St. Boniface Hospital CEO spent Christmas in Quebec while Manitobans told to stay home

The CEO of Manitoba’s second-largest hospital spent the holidays in Quebec with her family, despite public health recommendations for people not to travel outside the province.

Martine Bouchard, the president and CEO of St. Boniface Hospital, left Manitoba for an undisclosed period of time in December to see her husband and children, a spokesperson confirmed Wednesday.

“She did travel to Québec to be with her immediate family over the holidays. When returning to her home in Winnipeg, she follows all public health orders, including self-isolation,” the St. Boniface spokesperson said in a prepared statement.

Bouchard came under fire last summer when it was revealed she left the province in April at the beginning of the pandemic to work remotely from Quebec and wouldn’t be returning until August. 

When she returned in August, she was given a special exemption that meant she did not have to self-isolate. 

The news about Bouchard comes as politicians, staffers and health-care executives face increased scrutiny over their travel over Christmas. 

Dr. Tom Stewart, the CEO of Ontario’s St. Joseph’s Health System and Niagara Health resigned from a number of health advisory boards, including a COVID-19 panel Tuesday, after it was revealed he traveled to the Caribbean over the winter vacation.

Current public health orders permit Manitobans to travel outside the province, but public health officials have strongly advised against doing so.

The spokeserson declined to say how long Bouchard was in Quebec or even confirm if she had returned to Winnipeg.

NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara said it’s disappointing to see someone in Bouchard’s position not leading by example. (John Einarson/CBC)

Uzoma Asagwara, the Opposition NDP’s health critic, called it disappointing to see another example of a person in a leadership position not leading by example when it comes to mitigating the risks of spreading COVID-19.

They said it was especially concerning because of Bouchard’s position and the strain being put on hospital workers because of the pandemic.

“I can’t imagine what it is like for them to know the CEO of their hospital was not even in the province during code red over the holiday season, when they were putting their health on the line on behalf of all Manitobans,” Asagwara said.

Asagwara said they empathized with Bouchard wanting to see her family, but many Manitobans made the sacrifice to not visit loved ones because of the recommendations. 

“It is an experience that many Manitobans navigated during code red, during the holiday, and made the decision to stay put and stay safe and not travel.” Asagwara said. “Because they were under the understanding that it would contribute to decreasing COVID numbers and decreasing the strain on our health-care system.”

CEO allowed to travel to Quebec frequently

On Wednesday, the hospital’s spokesperson said Bouchard’s holiday travel was allowed because it was part of the pre-COVID arrangement made when she took the leadership role at the hospital. 

It was agreed that Bouchard could return home regularly to her husband and children in Quebec.

“As the pandemic progressed, efforts were made to extend her stays in Winnipeg, as often as possible, especially as she and our executive continued to monitor and respond to the unfolding pandemic,” the statement said.

Bouchard is the only hospital CEO or COO in Winnipeg to travel outside of the province during code red of the pandemic, according to officials with Shared Health and the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

A WRHA spokesperson also confirmed none of its executives left the province during this period.

St. Boniface is a faith-based hospital governed by the Catholic Health Corporation of Manitoba. The hospital’s board chair, Tom Carson, did not immediately return a request to speak with CBC News. 

Under current public health orders, travellers to Manitoba are required to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The only exceptions are people returning from Western Canada or northwestern Ontario.

NDP MP Niki Ashton said she travelled to Greece to visit an ailing grandmother. (Liam Richards/The Canadian Press)

A growing list of politicians have faced demotions or been forced to resign their cabinet seats after being caught traveling outside of the country.

This includes Niki Ashton, member of Parliament for Churchill-Keewatinook Aski, who was stripped by the NDP of her critic roles after going to Greece to see a sick relative.

However, no punishments were doled out to David McLaughlin, the province’s top civil servant, who went to Ottawa to see his family, or James Teitsma, the Tory MLA for Radisson, who drove to British Columbia with his family

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