Tagged: NS Dept. of Community Services

Six things the NDP did wrong – part 2

Further evidence, if more were needed, that God is a New Democrat: No sooner did I put up the first part of my Things the NDP Did Wrong post than I was laid low by a chest cold that obliterated deep thought.* Here, finally, is Part Two of What the Dippers Did Wrong, to be followed, more swiftly I hope, by a two-part Things They Did Right.

4.  Tone deaf to rural NS

Four years ago, Nova Scotia’s New Democratic Party formed its first ever provincial government by adding an historic sweep of the rural mainland to its traditional Metro stranglehold. From the Canso Causeway to Lower East Pubnico, Dexter’s troops painted the entire Atlantic coastline orange.

Were it not for Tory Angus Tando MacIsaac hanging onto Antigonish, and the thin strip of coastline that belongs to Colchester North, the party would have registered another clean sweep along the Northumberland coast, from the Causeway to the Tantramar Marsh. Antigonish joined the orange tide a year later in a byelection.

NDP Mainland Seats 2009-600

Credit for engineering this triumph goes to the party’s cucumber-cool leader, whose stolid personality calmed fears of barbarians at the gate, and the small group of smart political operatives who surrounded him. Like the leader, and all but a handful of the party’s longstanding MLAs, the apparatchiks were firmly rooted in Halifax. None had neighbours who made their living with Stihl 041s, Ford 2Ns, or Ace Pot-Pullers. None lived 25 km from the nearest post office or NSLC outlet. None commuted to and from work over kilometres of unpaved road. None lived on their grandfather’s farm. None had used dialup in more than a decade.**

They were, however, thoroughly familiar with fashionable economic theories about the the inexorable urbanization of Canada, and the foolhardiness of propping up dying regions and economies. They knew governments are supposed to get unpleasant tasks—breaking promises, raising taxes, and killing popular programs—out of the way early in the mandate.

CatSo when Bay Ferries Ltd. asked for another in a long and growing string of annual subsidies to keep the Yarmouth Ferry running, Dexter’s boys abruptly shut off the tap. For the first time in decades, there would be no ferry connection between Yarmouth and Maine. The announcement came a week before Christmas.

There was no consultation—not with the town, the county, or the surrounding municipalities; not with the 120 ferry workers who would lose their jobs; not with the hoteliers who feared the ferry shutdown would render their businesses unviable. Dexter and Fisheries Minister Sterling Belliveau, the political minister for Southwest Nova, were both out of the country. It may just have been, as Dexter said in a television appearance last week, the biggest mistake of his first term.

It wasn’t simply a failure to calculate the massive collateral damage removal of the ferry would cause, it was a general cluelessness about the nuts and bolts of rural life. The NS NDP brain trust doesn’t get rural Nova Scotia, and rural Nova Scotia knows it.

5.  Maladroit on big negotiations

Whether chastened by the Yarmouth fiasco or hip to the hundreds of union jobs at stake, Dexter’s boys moved aggressively to shore up two venerable industrial behemoths—the paper mills at Brooklyn and Point Tupper—and to invest in two potential industrial employers—Daewoo’s wind turbine fabrication plant at the old Trenton Rail Yard, and Irving’s bid for a massive federal shipbuilding contract.

  •  In December 2011, the province gave Bowater Mersey a $50 million rescue package aimed at saving 320 jobs, only to see the plant shut down permanently six months later. About half the money went to purchase woodlands owned by the newsprint company; the other half took the form of grants that were mostly unspent when the owners pulled the plug. In December 2012, the province took over most of the company’s assets and liabilities, including a $20 million debt to one of the two owners, $120 million in pension liabilities, and environmental liabilities of unknown dimensions.
  • port-hawkesbury-paperIn September, 2012, the province paid the venture capital firm Stern Partners $124.5 million to take over the idle Pt. Tupper super-calendar paper mill. It had already spent $36.8 million keeping the mill in restartable condition. As the deal-making dragged on, Stern continually upped its demands, and the province repeatedly met them. Only after tiny Richmond County balked at Stern’s ultimatum for extreme property tax abatement, and Stern backed down, did the province finally draw a line in the sand, at which point Stern quickly agreed to the too-rich aid package.***
  • In June 2012 2011, the province put a total of $60 million—$40 million in grants and $20 million for a 49% equity stake—into a subsidiary of Korea’s troubled Daewoo Group that would manufacture wind turbine components at the old Trenton Rail Car plant. Daewoo put up just $30 million. The operation was supposed to create 500 jobs, but by the fall of 2011, employment had peaked at just 70, and the province acknowledged the plant was struggling with slack demand.
  • In 2012, the Dexter government staged a smart, successful communications and lobbying campaign to help Irving Shipbuilding land a purported $25 billion shipbuilding contract that could produce up to 11,500 direct and indirect jobs, according to the Conference Board of Canada. The jobs were supposed to begin as early as December 2012, but instead, Irving laid off 70 workers that month, as the start-up date for steel-cutting drifted off to 2015 at the earliest. At the same time, it emerged that the province had agreed to “loan” Irving $304 million (though only $44 million of the amount was repayable, a quality normally intrinsic to the concept of a loan). Then Dexter rejected Freedom of Information requests for details of the loan, but offered selected leaks to favoured reporters.

No one outside government knows the ins and outs of these deals, but on the results, it’s hard to avoid suspicion the New Democrats repeatedly got hosed when they went up against experienced corporate negotiators.

6.  Failure at Community Services

It was inevitable that a New Democratic Party government would look more like previous governments than its most ardent supporters might have hoped. No aspect of the Dexter-guided drift to the centre will have disappointed the party’s base more than its failure to reform the imperious bureaucracy of Nova Scotia’s Department of Community Services.

Dexter-RafuseWhen senior officials of the department, eager to win control of addiction treatment centres over which they had no statutory authority, promoted vague—and, as it turned out, false—allegations of managerial and sexual misconduct against the respected Roman Catholic priest who ran Talbot House in Frenchvale, Community Services Minister Denise Peterson-Rafuse vigorously championed the character assassination for seven months. She also pilloried Talbot’s volunteer board of directors, despite ample evidence the allegations were the empty ravings of an aggrieved crackpot. As political minister for Cape Breton, Deputy Premier Frank Corbett deserves special mention for his failure to step in.

Throughout its history, the NDP had defended the rights of income assistance recipients, but once in power, it turned its back on these citizens, clawing back benefits, and then defending the meanspirited changes with a despicable PR campaign that played to the nastiest stereotypes about welfare recipients. So much for today’s families.

Of all my complaints about Nova Scotia’s first social democratic government, this is the saddest.

Next: Six things the NDP did right. I encourage readers to submit comments and reflections on the NDP’s first term, and my evaluation of it. I will print a selection of the most thought-provoking, least partisan.

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* Before swamping me with email, please check the batteries in your irony detectors. I am an atheist, and while I believe the province would be best served by returning an NDP government, despite first-term ineptitude I describe here, I will vote for the Tory in my riding, a decent man with decades of community service facing a cynical challenge from a Liberal whose sole qualification for office is her status as wife of a currently serving Member of Parliament.

** The same can be said most of Nova Scotia’s political reporters, who rarely venture past the Armdale Rotary.

*** Disclosure: I played a small role helping Richmond County prepare for these negotiations.

A department that makes life harder for people with disabilities

Huffington Post’s Canadian edition yesterday published an investigative report by a team of student journalists from the University of King’s College detailing the housing crisis facing Nova Scotians with intelectual disabilities.

There is not enough room in the system for all of the people who need a place to live. They languish on waiting lists that are hundreds of names long. Their families, in turn, must support them with scant financial, caregiving or community programming resources. Eventually the families get too old or sick to do it, making the situation for their relatives in rehab even worse.

With so little room, placements are driven by crises. These crises, in turn, lead to inappropriate placements that only exacerbate individuals’ disabilities and sometimes cause mental health issues.

It is a bureaucratic system driven by policies, not people’s needs. And in the instances where policy would help to improve lives – in properly licensing, regulating, staffing and overseeing housing options – the system falls short.

Successive provincial governments have known all about this crisis and have repeatedly promised to fix it. The current NDP government is no exception.

After years of inaction, the Department of Community Services (DCS) recently produced a report — more accurately a discussion paper — about options for dealing with the crisis. The new document repeats sweeping promises of change, but DCS continues to ignore the findings of a 2001 report it commissioned that could have served as a basis for action 12 years ago.

“The Kendrick report is now over 10 years old and basically the fundamentals of the Kendrick report are no different now than … 10 years ago,” Dr. Brian Hennen, a past president of the College of Family Physicians of Canada, told the student journalists.

Jenn Power, Atlantic Regional Co-ordinator for l’Arche Cape Breton [and—disclosure—my daughter-in-law] summed up the crisis on her Possibilities blog.

[T]he primary struggles of the individuals profiled in the piece are not their disabilities per se, nor the way those disabilities might affect their mobility, learning skills, or emotional health.  Instead, the suffering they endure arises from the way the provincial “support” system treats them as a result of their disabilities.  They are reduced to their diagnoses, their difficult behaviours, their classification level.  They languish on endless waiting lists with no idea of the future, then are hurried into last-minute crisis placements at warehousing facilities.  They are forced to fit into an existing (outdated) system; the system is not expected to change to fit the needs of individuals.

This is not news to any of us who have friends or family members with intellectual disabilities, or who have been involved in this field for any length of time.  Our people are overlooked, patronized, ignored, devalued, and abused.  Their voices are not heard.  But boy, do they have something to say.

At Nova Scotia’s l’Arche communities, and many other DCS-funded homes, bureaucratic rules often deepen the impact of disabilities, rather than lighten them. Here’s one of several examples Power cites:

Lindsay and Tanya, both of whom graduated from high school and hold down full time jobs, would say that they deserve the right to stay home alone and watch TV or read a book or relax on the couch for a couple of hours every now and then.  But because they live in a provincially funded group home, they are denied this dignity of risk and are forced to join whenever their housemates leave the house.

Of the ways Darrell Dexter’s government failed to achieve its supporters’ aspirations, none is more disheartening than its failure to bring order, purpose, and humanity to the Department of Community Services. Will the next government do any better?

After wasting a year, province will restore Talbot House funding

Almost exactly a year after precipitous–and as it turned out, groundless–complaints by the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services forced the closure of Cape Breton’s only residential addiction recovery centre, Talbot House will get its funding back this week.

Health and Wellness Minister David Wilson will deliver the news in Cape Breton Friday, a weekday traditionally chosen for announcements governments would prefer to inter quietly. Wilson became the minister responsible for recovery centres last September, when Premier Darrell Dexter, fed up with the continual barrage of negative stories about DCS mistreatment of Talbot, stripped that department of the file and handed it to Health and Wellness.

[Background to this long unsavoury saga hereherehereherehereherehereherehere, and here. Or just type “Talbot House” into the search box at right.]

The re-funding decision comes after a conspicuously slow Health Dept. review of an RFP for which Talbot House was the only respondent. A government source familiar with the review acknowledged Monday that Talbot’s Board of Directors did “a good job” on the RFP, but previous government mishandling had led to excessive diligence on the part of cautious bureaucrats.

It’s also the case that Health and Wellness had no warning it was to be handed  responsibility for the problem file, and no doubt needed time to ramp up its own resources.

Friday’s announcement will include funding for staff training at Talbot, some renovations at the half-century-old, community-built centre, and an annual budget that compares favourably with its pre-shutdown funding. After a few weeks to ramp up staffing, the recovery centre is expected to resume operations April 1. Fr. Paul Abbass will stay on as Executive Director at least through the hiring and start-up, possibly longer.

It was DCS’s furtive promotion of vague charges of sexual impropriety by Abbass that led to the centre’s shutdown. Cape Breton Regional Police spent eight weeks looking into the shadowy complaints, but found no basis for launching a formal investigation. A Contrarian freedom of information appeal to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia likewise turned up no evidence of wrongdoing. No actual complainant ever came forward.

Missing from Friday’s announcement will be any plan to investigate or even review Community Services’ handling of the travesty.  That’s a big missed opportunity. The landscape is littered with tales of abusive behaviour by DCS. To be sure, the department’s usually savvy bureaucrats suffered a humiliating defeat in this case, but there is no reason to expect any systemic change in their entrenched habit of bullying the poor and the non-profits who assist them.

If a New Democratic Party Government won’t clean up this department, who will?

Community Services stripped of recovery centre oversight

In a tacit acknowledgement that Community Services bolloxed the crisis it brought on at Cape Breton’s Talbot House Recovery Centre, the province has stripped the department of responsibility for all five addiction recovery centres in Nova Scotia. From now on, provincial funding, service agreements, and oversight will fall under the Department of Health and Wellness.

Peterson-Rafuse

The decision comes just in time for Health to assume responsibility for evaluating a proposal from Talbot House to restore provincial funding it received as Cape Breton’s only addiction recovery centre. That avoids the sticky problem of having Community Services officials, with their demonstrated bias against Talbot, evaluate responses to the Request for Proposals Minister Denise Peterson-Rafuse ordered last June in a spiteful escalation of her department’s battle with the respected, 53-year-old treatment centre.

That’s all well and good. There is no reason to believe Health and Wellness can’t manage provincial funding of recovery centres professionally and fairly. But there remains the glaring need for a top-to-bottom investigation of the Department of Community Services. Its assault on Talbot was simply too reckless and too vindictive to let pass unexamined. There is ample evidence from other cases that imperious bullying of clients and client organizations has become standard operating procedure at Community Services.

If a government led by the New Democratic Party, which has criticized Community Services for decades, won’t undertake this long overdue review, who will?

Scorched earth for Cape Breton addicts

On Wednesday, the Department of Community Services made good on Minister Denise Peterson-Rafuse’s vindictive plan to issue a request for proposals (RFP) to replace the residential addiction treatment services so ably provided by the Talbot House Recovery Centre for the last half century.

Those services came screeching to a halt last February, after a biased and incompetent “organizational review” by the department’s  director of family and youth services, Marika Lathem, lent temporary credence to what turned out to be false charges of sexual misconduct against the home’s executive director.

Peterson-Rafuse and her officials are variously quoted as saying the Talbot House Society is welcome to respond to the RFP, or she has not ruled out allowing them to apply.

You can download the RFP here. My very quick read this evening suggests it contains poisoned pills that may make it incompatible with the Talbot Society’s philosophical approach to recovery, and easy for a hostile departmental review team to rationalize rejecting any Talbot bid.

The person in charge of that team? None other than Marika Lathem, principal author of the incompetent and biased review that brought on this debacle. This brazen conflict of interest compromises the hard-won integrity of Nova Scotia’s procurement system, and ought to concern those in charge of that system.

It’s hard to imagine who else might bid on this RFP. No existing Cape Breton organization seems likely, but the canny strategists at DCS are not likely to have issued the tender call without assurances someone other than Talbot would apply. The smart money is that Lathem has cajoled one of the four existing recovery centres on the mainland into opening a branch plant in Cape Breton.

That’ll go over well in Scotchtown and Florence.

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.

Minister Peterson-Rafuse presses pause

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.

Full credit to Peterson-Rafuse for directing the department’s about-face.

The meeting was closed to the media, and I don’t know what happened there. It seems reasonable to speculate that when the minister finally got in a room with someone other than her department’s senior officials, she discovered there was much she had not been told, and much of what she had been told was less than forthright. This likely extended beyond the complicated facts of the case to the calibre and heft of the Talbot directors her officials had treated with such disdain.

It’s not the first time. A year ago, the minister cancelled the department’s plans to implement a series of devastating cuts to medical benefits for Nova Scotians with disabilities. DCS officials planned to impose the cuts on the Friday before Canada Day weekend, without having consulted caregivers, operators of special needs homes, or the disabled residents themselves.

A media call alerted Peterson-Rafuse, who halted the cuts 24 hours before they were to take place. She later apologized to stakeholders and ordered two months of consultations before implementing a revised set of guidelines.

The Talbot affair could be a teaching moment for the NDP Government. Why was the minister not accurately briefed on both these operations? What does this say about the culture of the Department of Community Services? About its relationship to the clients it is ultimately supposed to serve, a group of Nova Scotians the NDP has long championed? What does it say about this department’s exercise of the deference civil servants are supposed to show ministers of government?

 

 

Talbot House strikes back

The board of directors of Talbot House, the much admired addiction recovery center shut down this winter after the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services raised vague and, as we now know, false allegations of sexual misconduct against its executive director, today issued two news releases that add up to a sweeping condemnation of the department’s behaviour.

How the Dexter government reacts will be a major test of its integrity. Will it circle the wagons? Or will it implement real reforms?

Please read the releases for yourself here and here. [Note: I have removed contact information for the board chair.]

On the Cape Breton Regional Police Service announcement late Friday that it had found no grounds to investigate the centre’s Executive Director, the board writes:

The Board of Directors initially contacted the police in response to a report to the Board from the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services, of serious allegations and complaints concerning Father Abbass. These allegations and complaints were provided to Ms. Marika Lathem, Director of Family and Youth Services with the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services, initially by the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness, and subsequently, during the course of an organizational review of Talbot House.

The Board of Directors made immediate and repeated written requests of Ms. Lathem and the Department of Community Services for the details of any allegations or complaints, or information that would allow a timely and balanced investigation of the matter, based on principles of procedural fairness and natural justice. To date, the Board of Directors has received no response and no direct complaint concerning Father Abbass. Despite our repeated requests, the Department of Community Services has provided no substantive information that would compel a formal investigation.

…Although we are pleased that Father Abbass has been vindicated of any wrongdoing, the delay in resolving this matter has resulted in an untold human cost, and was directly responsible for the series of decisions that resulted in the eventual discharge of residents from Talbot House.

Following receipt of a single, non-sexual complaint against Abbass last December, Ms. Lathem, who is Director of Family and Youth Services, launched an “organizational review” of Talbot House. Despite media requests and at least two FOIPOP requests (including one from Contrarian), the report has not been released, but according to the board’s news release, it reaches two main conclusions:

  •  “Talbot House is not operating in compliance with the majority of the Standards for Recovery Houses” and
  • “There is no evidence that the board has been actively overseeing the operation of Talbot House.”

In a telephone interview, Board chair John Gainer, a highly regarded Sydney psychologist, said the board “absolutely rejected the conclusions,” saying they were based on  a lack of proper evidence. He said the board had prepared a point-by-point rebuttal of the report that would be faxed to the department Sunday evening.

The news release is equally scathing:

The details of the report are presented as a series of “bulleted” items, many without context, elaboration, or analysis. It is the opinion of the Board of Directors of Talbot House that the review was fundamentally flawed in process and analysis, procedurally inadequate, lacked balance, and contributed to a report that contains numerous inaccuracies, and misrepresentations that, by their nature, are prejudicial, biased, and misrepresent the history, governance, and operation of Talbot House.

The board acknowledges that it was not fully complaint with the 2008 guidelines, which deal with procedural matters like job descriptions and performance appraisals, but insists, “there is ample evidence that the board was addressing these policy and operational issues in a systematic fashion.”

The news release also confirms that, even as Lathem’s vague accusations against Abbass sputtered to a halt due to lack of evidence, the department moved aggressively to ensure Talbot House would never reopen. On April 4, without advance notice to the board or any public announcement, the department retroactively terminated the centre’s funding as of April 1. Lathem told the board the department would issue a request for proposals for addiction services in Cape Breton, adding tartly that the Talbot House Society was welcome to submit a proposal.

The news release terms this action, “pre-emptive and unnecessarily punitive.” In previous years, funding was renewed automatically every April 1.

In short, the board describes a pattern of behaviour that is at once imperious and incompetent. It is a pattern many social service organizations and societies in Nova Scotia will recognize. In fact, it’s an attitude long complained of by NDP activists before the party gained power in 2009.

If even half of what the Talbot board says is true, then a searching, independent, top-to-bottom review of the Department of Community Services is long overdue.

A few background points:

— By all accounts, the Lathem report reflects a departmental penchant for placing process ahead of outcomes. Throughout this controversy, I have not heard anyone question Talbot’s success in treating addicts, many of them tough young men hooked on hard drugs.

— Many social service organizations and volunteer societies are struggling to comply with departmental guidelines requiring written policies, job descriptions, and performance reviews, and they are doing so without financial or administrative support from the department that imposed these governance requirements.

— To provide round-the-clock treatment and residential care for a rotating population of 18 men addicted to gambling, alcohol, or drugs, Talbot had a fulltime staff of six. That probably didn’t leave a lot of time for paperwork.

— Although their names may not be well known in Halifax, the Talbot Board is no random collection of hayseeds. It consists of bluechip professionals and community leaders, most of whom have distinguished records of achievement.

If Darrell Dexter treats this challenge as a political threat to be defended against with all of his government’s formidable powers of communications and institutional resistance, a great opportunity will have been missed.

On the other hand, if he sees this as an opportunity to step back and order a searching, independent review of the way social services are delivered in Nova Scotia, then some good will have come out of the disgraceful treatment accorded Fr. Paul Abbass and Talbot House,

Community Services Dept. vs. Talbot House

Exactly as many of us expected, the vague, shadowy accusations of sexual impropriety against Fr. Paul Abbass have proven false.

The Cape Breton Regional Police announced late Friday that the department has completed its review of information in the case — they were cagey about who was being investigated, but everyone knows it was Abbass — and they will not proceed with a criminal investigation. There was nothing to investigate.

I hope Fr. Paul Abbass will have the generosity of spirit to resume his duties as Executive Director of Talbot House, the community-built recovery center that has for 53 years successfully treated men addicted to alcohol, drugs, and gambling, and where Abbass served ably and generously for 17 13 years.

But that’s a pretty tall order. Just consider the toll the allegations have taken.

For eight weeks, the falsely accused priest suffered his public humiliation in quiet dignity. He was forced to step down from his post as Executive Director of Talbot House, and stripped of his duties as Vicar General, spokesman for the Antigonish Diocese, and pastor to four rural Cape Breton parishes.

From that litany of jobs, anyone can see Abbass was an exceptionally busy man. While running Talbot House and ministering to four congregations, he handled the unenviable task of speaking for the church after Bishop Lahey was arrested for possessing child pornography, and while church property was liquidated to pay for its settlement with abuse victims.

Abbass was guilty of nothing more than resisting the bureaucratic niceties demanded by Department of Community Services bureaucrats who don’t like Talbot’s recovery model of care, and who moved aggressively during Abbass’s eight-week ordeal to ensure the centre never reopens.

As it became apparent that the initial allegation of gross misconduct was a non-starter, the DCS official handling the file scrambled to find some rationale for the department’s overreach in this disgraceful episode. Last week, Marika Lathem produced a report that refocused the department’s gunsights from Abbass to the Talbot board of directors, whose governance it criticized.

Lathem’s self-serving report should have no more credibility than the dubious allegation she originally brought forward and promoted with reckless disregard for the consequences.

Over four decades of living in Cape Breton, I have heard nothing but admiration for Talbot House and praise for its work. As for the bureaucratic niceties DCS cherishes, many if not most care-giving organizations in Nova Scotia are struggling to implement the litany of policies, job descriptions, and performance appraisals currently in vogue among public administration wonks. They do so, it might be added, without financial or administrative support from DCS.

For decades, the NDP has challenged the unfeeling policies of this backward department. Now it’s time for the Dexter Government to put those ideals into practice:

Remove the discredited Lathem from any role in the affairs of Talbot House, and withdraw her report.

Appoint someone independent of the department to assist the Talbot Board in the onerous task of undoing the damage caused by the department’s misguided actions, with a budget sufficient to the task.

Undertake a searching, top-to-bottom review of Community Services by someone with no connection to the department. Someone who will actually listens to the men, women, and caregivers who suffer under its inept administration. Someone who will help implement the vision — so long championed by the NDP — of respectful support for those Nova Scotians most in need.