Nova Scotia

Demand for Public Inquiry into Northwood Tragedy

Jason MacLean is President of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees' Union (NSGEU).

Workers' Forum: NSGEU is firm in its demand for a public inquiry into the disaster that took place at the Northwood nursing home in Halifax and into Nova Scotia's long-term care system. Can you tell us more about this demand?

Jason MacLean: As far as Northwood is concerned, we must not forget that it is central to Nova Scotia's long-term care system. Northwood has been considered the shining star of long-term care in the province. It's the biggest long-term care facility east of Montreal. It was looked upon positively as the place where people would end up going for long-term care. It is central geographically because it's located in the central region, in Halifax, and is also central figuratively because it was considered as the standard. And this is where we had this tragedy whereby 53 residents lost their lives in the spring.

We must learn what mistakes were made, where we had gaps in the whole system. We are also going to learn that we need to invest more into long-term care and the only way for us to be able to move along there, because it is going to cost money, is for everybody to be brought along into this whole pandemic and to look back at what decisions were made leading into it. But also, if we do that, we are going to set a framework for the future, so that other governments won't make the kinds of decisions that led to what happened at Northwood. It did not just happen out of thin air. It happened because of certain decisions and of course, because of COVID-19. Nova Scotians need to be part of that because they need to embrace reform in long-term care. It is only going to happen if they bring people along in the review, instead of holding it behind closed doors and then making decisions with nobody understanding why changes are being made or if they are actually going to have an impact in improving the situation. Our demand is all about a public inquiry.

WF: Is there a motion at this time amongst the people of Nova Scotia to hold such a public inquiry?

JM: NSGEU has sought a public inquiry since the beginning. We were actually the first group to ask for a public inquiry. And then you even had the CEO of Northwood saying that she is open to having a public inquiry. Then there's the 53 families of the people we lost at Northwood, who are also demanding a public inquiry. We believe there's an upswell of support for a public inquiry amongst Nova Scotians, especially after they realized the power they do have in demanding an open public inquiry into the mass shooting that happened in Portapique.[1] That changed the mind of the federal and the provincial government, which finally agreed to hold a public inquiry. If Nova Scotians want it to happen, it will happen.

WF: NSGEU's report Neglecting Northwood says that what happened at Northwood is a failure of public policy? What is the failure according to you?

JM: Many reports on long-term care have been written over the years and the recommendations coming out of them were not followed. Besides, in 2015 and 2017 there were budgets with cuts in them to long-term care facilities. In the entire seven years that Stephen McNeil has been in power, no new long-term care beds have been created, even though the acuity level of people in long-term care and those in hospitals have both increased. In home care, people are kept in their homes longer, with the acuity level rising there as well. So public policy has dictated that people are sicker longer in their homes instead of getting good care in long-term care facilities. Public policy has been offside for quite some time and we are seeing it now with this pandemic that has casualties attached to it, as we have seen at Northwood. That is tragic.

Public policy has been driven by budgets. The current government was not willing to invest in long-term care and that was to the detriment of people who need it. Our population is not getting any younger and more people are going to need long-term care facilities.

WF: Do you want to say something in conclusion?

JM: We are stuck in a pandemic. Things happened. Governments made decisions. What we are trying to do is to outline that we cannot continue in long-term care the way we have for the last 10 years. Investments in long-term care have deteriorated. We have to improve the system. It's not about who's right and who's wrong. It's about having a good level of care for our seniors because they deserve it.


1. On April 18 and 19, a lone gunman dressed as an RCMP officer went on a 13-hour shooting rampage that began in the small rural community of Portapique in Nova Scotia. Twenty-two people were killed, and the gunman was shot dead by the police. For weeks, while the families of the victims and the people of the province demanded a public inquiry into the mass shooting, both the federal and the provincial governments stalled, finally announcing not a public inquiry but an independent review by a three person panel. As public pressure mounted against them, both the federal and provincial governments finally acceded to the demands and announced a public inquiry into the mass shooting.

This article was published in

Number 54 - August 13, 2020

Article Link:
Nova Scotia: Demand for Public Inquiry into Northwood Tragedy - Interview, Jason MacLean


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