centre for decades.  As recently as 2005, they lied about the quality of care there.

Service Providers

“But the unions are only one player.  Another player is the service provider.  Service providers want to stay in business, whether or not they are providing a good service.  One great way of keeping money coming to them, to ensure their funding, is to generate horror stories about people with disabilities being thrown out of group homes and given to home share.” 

Paul is concerned the self-interest of service providers, and how it affects what information the public receive, is not being considered during the current controversy—just as no one is talking about how the current service models (small group homes) are failures compared with ones which help ensure control and independent living.

Home Share, Regulations and Enforcement

A third player in the CLBC controversy is the Community Living Action Group, or CLAG (

CLAG does outstanding advocacy but some of their proposed solutions and criticisms are off base.  For example, CLAG has criticized CLBC for programs such as home share. “Home share is where a person is given a contract to have an adult with disability live in their house,” Paul says.  “It is much less expensive than a group home. 

“The concern about home sharing comes down to there being no regulations.  Therefore, so the argument goes. We don’t know what is happening to the clients, and therefore there is no accountability and therefore it is not safe. This is hopelessly naïve. 

“If the premise is that a highly regulated environment leads to better outcomes,  Woodlands” (a BC institution shut down after years of documented abuse of citizens forced to live there) “demonstrates how false that premise is.  There were steady reports of abuse at Woodlands from the very beginning.  There was documented abuse for over one hundred years. 

“But no BC Government punished the abusers.  At times a lot of public money was poured into Woodlands.  And that was the most highly regulated environment of all.  The regulations existed on paper but were never enforced.  There is no reason to believe new regulations will be enforced any more than they have been. 

 “So the criticism of supposedly client-centred service such as a home share is well-intentioned but based on a false premise.  It ignores history. 

“Why would people with disabilities want more regulation?  We’re already garroted by red tape. There is no evidence the services were any better when directly provided by the Ministry. 

“Parents of children with autism who fought the Ministry in the 1990s know this very well.  There is no evidence to support the assertion that the Ministry’s social workers and other bureaucrats will provide services any better than CLBC.”

The Government Admits Failure

And the Government in power, the Liberal Party?  Was it not the one which created this mess? 

“It’s clear,” Paul says, “that future needs, which are inevitable, will require more services.  But their spending priorities and financial mismanagement guarantees that those needs will not be meant.  The problem goes straight back to a failure of leadership.”

The Minister of Social Development Stephanie Cadieux told the CLBC Board ( in response to the recent Interim Report (

“CLBC exists to support British Columbians with developmental disabilities and must return them to the centre of decision making.”

No one has commented about this startling statement. 

It is an admission by the BC Liberals of its complete disregard for the fundamental reason for creating CLBC—that control would be delegated to the people who have disabilities. What else could the statement “return [CLBC clients] to the centre of decision making” mean, if not the Government admitting its policies forced CLBC to betray its mandate?

And, if you’re not the centre of decision making, you’re not a citizen.

Other Interested Parties?

Apart from the Liberal Party, the Ministry of Social Development, CLBC, the service providers, the unions there are also…wait for it!…the FAMILIES and CLIENTS. 

Hey, how did they suddenly get in the picture? 

“The families constantly speak out on behalf of those who in some cases cannot speak for themselves,” Paul says.  “These families are everything we as a society expect a good family to be. They are incredibly tough. These families are scared and frightened about the future of their children.  They also worry about being put into the control of bullies or wankers. 

“All of these fears are justified. 

“In British Columbia the history is that the Government, left to its own devices, usually does the wrong thing.  This includes even criminal acts, as in Woodlands and the Jericho School for the Deaf. 

“That so many families have come forward is a great day for democracy in Canada.  It is the pressure from the families which actually started this controversy! 

“To get in the face of politicians.  To not be silent.  We should encourage that.  We need to reward that.  We need more of that. 

Advocates, Be realistic

“But the families need to be realistic about the interests of the other parties in this controversy. 

“The NDP is interested in getting elected.  They’ll say or promise anything they need to get elected, as the Liberals did when they were in opposition. 

Politicians always watch where people are marching and then run to be out in front.  

“Families need to focus on reforms which protect their children’s civil rights and dignity.”   

And what reforms should they focus on?  For Paul, it always comes down to who controls the resources—the bureaucrats or the citizen. 

“Individualized funding was a big part of the vision of CLBC.  Of its 13,700 clients, only a handful has Individualized Funding.  I suspect the reason so few clients have it is many of the old school bureaucrats recruited by the CLBC hate it.  They hate it because they can’t control it. 

“So they make it so onerous to get that families are deterred from using it.

“What we see now is an unfolding preventable tragedy.  Future needs are not going to be met.  More citizens with developmental disabilities will end up in prisons when they have committed no crime, but the Government claims it has no other place to house them. 

“What the families should do is file a class action suit against the B.C. Government and advocate for laws similar to the Americans with Disabilities Act and the UK Direct Payments Act.

No Need For More Reviews or ‘Advocates’

“Families should not waste time and energy advocating for an independent review or for a representative for people with disabilities,” Paul says.  “They should advocate for legislation with mandatory standards.  Their children need services mandated to be delivered in a way which supports their civil rights and dignity.

“I’m pleased to see one of the things CLAG is pushing the government to do is to introduce legislation which sets out inclusion rights and supports the entitlements of adults with developmental disabilities. This push should include all British Columbians with disabilities.

“My fear is that desperate people with disabilities and their families are being used as pawns in a game for power, money and influence, and to save failed service delivery models from the scrap yard.  This is why the controversy will probably never generate change.  Change does not involve more money.  The
public should understand that.  Change involves the Government and bureaucrats giving up power so people can make their own decisions.  That is what this is all about. 

“Parents are playing to a predictable media narrative of misery porn: heart rending, Tiny Tim stories of tragedy.  Eventually the public will go numb and will probably say people with such complex needs must be in institutions.  Also, the media has the attention span of a gold-fish.  No one is assigned to cover stories on an ongoing basis anymore; there is no depth to any of the coverage.  The media pats itself on the back for running a couple of stories,
and then it moves on to something else.  If you try to go back to them, they say ‘We’ve already covered that!  Maybe next year!’  (And sometimes the media gets even the simplest facts wrong. For example, Paul was recently misidentified on CTV BC News as a “CLBC User”.)

“Families currently have high expectations.  They think they have public support, this makes them vulnerable to being manipulated by the players.  As a group they should state if one family gets what they demand all the families must get the same. But in the long term all these crises will continue in the absence of mandatory standards—not regulations, but standards. 

“Families should seriously think about abolishing CLBC.  The services should not go back to the Ministry.  The only agency families should deal with is the Treasury Board, to cut them the cheques to purchase in real time innovative goods and services.

“Right now, the criticism is being led by families—by the people most in crisis. Families need to get both the Liberals and NDP to suck up to them for votes. Families need to remember the Liberals won the last election by only 5,000 votes “

Paul does not want to see the parents’ momentum lost due to a lack of focus or clear goals.  “The NDP and the Liberals assume they are entitled to our votes.  They are not entitled. No party is.  They have to earn our votes.”

As former Canadian Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour has argued: “Political processes do not serve all equally. Equality requires…that the most disadvantaged be empowered to participate meaningfully both in political and legal processes, unshackling them from the benevolence and whim of the powerful, and enabling them to control their own destinies.”