Nova Scotia

New health deputy named as McNeil looks to 'reset' relationship with NSHA

Premier Stephen McNeil said the need to 'reset the relationship' between the Health Department and Nova Scotia Health Authority was at the heart of the decision to bring in a new deputy minister of health.

Former Dal med school dean Dr. Tom Marrie appointed on interim basis

Tom Marrie talks to then-president of Dalhousie University Richard Florizone when Marrie was working for Dalhousie in 2015. (The Canadian Press)

Premier Stephen McNeil said the need to "reset the relationship" between the Health Department and Nova Scotia Health Authority was at the heart of the decision to bring in a new deputy minister for the department.

McNeil announced a number of administrative changes Thursday, perhaps none bigger than Denise Perret leaving as deputy minister of health. Dr. Tom Marrie, the former dean of Dalhousie University's medical school, takes over on an interim basis.

Denise Perret only came to her post about two years ago, but McNeil said as government is "resetting and moving in a new direction," Perret "felt best that perhaps we would move in different directions. We agreed with that."

Denise Perret was deputy minister of health for a little more than two years. (CBC)

McNeil said that at a time when the Nova Scotia Health Authority is searching for a new CEO, it made sense to begin the search for a new permanent deputy minister of the Health Department, something he expected would take until the end of the year.

An e-mail to Perret's government account Thursday afternoon resulted in an automatic reply directing people to contact the department's associate deputy minister. She declined comment via email late Thursday night.

The new direction McNeil said he's looking for relates to the structure of the relationship between the Health Department and health authority.

Premier Stephen McNeil says the change at the deputy minister level made sense given the ongoing search for a new head of the provincial health authority. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Since the government merged the district health authorities into a single entity, there has been persistent criticism from some people about a loss of local input. While he's not looking to undo the merger, McNeil said he wants Marrie to look at the communication concerns.

"It's not a question of moving away from that, but I have certainly heard from people in regions who feel that they've lost some of that input," he told reporters following a cabinet meeting Thursday.

McNeil said while some parts of the province "get more media coverage than others," the system needs to understand there are communities "that feel that they need a better conduit into the decision-making process and that's the process we'll look at."

'He's made a mess'

Tory Leader Tim Houston said the change is "the premier's quiet way of acknowledging he's made a mess" of health care.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill said the health-care file has been "handled so delinquently" that it's reasonable for new leadership at the helm of the Health Department and health authority, changes he said should extend to the health minister, premier and government.

Doctors Nova Scotia welcomed Marrie's arrival. 

"I'm a big fan of Tom Marrie's," said Tim Holland, president of the group representing doctors in the province. "I was a medical student when he took over as dean of the Dalhousie medical school and he was a ray of sunshine."

He said for the past couple of years, he's seen strong efforts from individual health-care organizations, but a lack of co-ordination has wasted a lot of that.

"We all need to be able to come together and work toward the common goal of quality health care for all Nova Scotians. And Tom Marrie is the kind of guy who will see that vision and bring the partners together."

Cabinet shuffle delayed

The change at the Health Department was far from the only one announced Thursday.

Responsibility for housing was moved from the Community Services Department to the Municipal Affairs Department, creating a new department to be called Municipal Affairs and Housing.

McNeil said the change, which he called an internal governance issue, made sense because housing projects often required working with Municipal Affairs. The CEO of Housing Nova Scotia, Nancy MacLellan, will be deputy minister of the new department.

Service Nova Scotia and the Internal Services Department are merging.

In total, the premier announced 12 changes at the deputy and associate deputy minister levels, as well as making Kelliann Dean the CEO of the Office of Immigration.

McNeil said all of the changes announced Thursday mean a cabinet shuffle he'd previously said would come sometime this summer will now wait until after the fall session at Province House.

About the Author

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca

with files from Jon Tattrie

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