B.C.'s child watchdog quits after 14 months on job, heads back to New Brunswick

B.C. Children's Representative Bernard Richard speaks to media from the Grand Pacific Hotel in Victoria, B.C., on Wednesday, October 4, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

VICTORIA - British Columbia's independent children's advocate is quitting after 14 months on the job to return to his home province of New Brunswick.

Bernard Richard, a former social worker and politician, was confirmed in his role as B.C.'s representative for children and youth in February 2017.

He told the legislative committee Wednesday that he will remain on the job until August to ensure a replacement is found.

After the committee meeting, Richard told reporters that he is 67 years old and wants to return to the East Coast to be near his family and his French-speaking community.

"I've made no secret of the fact I wasn't here for a long time," said Richard who considered himself a "transition representative."

He replaced former Saskatchewan judge Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, who held the children's watchdog post for a decade.

Richard previously worked as a youth advocate and a cabinet minister in New Brunswick, holding a variety of portfolios including education and Aboriginal affairs.

He said he decided to return to New Brunswick last Christmas after a family visit, during which he was approached by Mi'kmaq chiefs who were starting a new agency to help Indigenous families and children.

"This for me, at this time in my life, was the chance to give back," said Richard.

He said French-speaking Acadians in New Brunswick and Mi'kmaq have long-standing bonds that date back hundreds of years.

Richard also said he was homesick.

"I talk to my father once a week, and every time I talk to him he says, 'When are you coming home?' So, I think it's time," he said.

"Home is home. My first language is French. I miss being able to go to the post office, the hockey rink, the store and speak French every single day to everyone I meet."

Richard said one of his major accomplishments in B.C. was resettling the previously turbulent relationship between his office and the government's children's minister.

"It was clear there was a need to find some relationship building and I really focused on that and I think we are at a much better place," he said.

Children's Minister Katrine Conroy said she was surprised by Richard's decision to quit, but wished him well.

She said her relationship with Richard was one of "healthy tension."


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