About Last Night’s Council Meeting…

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Tri-Council Meeting

Let’s see if I have this straight: once a year, the elected councils of the CBRM, Eskasoni and Membertou meet…in private?

These “tri-council meetings” have been going on for a number of years now, and I have never seen a pre-meeting announcement or agenda, just post-meeting reports like this one from 2016 in the Cape Breton PostThe only reason I knew this year’s meeting happened was that it was mentioned during last night’s (thankfully still public) CBRM council meeting.

A search for further information about the 2018 tri-council hang turned up this announcement on the Facebook page of the Membertou Trade and Convention Center:

 

Let’s take a closer look:

I see a lot of happy looking pols and some band and municipal staff members, but no sign of any citizens. Why would this gathering not be open to the public? It’s not like they don’t discuss important things — this year, for instance, CBRM councilors apparently discovered that all First Nations communities on the island have joined the Cape Breton Regional Enterprise Network (REN). Who knew?

As the Membertou Trade and Convention Centre post states:

Annually the CBRM, Membertou and Eskasoni come together in a Tri-Council meeting to discuss issues, partnerships and for a continued commitment to working together for a brighter future.

That sounds like a meeting that should be public to me.

 

The REN, the REN

Speaking of the REN, CBRM council agreed last night to hold a pre-workshop in preparation for a workshop during which it will hammer out its economic development priorities the better to decide whether it too, should join the CB REN or form a REN all on its lonesome. If I understood correctly, the pre-workshop will be for CBRM council and will be led by CBU Professor Tom Urbaniak. The actual workshop will involve council and “community leaders” (why does that phrase send a chill up my spine?).

CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke (who withdrew the CBRM from the CB REN in 2016 all on his lonesome) clearly would prefer the CBRM form its own economic development unit, but councilors like District 8’s Amanda McDougall and District 11’s Kendra Coombes seem to be leaning toward re-joining the CB REN. The CBRM has to do something or it will not receive economic development funding from the province (it didn’t last year).

My problem with the REN is that every time I hear the word,  “The Wren Song” starts running on continuous loop in my head:

The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
St. Stephen’s Day was caught in the furze,
Although he was little his honour was great,
Jump up me lads and give him a treat.

It’s distracting but during last night’s discussion of pre-workshop workshops, it was actually a welcome distraction.

 

Flood plains gonna flood

Alexander Wilson of the engineering firm CBCL Ltd reported to council on the results of a $100,000 flood mitigation study funded by the Province of Nova Scotia’s flood risk infrastructure investment program.

Wilson et. al. modeled the effects of 15 potential flood mitigating options to determine how effective they would be in limiting the extent of 20-year and 100-year floods. The answer, in all but four cases, was “not very well.” Here’s the Power Point slide that caused heart palpitations at the council table (apologies for the poor quality but presentations attached to CBRM council agendas always look like they were accidentally dunked in the sink, it’s not just a special effect for flood mitigation reports):

 

 

Assuming CBCL’s modeling is accurate (a big assumption, I know, especially as the accuracy of the modeling is not something I am in any position to judge), I think it’s good to know what won’t work. It’s especially good to know that pricey options — like #13, which is actually a combination of options #2, 3 and 4 — won’t work because it’s easy to assume the most expensive interventions would be the most effective.

On the other hand, options #14 and #15, which combine flow control structures at Gilholmes Lake and Mud Lake with stormwater retention ponds, hold some promise and are not prohibitively expensive. Public Works Manager Wayne MacDonald told council his department had already applied for provincial funding to match the $250,000 the CBRM has budgeted for flood mitigation and the resulting $500,000 would allow them start working on these three options.

But the bottom line, as all media outlets are reporting this morning and which I needn’t harp on, is that flood plains gonna flood and the CBRM would be wise to turn the worst affected areas into no-development zones.

Welcome to the future.

 

Private rehab

A delegation from New Horizon Addiction Rehab, which plans to operate private rehab facilities in Sydney — a six-bed women’s residential facility in the North End and a 12-bed men’s residential facility on Bentinck Street in what used to be the Elks Club — visited council last night to introduce themselves. They were owner Mohamed Naeem, program manager Barry McNeil and office manager Michelle George. (I checked the Nova Scotia Registry of Joint Stock Companies for further information about the company but found no entry for New Horizon Addiction Rehab.)

The New Horizon website makes rehab look like fun — like a graduate seminar course for white people:

Source: New Horizon Addiction Rehab website

Source: New Horizon Addiction Rehab website

The whiteness of the recovering addicts in this stock photo is fair game, by the way, because the presentation McNeil made to council stressed that:

New Horizons Rehabilitation Centers are sensitive to the unique needs of Canada’s First Nations people and utilize evidence based and strengths-base programs in the treatment of indigenous clients, providing culturally sensitive treatment while developing strong links with First Nations communities.

There’s another hazard with using stock photos, of course, which is that they have already been used elsewhere on the web. This group, for example, seems to be addicted to rehab. Here they are at an Elevations Health facility (now Pivot Treatment and Wellness Centers), where one of them apparently had a breakthrough:

 

The centers offer both residential and out-patient programs — for a price. That price seemed to have been lost on some of the councilors last night — District 12 Councilor Jim MacLeod, for example, compared the for-profit New Horizon centers to Talbot House, the addictions rehab center founded by Father John G. Webb in Frenchvale in 1959.

But there is a big difference between the two facilities. Here’s how Talbot House describes itself:

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Antigonish sponsors us as a social outreach primarily to addicted men from across Nova Scotia, but serving beyond this area when asked. The only requirement for application to our program is a sincere desire to enter into a healthy recovery from addiction.

The minimum stay at Talbot House — which offers an abstinence-based course of treatment — is three months.

Compare that to New Horizon, which offers both abstinence-based and “pharmacological-based” treatments and which “recommends” a full 45-day residential program for which it charges $600 per day for the first 15 days, $500 per day for the second 15 days, and $400 per day for all subsequent days, putting the price tag for a 45-day residential stay at $22,500.

McNeil admitted to council that generally, the cost would be covered by private insurance.

I would suggest that, as necessary as more rehab beds are in Cape Breton, pretending that a 45-day program with a $22,500 price tag is the answer to a problem that, as Maia Szalavitz noted in The Guardian, “hits hardest those who are already down or feel that they will never be able to rise,” is disingenuous, at the very least.

And don’t get me started on the implications as far as two-tier healthcare goes. This is classic: the private sector happily skims off the cream — people who are insured or otherwise able to come with with $20K for rehab — leaving the less financially solvent to the public system. The threat to the public system is twofold: first, it loses personnel to the private system; and second, it risks having the wealthy, who are able to pay for their own healthcare, argue they should no longer have to support the public system.

I asked the Nova Scotia Health Coalition, a watchdog group dedicated to the preservation of the single-payer system, what it made of facilities like New Horizons and received the following reply from the coalition’s provincial coordinator, Chris Parsons:

There is a real and increasing need for addictions treatment services, including residential centers, across Nova Scotia and in Cape Breton in particular. However, private-for-profit centers mean that access to life-saving services are primarily available to the wealthy or those with generous private insurance plans. What we need is a public investment in public facilities that are free at the point of use and that are integrated into our public, universal health care system. Access to life-saving treatment should be based on need, not your personal wealth…

High user fees for centers like this can exacerbate the problems caused by and that cause addictions but putting massive financial strain on families who are desperate to find help for their loved ones. Families battling against the very real social and economic problems that contribute to diseases of despair should not be asked to come up with or borrow tens of thousands of dollars to pay for necessary treatments. It is a largely unregulated industry in Canada and many of these high-cost services place profit above the medical needs of drug using people.

In the short-term we need more addictions and mental health supports to allow drug using people to get the immediate help they need. We also need to address the social causes of addiction, including poverty, unemployment, under-and-untreated mental health issues and a lack of affordable housing.

Coming soon…

I want to deal with District 11 Councilor Kendra Coombes report on Equalization in more detail, so watch for it in Friday’s Fast & Curious.

 

 

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