EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has rebuffed calls to fire her human services minister, and instead is accusing the opposition of crass grandstanding in the death of a four-year-old girl.
"(Irfan Sabir) has worked diligently," Notley told the legislature Monday during question period.
Notley said the most productive thing for her opponents to do would be to join Sabir's recently announced all-party panel looking to fix systemic problems with children in government care.
"We have invited members opposite to be part of that committee," said Notley.
"(But) we are not going to create a platform on which they can score political points like they're trying to do today."
While eschewing opposition gamesmanship, Notley made political accusations herself.
She criticized the opposition Tories for failing to address the problems while in power for almost 44 years, for reducing the number of social workers in the 1990s, and for proposing social service budget cuts in their last budget.
Sabir has been under fire for a week over his handling of the file of four-year-old Serenity.
The girl died two years ago while in kinship care after being brought to hospital with massive brain injuries and evidence of severe physical and sexual assault.
Due to delays, roadblocks and inaction, little has been done to find out why or who is responsible. The RCMP has had to prod Sabir's ministry since 2015 for information.
The issue became public over three weeks ago after leaked reports to the media revealed even the child and youth advocate was kept in the dark on key aspects of Serenity's case. Problems compounded when it was revealed the RCMP couldn't open the government electronic file for weeks until Dec. 6 due to technical issues.
As calls mounted for Sabir's resignation last week, he announced the creation of an all-party panel to make recommendations that will be put into legislation to safeguard children in care.
Sabir also promised that no one will be held accountable for past mistakes, prompting Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark to fire back in the house Monday.
"I do lay blame ... and I have no faith in this minister," said Clark.
He noted Sabir failed to implement safeguards proposed under the former Progressive Conservative government, including giving more teeth to panels reviewing child deaths and releasing internal reports into all child deaths.
"This is on you Mr. Minister, and I expect you to implement the damn changes," Clark shouted to Sabir.
Wildrose member Todd Loewen turned Notley's verbiage around on her, using the same words she used in the house in 2008 when in opposition she called for the firing of the Progressive Conservative social services minister over problems with sexual abuse of children in government care.
"You clearly have no idea what's going on inside your ministry," said Loewen to Sabir. "You failed your staff. You failed Albertans. You failed these children. Why won't you resign?"
Sabir told the house he won't go.
"I have stated that we have failed these children for decades," he said.
"The folks over there are the only ones who think it's time to step down. I think it's time to step up."
But Wildrose member Angela Pitt said having a politically compromised minister like Sabir run a panel puts the entire project at risk.
"Will someone please tell me why the government wants to put the fox in charge of the hen house?" said Pitt.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press