It has become increasingly clear that Manitoba’s Premier Brian Pallister has two political faces — one that has lost all political grip over local constituents in Manitoba, and another, to the rest of Canadians, who seem far less aware of the dumpster fire that is his administration.
The image of Pallister close to tears over “stealing Christmas to keep [Manitobans] safe” on live television is still seared into the brains of critical Manitobans for appearing to be a distasteful political manoeuvre to draw attention away from the fact that his frugal approach to spending was exactly why Manitobans were thrust into the dire health crisis during last year’s holiday season. Yet national and international commentary looked favourably upon the premier’s posturing. Without proper context from local critics, Pallister’s reputation outside of the province remained somewhat unscathed — he said the right things for people who remain uninformed about the state of affairs in an overwhelmingly forgotten province.
In a similar fashion, Canadian premiers seem to have forgotten Pallister’s astonishingly horrific record when he was appointed the chair of Canada’s premiers and the council of the federation (COF) — an interprovincial council that typically meets semi-annually to discuss and set agendas in conjunction with the federal government — on June 17.
For watchful Manitobans, the choice seemed grotesquely ill-informed.
To make matters worse, the premier accepted the position with a news release outlining his commitment to improving the health-care system — a position which has been widely criticized for being shockingly hypocritical due to his historic attacks on Manitoba’s health-care budget. “Over one million Canadians are waiting in pain every day for a diagnosis, test or treatment and these wait times will only get worse […] The time to act is now,” he said in the news release.
For families who have struggled to find emergency care, surgery dates and cancer care during the COVID-19 pandemic due to our overwhelmed hospitals and intensive care units (ICU), these words, at best, rung hollow. And for the 98 per cent of nurses who voted in favour of striking in the early days of June due to Pallister’s ghastly proposals in recent contract negotiations, these words were nothing short of a slap in the face.
The fact that Pallister is championing a health-care-first agenda in the COF is laughable considering his administration’s long-term project of dismantling the province’s health-care infrastructure.
The Progressive Conservatives (PC) closed emergency rooms (ER) in Victoria General Hospital, Seven Oaks General Hospital and Concordia Hospital in 2017 and 2019, respectively — a decision that has made handling the influx of critical care patients during the pandemic a logistical nightmare. Beyond this, the provincial government has closed all but one of Manitoba’s QuickCare clinics, cut $83 million from the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority’s budget and slashed significant investments made by previous premier Greg Selinger that were meant to improve the operations of six health-care facilities across Manitoba. For perspective, one of the proposed projects included a $300 million investment for a new CancerCare Manitoba facility.
As a result of cutting the health-care budget to its bare bones, the system has been on the verge of collapse for two of Manitoba’s three COVID-19 outbreaks. In November, nurses reported needing to triage ER patients from their cars due to overwhelmed capacity. More recently, with ICUs completely falling apart along with the frontline health-care workers who have done what they can with the little resources they have, the province resorted to shipping Manitobans to out-of-province hospitals due to lack of space.
Beyond health-care infrastructure crumbling under the pressures of the pandemic, Pallister made a vain attempt to negotiate less-than-ideal contracts with burnt-out nurses after a year of extreme trauma. Although Manitoba hospitals have critically poor infrastructure capacities, Dr. Noam Katz — a physician at St. Boniface Hospital — noted in a recent interview with CBC that labour procurement in Manitoba’s health-care system is of grave concern as well. Katz claimed that important beds go unused simply because hospitals don’t have the staff to tend to them. And this all makes perfect sense seeing as the PCs cut approximately 160 health-care jobs in 2019 and another 50 were projected to be lost in fall 2020.
With a provincial government myopically hell-bent on balancing its budget, labour retention of qualified, burnt-out nurses will most certainly be more difficult. In light of this, when the dust from the pandemic settles, yet another health crisis may be waiting for the administration — one borne from a lack of foresight and proper investment in frontline workers that have kept the community healthy to the detriment of their own mental and physical wellbeing.
If Manitobans have learned anything from the past five years of Pallister’s leadership, it’s that you cannot trust him to invest in Manitoba’s future. If the premier cannot handle Manitoba’s own health-care system, he is certainly not going to live up to his promises as the chair of the COF.