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Manitoba Liberals focus on Covid-19 pandemic while NDP introduce an endless series of Matters of Privilege to obstruct the business of the Manitoba Legislature


Wednesday March 11, on the day that the coronovirus Covid-19 pandemic was declared and the day the budget was to be delivered, the NDP decided to obstruct the business of the legislature and to introduce an endless series of Matters of Privilege.  Manitoba Liberals chose to focus on the Covid-19 pandemic.   My comments in the Legislature, from Hansard, on the Matters of Privilege and on the Covid-19 pandemic are below:
   
Mr. Gerrard: There, of course, were, several years ago, some changes in the rules, and one of the tasks that we have to make sure is that there's adequate time to debate the legislation. Of that there's no doubt. And we, the Liberal Party, are very determined to do whatever we can to make sure there's adequate time for debate.
      On the other hand, we have 32 bills so far on the Order Paper. I have been in this Chamber when there was an NDP government and we occasionally had up to 50 or so bills on the Order Paper. So the number of bills that we have is not extraordinary, and although I think it is too premature right now to say that we won't have time to debate these, I think it's going to be very important that we work together as House leaders and in other ways to make sure that the government is pushed to be sure that there's adequate time to debate every piece of legislation that is produced.
      Thank you
Mr. Gerrard: Madam Speaker, in the context of what is happening today, I reflect on a previous occasion when I moved a matter of privilege immediately before the presentation of a budget. It was about an extremely serious matter when a former NDP Finance minister–from Cabinet records we had become aware of the fact that he knew that Crocus was in big, big trouble, and yet he and his government went on promoting the sale of Crocus shares.
      It was recognized as a serious matter. There was discussions among all parties about why this was important to be presented and there was agreement that it was presented and it was accepted as a serious matter that had to be brought up just then.
      I'm afraid, Madam Speaker, although these are serious matters, they don't fall in quite the same category and I believe that we should move on and have the budget presented, have the question period, where we will have chances to answer questions and move on with the business of the House.
      Thank you.
Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): Madam Speaker, I am respectful of the points that the official opposition is trying to make. But I think we stand today at a rather critical moment.
      The WHO has just declared COVID-19 a pandemic. This is a global pandemic now acknowl­edged to be such. We need to have question period. We need, even if we may not like it, to have a budget presented because the government needs to show us that they are actually listening to people with respect to issues like this global pandemic.
      We are very concerned, as I've already said, about the deceptive nature of some of the government's budgetary practices. We are very concerned about the adequacy of their response to the now global pandemic, but we believe that we need to proceed and have question period so that government can answer to some of the concerns that we and others have.
      And I would put that forward respectfully, Madam Speaker, as an important issue that must be considered.

Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): Yes, Madam Speaker, I want to speak briefly to this matter of privilege.
      Today is a very important day in the history of the world. We have had a pandemic declared, a global, worldwide concern about a coronavirus infection, a coronavirus pandemic. As WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Wednesday, we have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus.
      Here in Manitoba on CBC this morning, Dr.  Bhardwaj, who was commenting, said the coronavirus COVID-19 situation can move from not very bad to holy cow, we have a major problem very quickly. This is really important. We need a question period. We need to be able to hold this government to account to make sure they are really going to make sure to deliver and keep Manitobans safe.
      Thank you, Madam Speaker.

Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): I want to put a brief comment on this matter of privilege which has been raised. I thank the member for raising it.
      But I point out that we have today just had a global pandemic called, that the death toll from COVID-19 in Italy has risen in the last 24 hours by 31 per cent to 827 people now dead in Italy. The director general of the World Health Organization has been assessing this outbreak around the clock, and says, we are deeply concerned by both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction. He goes on to say, we cannot say this loudly enough or clearly enough or often enough: all countries can still change the course of this pandemic.
      Madam Speaker, we need to be focused on the  major issue that we have in the world today and in Manitoba today, which is on COVID-19 and addressing this pandemic.
      We should be having question period; we should be having the budget instead of these matters of privilege.
      Thank you.

Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): Yes, Madam Speaker, I rise to comment on this. Matters of privilege are important and have to be taken seriously, but, quite frankly, today we should be focusing on the pandemic which has just been declared by the World Health Organization.
      I note–I have just received word that there has been modelling done of this pandemic in Germany, and the modelling in Germany suggests that up to 70 per cent of the population could get COVID-19. This, of course, is extremely serious. The fact is that countries like China and South Korea have demonstrated that there is the potential to control this with sufficient action.
      As the director general for the World Health Organization said, this word pandemic should not be used lightly or carelessly, nor should it be misused. It doesn't change what countries can do–should do, but this pandemic is unlike any others, is that it can be controlled, as we've seen in China and South Korea, where the number of cases are falling.
      But the director general says many countries are not doing what is necessary. He says, we've called every day for countries to take urgent and aggressive action. We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear. Countries can still change the course. He called on countries to detect, test, treat, isolate, track contacts and mobilize their people in response to the pandemic.
      He said it wasn't enough to limit testing to small numbers of people who fitted a risk criteria that might be out of date, like people who–with a history of travel from China. Now, we have moved in this direction here in Manitoba, but my understanding–it may be another week or two before that's fully in place to adequately test people.
      We need to be treating this as a very urgent matter, Madam Speaker, and I believe that that's what we should be focusing on this afternoon because of the extreme urgency of the pandemic which the world is now facing.
      Thank you.

Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): Madam Speaker, with respect to this issue, I believe that the evidence that has been provided is not sufficient to accord this as a matter of privilege.
      But I do believe that there is an urgent matter that we should be debating instead, and that is the pandemic.
We are faced with a situation where, I understand, Seattle has just closed schools for two weeks; where Mark Woolhouse, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Edinburgh, has said there's a world–word missing from the World Health Organization's statement that we need urgent and aggressive action, and that is sustainable–that the action must be sustainable.
For example, that we need to be changing the way we do things. The university in–of Toronto and the University of British Columbia are already moving to be able to put their courses online so that if students are not able to attend because of the pandemic, they are going to continue to function. Well, we need to be able to make sure that with the pandemic that the Legislature can continue to function, that other activities can continue to function, that we have a sustainable outlook.
      Those are my comments, Madam Speaker.

Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): Yes, on the matter of privilege.
      Just very briefly, the member from St. Johns talks about the provision of misleading information by the government. Part of the problem is that if every bit of misleading information was addressed by a point of–matter of privilege we'd be here 'til Christmas. We need–and there are better ways of dealing with this.
      The member, in fact, is interfering with the ability to discuss really critical points like the pandemic, which was declared today.
      Those are my comments, Madam Speaker.

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