Closure found in ombudsman's report

Carole Morris-Underhill editor@hantsjournal.ca
Published on August 14, 2016
VJA editorial

When news broke in 2013 that an elected official shot and killed a horse in Hants County, many people couldn't believe what they were hearing.

This isn't the wild west. There are laws and rules that need to be followed. If it did happen, it must have been all above board.

Turns out, it wasn't.

When a group of people concerned for the remaining horses in the herd began asking questions, and digging deeper, the situation got ugly. It pitted neighbours against neighbours; caused tension between councillors and the electorate. Allegations of wrongdoing abounded.

Amid the anger and outrage, then interim chief administrative officer Cathie Osborne sent the file to the Office of Ombudsman for investigation. It was one of the best decisions made that year. 

After a lengthy investigation, the Office of the Ombudsman released a report that detailed the chain of events – as best as they could determine – that led to the tragic circumstances of at least one horse being shot and killed.

What their investigation revealed was dysfunction — and not just at the local municipal level, but within provincial government departments.

It showed a systemic failure between agencies to effectively communicate and deal with a situation that had been unfolding for years. 

Ralph Morash's herd of feral horses was left to roam and breed, peacefully, for decades. It wasn't until the late 90s, early 2000s, that the Municipality of West Hants began to hear complaints.

By the end of 2013, the situation reached its boiling point. At least one horse was shot and killed by the deputy warden – for which he acquired a permit from the Department of Natural Resources that wasn't even in their mandate to dole out. The horse was then buried by one of his relatives, and taxpayers footed the $690 bill.

The remaining horses were gradually relocated by a group of dedicated volunteers.

The ombudsman's report came out with 13 recommendations — five for the municipality, and four each for DNR and the Department of Agriculture (now under the Department of Environment's domain) — and this paper would like to see all of them implemented immediately.

This is 2016. There is no excuse for wrong forms and permits being used or issued. There is no excuse for not keeping track of complaints, or for passing the buck between organizations.

Nor is there any excuse for a politician to take matters into their own hands, let alone be involved with a situation that required the municipality to pay a relative. On principle alone, that money should be reimbursed immediately.

Moreover, apologies should be made. Not just by the deputy warden, but by anyone who had any involvement in this sorry affair. It should never have happened.

While we can never bring back the horse that died, we can take solace in knowing that changes have been recommended. If they're implemented, they will help prevent future situations from escalating. 

At this point, that's the best we can ask for.