The province has appointed an interim administrator for an embattled women’s shelter in Winnipeg and disbanded the organization's entire board of directors.
'And the NDP have shown us that they had a plan all along to replace the board and myself. Marlene Bertrand has just shown up at the agency as the appointed provincial administrator. We are finished.' - Osborne House CEO Barbara Judt
On Friday, Manitoba government officials appointed Marlene Bertrand as the provisional administrator of Osborne House. She used to be the director of Osborne House for nine years, from 1983 to 1992.
The move comes just one day after the CEO of the shelter, Barbara Judt, announced she was taking a medical leave, citing mobility problems.
Judt posted a response to the news on her Facebook account shortly after the announcement, saying, "And the NDP have shown us that they had a plan all along to replace the board and myself. Marlene Bertrand has just shown up at the agency as the appointed provincial administrator. We are finished. More news to follow."
The province and the shelter have been at odds for months after it was revealed Manitoba’s deputy premier, Eric Robinson, had used a racial slur referring to people who worked at the shelter.
Robinson criticized the shelter for holding a burlesque fundraiser, calling the organizers “do-good white people” in an internal email that was later released under an access to information request.
Robinson later apologized, but difficulties between the government and Osborne House continued last month, when Family Services Minister Jennifer Howard demanded Osborne House come up with an action plan to deal with problems at the shelter, including working conditions and client safety.
Osborne House did develop an action plan to address the province’s concerns but that plan was flatly rejected by the province.
The shelter’s board of directors issued a letter to the province on Thursday, expressing disappointment that their plan was denied and indicating a number of the safety issues were out of their hands.
For example, the letter stated concerns over fire equipment in the building had been forwarded to Manitoba Housing but had yet to be addressed.
The province now has control of the shelter’s operations for the next 18 months, and will have Bertrand “work to resolve ongoing safety issues identified at the organization.”
Judt said she will return to her position in 2014, but the board of directors may not, as the province disbanded the group on Friday.
Provincial officials said in a release they have “a responsibility to ensure every domestic violence shelter in Manitoba is a safe place for women, children and staff.”
'Nothing contained in the board's response indicated they were prepared to move forward in any timely or constructive manner to resolve outstanding issues ... [Consultants] no longer have confidence the senior management or the board will be able to address the substantive issues...' - Province of Manitoba release on a consultant's findings on Osborne House
Officials also said 60 telephone and face-to-face meetings had been held over the past 18 months with the shelter to try and address the province’s safety concerns.
The province said outside consultants had written reports on the shelter and had determined the shelter was not prepared to resolve the outstanding issues. Officials said in a release, “[The consultants] no longer have confidence the senior management or the board will be able to address the substantive issues raised in their report.”
Osborne House’s Thursday letter charged the consultants had not spoken to any of the shelter’s clients during their assessments, adding, “Our mission has been made more difficult as a result of the chronic and ongoing under-funding from the province.”
The province said it has increased funding to the shelter by more than 50 per cent since 1999.
Osborne House is the largest domestic violence shelter in the province.