Prominent New Democrat denounces Peterson-Rafuse

Sydney Mines native John Hugh Edwards is a life-long New Democrat, the kind of party stalwart who mans phones during election campaigns, works polls on voting day, and faithfully attends NDP rallies and conventions. Twice, the longtime St. Francis Xavier extension worker ran as the party’s federal candidate in Cape Breton – The Sydneys, mounting a respectable challenge to Liberal MP Mark Eyking.

Don’t miss his letter to the Cape Breton Post about Community Services Minister Denise Peterson-Rafuse’s treatment of Talbot House:

For decades, the staff and volunteers at Talbot House have provided Cape Breton with incredible service to those among us who have suffered from the ravages of addiction. Now it appears that the good work of these dedicated people, and the legacy of many years of service to our community, are to be thrown aside because of little more than false allegations, innuendo, and a tissue of technical and picayune complaints by nameless bureaucrats.

Before leaving home for work opportunities in Ottawa five years ago, I had the privilege to assist, in a small way, with Talbot House’s work. Through this direct experience, I can attest to the dedication and commitment of the executive director, the staff, the residents and the volunteers.

During more than 30 years of working with non-profit and community service organizations, I have rarely seen the level of commitment to service and recovery I found at Talbot House.

For the staff and board members of Talbot House to be subjected to the assault and vilification they have suffered at the hands of the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services is a travesty of the first order.

To add insult to injury, the behaviour of the current minister of community services in supporting the unsupportable organizational review is incomprehensible.

I have read the review, and my years of professional experience in organizational development tell me that aside from allegations that have since been proven false, it contains no substantial issues that could not be resolved by simple and direct communication between the board and the department.

We have not been able to read the board’s response* to the review since the Department of Community Services has refused to post it. More shameful behaviour. Further to the minister’s discredit, she appears to have reneged on commitments she made to the board in June.

I suggest the only fair resolution to this sad affair would include restoration of the mandate and funding for Talbot House; publication on the government website of Talbot House’s response to the organizational review; a public apology from the minister of community services to the executive director, staff, board, and residents of Talbot House; and a full and open inquiry into the behaviour of the Department of Community Services throughout this shameful episode.

Those steps would not only satisfy the injustice to Talbot House, but also assure other community-based organizations in Cape Breton and throughout Nova Scotia they will not be subjected to the same kind of treatment from the Department of Community Services.

I agree that the only fair resolution to this disgraceful episode is a thorough, scrupulously independent investigation of this department. Peterson-Rafuse has lately been crowing about how many volunteer boards and charitable community groups her department has subjected to “organizational reviews.” Well, if it’s sauce for all those goslings, how about some sauce for this smug, complacent goose?

Where are the other New Democrats who campaigned for decades to hold the Department of Community Services to account? How can they remain silent in the face of this behavior? Are they really satisfied to see such cruel, senseless treatment of a valued community organization by the first New Democratic government in Nova Scotia?

* Peterson-Rafuse’s department hasn’t have the integrity to publish the Talbot Board’s devastating response, which exposes the false allegations, factual errors, and bias that pervade her department’s own report on this issue, but you can download it from Contrarian [pdf].

[Disclosure: John Hugh is a longtime neighbour and valued friend. We were briefly business partners a decade ago. He now lives most of the year in Ottawa, and to the best of my recollection, we have n deveriscussed this issue.]

Save Talbot House, a Facebook page started by distraught former residents of Talbot House, has attracted 2,000 members in less that a week. There is also an online petition.