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Thursday March 12, Manitoba Liberals continue to focus on the Covid-19 pandemic while the NDP continue to obstruct the normal business of the Legislature.


On Thursday March 12, Manitoba Liberals provided notice to the Speaker that we were calling for a debate on a Matter of Urgent Public Importance – the Covid-19 pandemic.  Sadly, the NDP completely blocked the ability of the Manitoba Legislature to get to the normal procedure including the discussion we called for on the Covid-19 pandemic.   The NDP did this by bringing forth a series of Matters of Privilege.   Quite frankly the NDP were so focused on their own privileges that they lost track of the fact that from a public perspective all the focus was on the Covid-19 pandemic and that is what we should have been discussing.   In spite of the obstruction of the NDP, Manitoba Liberals continued to focus on the Covid-19 pandemic. 
When the Legislature was called to order by the Speaker, the Conservative government asked if the other parties would agree to sit after the ordinary sitting time if necessary to complete the introduction of their budget.  The NDP rejected this.  The NDP then offered to the government the possibility of moving directly to their budget speech without having introduction of bills, question period and matters of urgent public importance which are part of the normal procedure.   The Conservatives rejected this option.   I spoke on these matters below:
Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): Yes, Madam Speaker, I just wanted to indicate very briefly that Manitoba Liberals would have been fine with the government's proposal to continue to sit without watching the clock, and we would also see that there is some merit in the opposition's proposal.
      But, we do feel that in any resolution of this, we need to have the opportunity to ask questions, to answer questions–for the government to answer questions about COVID-19, and we also feel that this is a matter of urgent public importance, which needs to be discussed as that, sometime today. And if the NDP wants to waste time, as they did yesterday, we offer an alternative: debate the COVID-19 situation as opposed to obstructing the House, as happened yesterday.
      Thank you.
The Speaker then asked for a pause in the debate in the Legislative Chamber to see if there could be a way of bringing all parties together to decide how to proceed.  After this discussion there still was not agreement between the NDP and Conservatives.  We then returned to the chamber where the NDP proceeded to start on their Matters of Privilege – in essence talking about their own privileges without being concerned about the needs of the public.   Mr. Adrien Sala, the MLA for St. James, spoke first to say that his privilege as an MLA in the House was being interfered withbecause the government has failed to call the Standing Committee on Crown Corporations for consideration of Manitoba Hydro's annual reports.  After Mr. Sala had completed his Matter of Privilege I spoke as reported in Hansard below:

Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): Madam Speaker, just a few comments briefly on this matter of privilege.
      This matter of privilege deals with a meeting of a standing committee. Normally, where there's reasonable relationships between the House leaders, this is something that is negotiated among House leaders and, of course, it's important for the opposition parties to put pressure on the government to call these standings committees. 
      But I would point out that today, a day after the World Health Organzation's director general has called a COVID-19 pandemic, when we have the first case presumptive of COVID-19 in Manitoba when I am told that there are fire, paramedic personnel who have been put in isolation in Manitoba. There is a lot that's happening very quickly, including that the NHL has put a pause, I believe, on its season. You know, it is really urgent that we are talking here in the Chamber about critical matters of the day, like the COVID-19 pandemic. And I would urge the official opposition to bring these points of privilege–matters of privilege to a conclusion so that we can get on to really critical matters.
      It is urgent that we have this debate on COVID‑19, which is why the Liberals have brought in a matter of urgent public importance. And this needs to be an open debate. We need to have the opportunity to ask questions. And, you know, the government may not be unhappy that their budget is delayed, because they can actually add a few things related to the COVID-19 epidemic into the budget.
      But, be that as it may, there is something on this globe which is really important–we should be talking about because it is affecting us here in Manitoba. I plead with all members to have this discussion, have this debate on this matter of urgent public importance and get on to critical issues.
      Thank you.
Lisa Naylor, the NDP MLA for Wolseley then brought forward a motion that her ability to do her duty as an MLA was being impeded because the Conservative government was not being accountable for its actions or lackthereof to address climate change.  I responded as recorded in Hansard below:  
Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): Yes, Madam Speaker, with regard to the matter of privilege which has been raised and with all due respect for the member for Wolseley (Ms. Naylor), this matter of privilege deals with an act not proclaimed and the failure of the government to address climate change. These are important matters, yes, but they are matters which could be the subject of intensive discussion at the time of the debate on the budget, which we could be proceeding with today if the budget had been introduced yesterday.
      I think the member has other opportunities. There are rallies and various other things that could be done. In fact, the member argues that not addressing this is interfering with her ability to do her job. I would argue that the member taking time on this issue is interfering with the ability of all of us to address a global pandemic of COVID-19, and that it is really imperative that we all better understand the nature of the epidemic and what it takes for public measures to work.
       And I will, in this context, table a graph which looks at the coronavirus cases in Italy, and they have gone in the last 10 days from 1,000 to 10,000 over that short period of time, with a doubling time of 3.1 days. The number of people in intensive-care units has gone from 100 on February 29th to today close to 1,000. That is a lot of people in intensive-care units and it is causing a lot, a lot of trouble. And the number of deaths have gone from the first one–
Madam Speaker: Order, please. Order, please.
      I do recognize the importance of what the member is saying, but I would indicate that he is currently not speaking to the matter at hand on the table. So I would ask him to bring his comments into the matter of privilege specifically that is before us.
Mr. Gerrard: Madam Speaker, the point I am making is that, contrary to the member's assumption that the government has been interfering with her member's ability to get things done, I am arguing that the member is actually interfering with the job of all of us to address the importance of such a critical thing as the COVID-19 pandemic where deaths have gone from none 17 days ago in Italy to almost 1,000. It is a big issue which we need to be dealing with.
      Thank you. Merci, Madam Speaker.
Mr. Ian Bushie, the NDP MLA for Keewatinook, then rose to move a motion that his privileges as an MLA had been breached by the “Pallister government's misleading information about the Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin Outlet Channels project” and that “this issue be immediately referred to a committee of this House.   Following this I rose to speak on this matter – as recorded in Hansard:
  
Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): Madam Speaker, this is a matter that has been known for some time. I certainly agree that there is a major problem with the approach of this government to consultations and to dealing with the outlet from Lake Manitoba to Lake St. Martin, and that from Lake St. Martin to Lake Winnipeg.
      However, I would argue that we have a very pressing situation and that the member is actually interfering with the job of other MLAs being able to debate and discuss the COVID-19 pandemic. From Italy today, I have received this note “tons of patients with moderate respiratory failure that over time deteriorate to saturate ICUs first, and NIVUs and CPAP hoods and even oxygen. Staff get so sick, so it's difficult to cover for shifts, mortality spikes, also from other causes that can't be treated properly.”  This is a major issue; we have to deal with it. We must deal with it now. That's what I put forward, Madam Speaker.
      Merci, miigwech.
Mr. Jamie Moses then rose to say that his privileges as an MLA had been breached because the Conservative government “has failed to call the Standing Committee on Crown Corporations for consideration of Efficiency Manitoba's annual report.  Mr. Moses then asked that this “issue be immediately referred to a committee of this House.”

Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): Yes, the member's point of privilege deals with Crown Corporation Efficiency Manitoba, its annual report and the fact that we haven't had a standing committee meeting, and all these are important. I suggest, Mr. Speaker, though, that there's a matter of relative importance and relative timeliness, and in this context I want to bring the attention of the House to the fact that there is a very timely matter.
      At the moment, we are dealing with a pandemic. The lifeline that has been offered by the government is through Health Links, and, unfortunately, Health Links has been down for at least an hour this afternoon; it may still be down. [I clarified this later – that the line was so busy that people were having a great deal of difficulty getting through.] Last time my staff checked, which was recently, it was down. It is very difficult for people to deal with an epidemic if their lifeline is gone, and this clearly needs urgent and timely attention by the government. And I would recommend that the Minister of Health look after this very quickly because of the importance of this.
      Clearly, if a government has trouble maintaining a lifeline for people during an epidemic, then it is a government which is not doing its duty. So I will table the instructions that the Minister of Health and his government is providing to people to use the lifeline of Health Links-Info Santé and, unfortunately, that has been a problem. And this clearly needs the attention, and is why we need to be able to ask questions of the government, and we need to be able to have a debate on the pandemic COVID-19.
      Thank you. Merci.
Matt Wiebe, the NDP MLA for Concordia spoke next.  He first acknowledge that it was I, as Liberal Health critic who was bringing issues forward related to the Covid-19 pandemic. He said “what I wanted to mention here today is that now, multiple times, the member [Jon Gerrard] has stood up and has brought forward what I–you know, I presume, given his background and the way that he takes his job very seriously, the member for River Heights has brought forward important documents and important information here in the House. And so it is curious to me that it's the member for River Heights rather than the Minister of Health or even the Government House Leader (Mr. Goertzen) with the information at his disposal, not bringing that forward, and not giving us the information  ]
Mr. Wiebe then went on to say “my privilege as a member, which has not been respected, is a politically motivated commission of inquiry [into Manitoba Hydro] and as well as the Pallister government's abuse of power in financially rewarding their political associates [Mr. Gordon Campbell, former Premier of B.C.] for what is virtually no work.”
Folllowing Mr. Wiebe’s speech I rose to reply – as recorded in Hansard:
Mr. Gerrard: On–Madam Speaker, on this point of order which deals with the commission of inquiry into Hydro, which was being led by Mr. Campbell but, of course, is not being led anymore, and the fact that some $600,000 were spent without a report being produced at this point is clearly of concern.
      But the relevant issue for today, in the middle of a pandemic, is what is happening and what are the risks to Manitoba. And I tabled earlier on a graph showing the rapidly increasing number of cases in Italy, and I would just point out that Italy is not alone; that, as of the latest numbers, the increase in the United States is paralleling, but it started later than in Italy, and that in Germany is a little bit slower, and that in Britain a little bit slower.
      So at this point, it [the rapid progression of the pandemic] is of great concern and we need to know what the ICU bed capacity is planned for, what the capacity for–
Madam Speaker: Order, please. Order.
      I realize the comments the member is putting on the table are important comments, but I would just indicate to him that they are not relevant to this particular matter of privilege. So I would ask him to make his comments more relative to the privilege.
Mr. Gerrard: Madam Speaker, I would just conclude by saying this, that there is a relative importance of matters and the member is actually impeding the work of this House and making it very difficult for us to pay attention to a very urgent issue–that is, the pandemic.
      Thank you.
The last MLA to present a Matter of Privilege was Mr. Wab Kinew.  His concern was that his privileges as an MLA were being breached because: the Pallister government is not discussing in this Chamber everything it knows about a company named Fresh Projects.” Mr.Kinew spoke until just before we adjourned at 5:00 pm, so I was left no time to reply. 

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