Social services transfer the right decision


Though it may have been an ego-bruising experience for the Town of Iqaluit’s council and administration, the Baffin health board’s take-over of social services in Iqaluit is the right thing to do.

Since the early 1980s, when Iqaluit’s municipal government began providing social services in Iqaluit under a contract with the territorial government, they have consistently failed to show that they’re capable of running a competent social services department.

The municipality of Iqaluit itself has unintentionally supplied all the evidence needed to prove that.

In the fall of 1998, Iqaluit town councillors perused a consultant’s report that told them that their social services department was languishing in a state of near chaos, hobbled by low staff morale, mounting financial problems and negligent administration.

The report-writers found that Iqaluit social services staff were failing to meet basic minimum regulations that govern the administration of social assistance payments. They found no evidence of long-term planning — in fact, they couldn’t find any kind of plan at all.

Furthermore, the report writers recommended that the Town of Iqaluit abandon the idea of delivering social services in Iqaluit. Ironically, this is something that the Town of Iqaluit had been threatening to do for more than 10 years.

When Dennis Patterson, chair of the Baffin Regional Health and Social Services Board, appeared before Iqaluit Town Council last month, he supplied even more evidence. He told councillors that health board audits show that the Iqaluit department was not conducting mandatory inspections of foster homes, failing to maintain child welfare records, and failing to produce timely progress reports for aged and handicapped clients.

The weakest and most vulnerable members of Iqaluit society — children, the handicapped, and the elderly — had been placed at the greatest risk. Iqaluit’s social services department had become little more than an expensive lawsuit waiting to happen.

It’s signficant that the Town’s administration, nor any elected council member, has been able to offer any evidence that refutes these observations. How can they? Facts are facts.

Were town councillors aware of what was going on? Apparently not. (Nunatsiaq News, May 28, 1999) Councillors were surprised to hear that the health board had repeatedly notified Town staff about these problems. Yet it appears that Town staff failed to provide this information to councillors.

The witholding of essential information from elected councillors is a dangerous habit. The last time that happened on a regular basis, the terrritorial government ended up removing Iqaluit’s mayor and council and installing an appointed an administrator. This is not the time for the municipality of Iqlauit to begin another slow descent into dissolution.

The Baffin board’s decision effectively transfers control of social services in Iqaluit to the government of Nunavut, since the health board itself will dissolve on April 1, 2000.

Will the government of Nunavut do better? Only time will tell. But it’s difficult to imagine any one doing worse than the Town of Iqaluit. JB

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