A brazenly self-serving exercise of bureaucratic power

Community Services Minister Denise Peterson-Rafuse will finally sit down with the Talbot House board of directors Tuesday, but only after her department’s shrewd mandarins have pre-empted any actual purpose the meeting might serve.

The Talbot board asked for the session months ago, seeking a peaceful resolution to her department’s reckless assaults on the half-century-old, community-built addiction recovery center. Peterson-Rafuse readily agreed to the meeting in principle, then bobbed, weaved, and stalled until her officials rendered it meaningless.

First she couldn’t meet because the legislature was sitting. Then she postponed again, just long enough for the department to announce the RFP* it hopes will kill any chance of Talbot House reopening.

DCS announced the RFP to replace the services Talbot provided on the very day its bureaucrats gave the legislature’s Community Services Committee a selective and distorted account of events leading to Talbot’s closure, an account that depicted department functionaries as blameless for and even shocked at the sordid sequence of events.

When George Savoury, Executive Director of Family and Community Supports, emerged from that hearing, a reporter asked whether DCS had any mea culpa to offer.

“No,” he replied.

Another reporter asked what lessons the department had learned from the Talbot imbroglio.

“We will be, as a result of this experience, doing more frequent reviews,” Savoury said.

It was a brazenly self-serving conclusion. The DCS review of Talbot House is hardly a template anyone would want to replicate.

  • It led to the closure of a valued community institution that had served some of Nova Scotia’s most tormented citizens.
  • It promoted false allegations of sexual impropriety against an innocent man, the organization’s executive director, Fr. Paul Abbass.
  • It based these allegations on vague hearsay from anonymous third parties—allegations for which police could find no basis in fact.

Even after an eight-week police review cleared Abbass, DCS saw fit to publish a report that repeated the sinister-sounding innuendo—still anonymous, and described in a manner so vague it would be impossible to refute, no matter how innocent the target.

Compounding the slander directed at Abbass, the DCS report contained additional inaccuracies, misrepresentations, and outright falsehoods. To cite but a few:

  • It said the recovery house had no budget, when in fact, a budget was attached to its annual application for funding.
  • It said the annual financial statements submitted by Talbot’s accounting firm were unsigned; in fact, they were signed.
  • It criticized aspects of Talbot’s financial management in a manner so uncomprehending as to betray broad ignorance of not-for-profit accounting practices
  • It complained that Talbot House had no formal orientation for new staff, when Talbot had not hired a new employee for six years.

Stripped of bias and errors, the report boiled down to a complaint that Talbot had been slow to implement personnel procedures such as job descriptions and performance reviews.

In short, DCS carried out a review and released a report that was slanderous, error-filled, and biased, yet the man in charge offered no apology, and proclaimed the only take-home to be that more frequent reviews are needed.

Meanwhile the minister responsible dithered and stonewalled long enough for her officials to render today’s meeting meaningless.

What a disgrace.

– – –

* An RFP is a request for proposals, the first step in a tendering process. DCS will request proposals to provide recovery center services in Cape Breton. The RFP will set forth the criteria the winning bidder must meet.  The department  will evaluate submissions and select a winner, who will then get government money to provide the very services Talbot House pioneered in Cape Breton on a volunteer basis 53 years ago. DCS has said Talbot House is free to compete for this tender, but I will be surprised if the criteria do not include features tacitly intended to exclude Talbot—such as a willingness to accept clients on Methadone, use of which is contrary to Talbot’s philosophy. If effect, the Talbot House Society is being forced to compete for the right to supply the service it pioneered.


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