Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Time for MLAs to stop fighting about Phoenix

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AS preparations began for the search for Phoenix Sinclair's body yesterday, the carrion crows were already circling the Manitoba Legislature.

The death of the five-year-old has given the opposition Tories an issue that has them rubbing their hands in glee. They smell blood -- and they're not going to waste a minute taking advantage.

The case of the murdered tot, apparently lost in a child welfare system rife with mismanagement and disorganization, could be the catalyst to topple the NDP.

The Tories are doing their best to give them a shove.

While every member of the Manitoba Legislature, indeed every Manitoban, grieves the loss of Phoenix Sinclair, the Tories know this is a scandal that could make other examples of malfeasance pale in comparison.

"I don't know why this government doesn't do the right thing," Tory Leader Stuart Murray thundered yesterday during question period, demanding the resignation of Family Service Minister Christine Melnick.

"It's not enough to locate the file, we need to locate the child," harped family services critic Mavis Taillieu, continuing to hammer away at Melnick and her compatriots.

At its best, question period is a disturbing spectacle of elected officials shouting each another down, ignoring rules of debate and behaving like unruly children. At its worst, it's a blood sport.

The death of little Phoenix chummed the water.

Last week, Opposition House Leader Len Derkach ramped up the rhetoric, accusing the premier of using the child's death for his own nefarious purposes.

"Now he may want to play politics with a lot of things but he should never play politics with the death of a child in this province," Derkach said. "Shame on you."

Shame on the lot of you.

Playing politics is exactly what our MLAs have been doing since Phoenix's murder was uncovered. They are engaged in a wicked game of semantics, finger-pointing and verbal dodge ball.

The NDP gets points for calling two different reviews into the child-welfare system. They lose many of those points for having not jumped on the issue when they learned of the child's murder or, indeed, of the 14 children killed while receiving care from CFS in 2004 and 2005.

They lose further points for being defensive or oblique every time they refer to Phoenix's murder.

On March 15, here's what the premier had to say:

"This is a horrific incident that requires major follow-up and accountability for all of us and we accept that responsibility," he said. "I believe, in terms of child protection, we have increased our budget. If I can recall the numbers for child protection, from $107 million to, I believe over 100 or close to $80 million. I think there is even a 16 per cent increase in the child protection budget contained within the budget before the legislature."

But Phoenix Sinclair is still dead.

And here's Christine Melnick:

" ...the closing of the file of the five-year-old was not part of the devolution process and that has been recognized, Mr. Speaker, by most people at this point," she said. "The process of preparing a file to move from one agency to another, which could be a new authority, was a process of determining which was the best authority for the file to reside under and then preparing a transfer, not a closure, a transfer of the file."

But Phoenix Sinclair is still dead -- and she has a name.

In the midst of all the point scoring, is it really too much to ask the MLAs to stop their bickering and their gamesmanship, to stand behind their desks and observe a moment of silence for this child?

It is the only honorable thing to do for a little girl who died while someone in a position of power looked away.

Right after that? Let the games begin.

Maybe the carrion crows will leave with a reformed child welfare system in the wake of their frenzied pecking.

lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 22, 2006

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