For the sake of honour


When you screw up, you pay the price.

That’s a stern rule, to be sure. But it’s supposed to be. Willingness to accept the personal consequences of our actions is how we demonstrate willingness to accept personal responsibility for them.

That’s how the oft-used and oft-abused catchphrase “accountability” is supposed to work.

Nowhere is that rule supposed to work with greater severity than in public life. No one among us would disagree that public officials, elected and non-elected, must be held accountable for their actions. That’s a long-established principle without which no democratic society will remain democratic for long.

For public officials, accepting that principle is a matter of honour and obligation. Those whose obvious obligation to the public is to resign dishonour themselves when they refuse to do so.

Elizabeth Palfrey, the outgoing chair of the Keewatin Regional Health Board, retained a measure of honour when she resigned her position last week.

But Kelvin Ng, the health minister who gave Palfrey and her senior staff permission to cut the heart out of the Kivalliq region’s health care system, there is no honour – not yet, at least.

Ng told the legislative assembly last fall that the Keewatin health board’s arbitrary cancellation of its longstanding agreement with the University of Manitoba’s northern medical unit posed “no risk” to the public.

Ng told the legislative assembly last spring that the Keewatin health board’s dubious deal with Kiguti dental services was a “sound” decision.

Ng has ignored legal opinions produced by the Keewatin Inuit Association that suggest he and the Keewatin Regional Health Board’s senior management have acted without legal authority.

Ng has presided over the near collapse of the region’s health care system. In some communities, nurses are working under inhuman conditions – on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Rankin Inlet’s nursing station has not had a nurse in charge for two years. Rankin Inlet’s birthing centre has closed. The region has no health promotion officer.

Numerous other employees have been fired or driven out, while others have fled in either fear, disgust, or both.

Despite all this, Ng has refused, time after time after time, to call a public inquiry into the recent doings of the Keewatin Regional Health Board.

It’s time for Kelvin Ng to pay the price of screwing up. It’s time for him to resign as the NWT’s minister of health and social services, a post for which he has never displayed much aptitude or interest anyway. It’s his chance to preserve his honour

If Ng needs help in understanding the concept of “honour,” he can study the example provided recently by Dr. Ken Hedges, a southerner.

Hired in November to work as the director of medical services for the Keewatin health board, Hedges quit just seven weeks later.

Like most new employees, Hedges was forced to agree to a typical GNWT-style gag order preventing him from speaking his mind in public. But, unwilling to grovel before the Keewatin board’s incompetent administration, Hedges did the honorable thing. He quit his job to be free to speak his mind in public.

Appearing on CBC Northbeat last week, Hedges said he’s told the GNWT that if it continues, there’s no doubt that the Keewatin’s current health care crisis will put people at risk. He also said that in his opinion, the Keewatin health board’s chair and CEO should be dismissed.

Last, he said that the climate of secrecy and intimidation within the health board must cease, saying few professionals will come to work in the Keewatin if that continues.

In 10 short minutes, Ng and the Keewatin health board’s third rate managers were exposed for what they are, and their many critics were finally vindicated.

It’s indeed fortunate for us that Hedges never lived in the North long enough to learn that within the GNWT and its many agencies, honour is an alien concept.

But Kelvin Ng can show there’s a better way. He can resign.JB

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