NDP wants inquiry into Manitoba government’s handling of COVID-19 pandemic

Manitoba’s New Democratic Party is calling for an inquiry into the governing Progressive Conservative Party’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Manitoba has registered the second-highest death rate among the provinces, behind Quebec, and had to send 57 intensive care patients to other provinces last spring.

“We need to have an inquiry that is independent, that is going to be willing to ask some tough questions … but most importantly, to bring back some recommendations for the future,” NDP Leader Wab Kinew said Wednesday, as the Official Opposition presented its alternative throne speech.

If the Tories don’t call an inquiry, his party will if it wins the next election slated for 2023, he said.

The inquiry would take a whole-of-government approach, with a focus on the health-care system, to review provincial decisions and actions that contributed to higher case counts and deaths, larger outbreaks, longer lockdowns and more stress on Manitoba’s hospitals and health care workers, the NDP stated in a news release.

“We have to examine the pandemic so we can learn the lessons and bring back some forward-facing recommendations for the future of our province,” Kinew said at a Wednesday news conference.

There are things to be proud of, such as the many Manitobans who have become fully vaccinated and those abiding by public health measures, but there are failures that need to be examined, he said.

“We saw really, really tragic outcomes and a tremendous amount of loss of life during the second wave,” Kinew said.

“During the third wave, we saw 57 ICU patients transferred out of province and we also, unfortunately, lost one Manitoban during an attempt to transfer her out of province. We cannot change what has happened but we have to learn from it.”

He stressed the need for the inquiry to be led by independent, non-partisan experts, saying an internal government review could be compromised by politics.

“It’s too important of a job for this inquiry to be done poorly,” Kinew said. “We need to have an inquiry that’s going to be willing to ask some tough questions, that’s going to find the honest answers.”

He said his party would call on experts such as ICU doctors and nurses, long-term care specialists, epidemiologists and Indigenous health experts to objectively review the provincial response and make recommendations for a system that is more resilient and better prepared for a future emergency.

Uzoma Asagwara, the Manitoba NDP’s health critic, says the government’s failings during the pandemic were set in place years earlier by health cuts. (CTV pool camera)

Uzoma Asagwara, the NDP’s health critic, said the inquiry must also take into account the changes made to Manitoba’s health-care system pre-pandemic, in order to understand why the system fell into crisis.

“Unfortunately, it’s not an accident, and quite frankly should not come as a surprise,” Asagwara said.

“In the years and months leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses, doctors, allied health-care professionals were warning us about patient safety, compromised by cuts to health care, lack of staff, relentless overtime … and burnout.”

The Progressive Conservative government’s decision to cut the public Lifeflight program and replace it with private carriers should be part of the review, said Asagwara.

“We owe it those families [flown out of province for care], and to all Manitobans, to review government’s actions and find a better path forward,” the Union Station MLA said.

NDP left health care ‘in disarray’: Tory MLA

Tory MLA Andrew Smith issued a news release in response to the NDP’s alternative throne speech, accusing the Opposition party of ignoring its own record on health care when it was in power.

“The former NDP government left our health-care system in disarray after 17 years of mismanagement, leading to the longest wait times in the country,” Smith stated in the release.

In 2015, Manitoba had the worst emergency department wait times among Canada’s provinces, and that was without the added pressures of a global pandemic, the Lagimodière MLA’s release said.

His party has been working to fix “the broken system” left by the NDP, he said.

Heather Stefanson, who was sworn in as premier earlier this month after winning the PC Party’s leadership race, is slated to give her first throne speech on Nov. 23.

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