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?