Union refuses to play hide and seek with Covid-19 investigation

Jason MacLean, NSGEU president

JASON MacLEAN REFUSES TO DUMMY UP. The president of NSGEU (Nova Scotia Government Employees Union) wants all Nova Scotia to know all his members know about what happened inside Northwood Manor ground zero for covid deaths in Nova Scotia. The Nova Scotia government not so much.

Covid-19 killed fifty-three seniors at North Wood Manor in Halifax—a staggering 85% of all 67 covid deaths in the province.

Public inquiry a must

Public demand for a full investigation into how and why that happened was instant and universal. The Nova Scotia government responded by creating a closed-door review into what happened to make Northwood so deadly.

The rules for the review prohibit witnesses from sharing their testimony once it’s disclosed to the review panel. In addition, the review committee has absolute and sole control over what it chooses to report and not report. MacLean and the NSGEU will have no part of it.

It’s the wrong mechanism to investigate the Northwood tragedy, full stop, MacLean said.

“It’s troublesome to us that there is no public inquiry and we continue to renew our call for one,” said MacLean.

Dodging responsibility

Wayne MacKay, a Dalhousie University law professor, agrees the review process is  the wrong mechanism for such a high-profile and important issue as the Northwood tragedy.

“The key point I think, is that the review mechanism leaves the public with a fairly clear impression that they’re hiding something—even if they aren’t”, said MacKay.  

“Why else would you have such a secretive process.”

Premier McNeil said MacLean was misrepresenting things. He pointed out committee witnesses were free to make their testimony public—so long as they did it before they testified.

MacKay says the premier’s comments were not helpful. “McNeil has created confusion that will have a chilling effect. Anyone would be extremely cautious of what they might say to the public, the press or anyone else.”

“That’s hardly a full free expression of their views or an effective way of getting to the truth behind what happened at Northwood.”

“The chances of this government paying a significant political price for what happened at Northwood are far lower with the Quality-improvement review and that’s why, of course, it’s, being used.”

NSGEU goes public

The NSGEU derailed government plans to control the Northwood facts and narrative with the August 4 publication of a public report documenting some of the issues the union contends contributed to the outbreak.  

The report is based on in-person information gathered from NSGEU members who were sent to work in Northwood during the outbreak.

The union report focuses on:

  • the history of chronic government neglect of long-term care in Nova Scotia;
  • a series of miscalculations and delayed actions by the province in March and April, including the slow and inadequate provision of personal protective equipment to care providers and all Northwood staff, that allowed COVID to establish its tragic hold;
  • the fumbles and missteps that lead to the realisation of premier McNeil’s “greatest fear”—namely, the spread of the virus to long-term care homes.

Everything the union reports is backed up with an 840-page document that includes the records, documents and communications related to the COVID-19 outbreak at Northwood Manor.

“The public needs to be brought along in the process,” said MacLean, “because people know there’s going to have to be an overhaul of long-term care but they’re not going to fully understand what overhaul is needed if they’re not included.”

The April call by the NSGEU for a full and open public inquiry into why 53 people died of Covid-19 at Northwood Manor was supported by both opposition parties, families of the dead and even Janet Simm, Northwood’s CEO. They were all ignored.

The review panel has completed its work. It says it will release its report on or about September 11.

All the testimony it heard will remain secret. Whether the report is a fair and full representation of all that went on inside Northwood Manor during the dark days of Covid-19 will forever remain an open question.

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