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Clark's credibility continues to crack

As the B.C. Liberal government keeps emphasizing its "Families First Agenda," it is undermining its own efforts on that front with the ongoing train wreck over at Community Living B.C (CLBC).

As the B.C. Liberal government keeps emphasizing its "Families First Agenda," it is undermining its own efforts on that front with the ongoing train wreck over at Community Living B.C (CLBC).

The latest "pillar" of the families agenda offers modest support for students in post-secondary institutions when it comes to paying off their student loans. For students facing massive debt loads the changes will provide some relief, but don't come anywhere near making a huge impact on a serious problem.

Naturally, many people will contrast that effort to help young people with the troubles of a government agency that is also supposed to help developmentally challenged young adults.

The incentive bonuses for CLBC executives were supposed to be gone, but it turns out they aren't.

Social Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux announced last October the bonus program was being terminated. Ending the program followed weeks of controversy and upheaval at CLBC, which included replacing its CEO and even the former cabinet minister responsible for the agency.

But the bonuses have simply been rolled over into the base salaries for the executives. On top of that, even though the bonus program was supposedly killed back in October, the ministry has now admitted it continued until the end of the last fiscal year (March 31).

Now, we're not talking about a lot of money here (about $300,000), but the issue here is about credibility. For a government that seems to be held in contempt by a lot of people, this misleading situation does further damage.

It's unclear how this mess has been allowed to fester. Is CLBC some kind of rogue agency rebuffing efforts by the central government to rein it in, or is this another example of a government in disarray?

I suspect it's the latter of those two scenarios. The two people who look worst in this sorry controversy are Cadieux and Premier Christy Clark herself.

Clark, for her part, has dismissed criticism over the bonus sleight of hand as mere "semantics" and has blasted reporters for getting things wrong.

It's interesting to note that no one in government sought to correct any of the media stories last October that reported the bonus program was over and done with right there.

It wasn't until the bonus program resurfaced in the news that this became an issue of semantics for the government.

It's unlikely Cadieux will lose her cabinet post over this, although her credibility has been damaged and some critics will no doubt call for her resignation. The core issue here is the not unreasonable expectation that a government speaks the truth when asked, and doesn't make misleading statements that come back to haunt it.

That's a big reason why Clark's cherished Families First Agenda is having so much trouble gaining traction with the voters.

Holding B.C. Hydro rates down, establishing a new family holiday, making changes to student loans and creating various new tax credits may all sound very nice to many people, but they have minimal political payoff if people are turned off by a government they don't see as being truthful about things.

The government is looking for someone to consult with communities about changes to B.C. Ferry operations. Whoever gets the job better get some earplugs.

I suspect people who live in small coastal communities will be apoplectic when it suddenly dawns on them that the changes that are coming will include a fair number of sailing reductions, particularly on small routes where on occasion a ferry will sail without a single passenger.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.