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?

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