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This article was published 3/2/2021 (301 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Families Minister Rochelle Squires took time Tuesday to praise her department’s employees for working "tirelessly" — just as the NDP issued a news release about hundreds of job vacancies in that department.
Documents obtained by the Manitoba NDP through freedom of information requests show the department of families had 444 vacant positions as of March 31, 2020, the start of the pandemic.
That is nearly one-quarter of the 2,069 positions in the department, which is helping many of the most vulnerable Manitobans during the worst crisis in a century, said NDP critic Malaya Marcelino.
"That’s a lot of front-line workers — like EIA (employment and income assistance) case workers — who aren’t there to respond to the urgent needs of families during this difficult time," Marcelino (Notre Dame) said Tuesday.
The vacant positions have made it harder for families to access essential services such as child care, social assistance and housing, she said.
"You can see that here in the streets. Any bus shelter you pass by, almost, there are people sleeping in it. That’s not right. That’s not providing dignity to these folks," said the MLA.
In an interview Tuesday, Squires shot back, saying there are 357 vacancies in the department, including 102 at the Manitoba Developmental Centre. They are not being filled because her government is closing the institution over the next three years and moving residents into the community. In the meantime, 113 job positions have been posted or are in the process of being posted, Squires said.
"We are focused on reducing vacancies in the department," Squires said. "I do very much believe in the good work my department is doing serving communities," she said.
The families department will continue to streamline programs so they’re more effective, Squires said.
"We’ve reduced the child poverty rate and there are fewer kids in CFS care," she said.
Manitoba’s child poverty rate in 2018 was 0.7 percentage points below the 1989 rate, according to the national advocacy group Campaign 2000. The number of kids in care in Manitoba that hovered above 10,000 for many years has fallen to 9,800, she said.
Those results, Squires said, "are more definitive than the outdated stats that the NDP is touting."
The PC cabinet minister, who moved from municipal relations to families in Premier Brian Pallister’s Jan. 5 cabinet shuffle, began a news conference on Tuesday by praising employees in her department.
"I’m new to the families file, but I want to start off by saying I am so impressed by the dedication of staff in this department who are working to protect and support some of our province’s most vulnerable people," she said. "Staff in these areas work tirelessly to help keep children safe and protected, assist at-risk children, youth and families, support adults with intellectual disabilities to live and participate in the community and ensure the development of safe and affordable housing for people with low incomes and those experiencing homelessness.
She said she took the opportunity not to acknowledge the department is understaffed but to express appreciation to employees. "Their work is incredibly appreciated," she said, especially with all the added challenges presented by the pandemic.
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said the PC government is making work harder for its own employees and those they serve.
"There are people who are not able to find places to live because this government has laid people off and has refused to staff EIA," Lamont said. "Even the services that are being provided are horribly inadequate. EIA doesn’t pay people enough to live on in many cases," he said. "By combining things like allowing evictions to take place and having multi-week waits for people to get onto EIA or get housing, you’re guaranteed to have people who are homeless."
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.