Tagged: George Savoury

Peterson-Rafuse reneges

For four months this spring, Community Services Minister Denise-Peterson Rafuse blindly defended her department’s slandering of an innocent priest, and its incompetent intervention into the operation of Talbot House, a much-admired, 53-year-old community-built addiction recovery center forced to close after the department engineered the removal of its executive director on specious grounds.

Then in June, when she finally deigned to meet with the Cape Breton institution’s board of directors, she had a momentary and welcome change of heart. As I wrote then:

Contrary to expectations expressed here Monday, today’s meeting between Community Services Minister Denise Peterson-Rafuse and the Directors of Talbot House brought the two sides closer together, and may lead to the reopening of Talbot House under the leadership of a vindicated Fr. Paul Abbass.

Peterson-Rafuse, persistently criticized here over the last two months, took a crucial step back from the brink. For now at least, she has cancelled her department’s plan to issue a tender for the addiction recovery services formerly provided by Talbot House. The two sides will negotiate terms for Talbot’s reopening with government funding. The Cape Breton Post’s Julie Collins has the optimistic details.

It didn’t take long for the department’s bureaucrats to whip this weak minister back into line. Contrary to her promise, she held no further meetings with the Talbot Board. As further proof that her word counts for nothing, the department today told the Cape Breton Post it would proceed with the RFP Petereson-Rafuse had promised to put on hold.

According to George Savoury, the department’s executive director for family and community support, there have been no further meetings with the Talbot House board, but the minister has looked into several of the issues raised in the report.

“That has been completed and we decided we will be proceeding with the RFP as was announced earlier,” he said. “We did send a letter to Talbot House advising them of our decision. Talbot House is very aware that they can apply, if interested.”…

“And we felt that a RFP would be an opportunity for an enhanced and improved service for individuals who needed this service in Cape Breton.”

As always, the department insists the Talbot House Society is “free to apply,” an empty bit of sanctimonious twaddle if ever there was one. Talbot House is history.

It will be interesting to see the if the department-imposed terms of reference make the use of methadone a mandatory part of the new addiction center’s treatment program. Deposed Executive Director Paul Abbass’s refusal to accept clients on methadone was a bone of contention for the methadone-pushing addiction professionals who anonymously defamed him in the department’s notoriously incompetent review.

This issue needs a thorough review by someone independent of the department. I am currently appealing to the NS Supreme Court over the department’s refusal to release documents that might shed light on the motives behind the department’s clumsy assault on Talbot House. Stay tuned.

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.

Another Talbot House test for the NDP

On Tuesday, members of the Nova Scotia Legislature’s Community Services Committee will get a chance to question the bureaucrat who promoted what turned out to be false allegations of sexual misconduct against an innocent priest, and to ask her superiors why they still haven’t withdrawn a report containing slanderous innuendo against him.

The department’s actions led to the closure of Talbot House, which had for 53 years provided safe lodging, meaningful work, and successful treatment for some of Nova Scotia’s most troubled citizens.

Marika Lathem, Director of Family and Youth Services and the principal author of the error-filled report, will testify. The Talbot House Society Board said her review of the organization, “was fundamentally flawed in process and analysis, procedurally inadequate, lacked balance, and contributed to a report that contained numerous inaccuracies and misrepresentations that, by their nature, are prejudicial, biased and misrepresent the history, governance, and operation of Talbot House.”

George Savoury, Executive Director of Family and Community Supports, and Associate Deputy Minister David Ryan will also appear. As Lathem’s superiors, they either failed to vet her report prior to publication, or failed to notice its obvious errors, inconsistencies, and casual calumny.

Morton

Chairing the committee is Kings North MLA Jim Morton who, coincidentally, served as the Annapolis Valley District Health Authority’s Manager of Addiction Services before becoming an MLA. With that background, Morton will have first-hand experience with Fortress DCS.

Last week, another coincidence: DCS gave itself a 30-day extension to the statutory deadline for responding to four freedom-of-information requests about Talbot. This had the effect of guaranteeing the requested material will not be available for Tuesday’s hearing. The department said meeting the initial time limit for the large number of records requested could unreasonably interfere with its operations. In one of the requests at issue, the “large number of records requested” was one: a single, easily located document.

Last time a house committee got the opportunity to consider the Talbot House scandal, DCS Minister Denise Peterson-Rafuse conducted a one-woman filibuster in response to the first question asked of her. She spoke for nearly an hour, running out the clock before opposition MLAs could get in a second question.

Legislature committee rules do not facilitate effective cross-examination of evasive or hostile witnesses. It will be interesting to see whether Morton allows prolix opening statements and time-wasting by  government members to frustrate meaningful exploration of the Talbot mess Tuesday.

For decades, concern about how DCS treated Nova Scotia’s down-and-out lay close to the heart of the New Democratic Party. Tuesday’s hearing will offer another measure of how much the long road to power has changed the party.