Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia's welfare overhaul costs defended by minister

Nova Scotia's Department of Community Services is looking for outside help to "transform" the province's welfare system.

Two tenders issued Wednesday could be worth almost $1.5 million to consultants

Nova Scotia’s Department of Community Services is looking for outside help to 'transform' the province’s welfare system. (Adam Carter/CBC)

Community Services Minister Joanne Bernard is defending the high cost of "transforming" Nova Scotia's welfare system, saying the system needs radical change.

Two tenders issued Wednesday by the department could be worth almost $1.5 million to the consultants hired to design phase two of that transformation. 

Phase one, which involved establishing the "vision" for the coming work, was carried out by Davis Pier, The Barrington Consulting Group and CGI. Community Services spokesperson Lori Errington pegged the cost of phase one as between $500,000 and $700,000.

The department has also created a transformation support unit to manage, monitor and report on all the projects related to changing the system. 

"We're working with systems that haven't been changed in any significant way for decades," Bernard said. "We know the system is broken."

'This is miniscule,' minister says

Fixing it won't be cheap, but the minister brushes aside the hefty price tag.

"We're a billion dollar organization," she said. "This is miniscule in terms of what we need to right this system." 

Bernard said the money is an investment so that change is "meaningful, substantial, innovative and going to serve the best needs of people at the end of the day."

The minister said outside expertise is needed, adding neither her department nor government have the required skills.

In the tender documents, the department describes the work as: "a number of transformational initiatives that are aimed at changing how social services are designed, delivered, and managed within the province."

Goal is to get people off system

In describing the mission of the department, both documents list the number one goal of this reform as enabling "more Nova Scotians to live independent of income assistance."

When it comes to the "Child, Youth and Family Supports Transformation Project," the province is looking "to improve outcomes for children, youth and families at risk of child abuse or neglect, and strengthen the communities that support them, and improve the overall sustainability of the system."

The department is currently helping about 150,000 Nova Scotians a year through its various programs.

The concern is that the province's "core social programs have not been able to keep pace with modern, best practice developments seen in other jurisdictions across the country and globally."

The province blames that on increasing costs and "ever-changing and increasing complexity of the needs of Nova Scotians."

The change comes at a time when many who receive help from the province complain that they don't get enough money to eat properly or find adequate accommodations.

About the Author

Jean Laroche

Reporter

Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter for 32 years. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.

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