On Monday this week, I received an email from Karen Dunlop, Chair of the Board of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. In her email Ms Dunlop wonders if the decision to cut lactation (breastfeeding) services at the Health Sciences Centre "holds water", and whether the evidence really supports this decision. Ms. Dunlop is a nurse herself, and a well respected one, so her concern has the weight of her professional background as well as her position as Chair of the WRHA. I raised this issue with the Minister of Health on Tuesday. As you will see in the Minister's response, he was not able to defend the WRHA's decision and in desperation he opted instead to blame the federal government, and to accuse me of come sort of conspiracy theory. Below are my questions and the Minister's responses from Hansard.
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority - Response to Cuts to Lactation Services
Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): Madam Speaker, recently, a mother approached me about the WRHA's decision to terminate two lactation consultants. She said, in a letter to the WRHA and copied to the Minister of Health and me, that she had only found the care that she and her son needed from specialized lactation consultants at the Health Sciences Centre. I received a response from the WRHA's Réal Cloutier and an email from the chair of the WRHA, criticizing Mr. Cloutier's response for emphasizing cuts over care and wondering, and I quote, "if this decision holds water."
Does the minister agree with the chair of the WRHA that his government puts cuts before care for newborn children and their mothers?
Hon. Kelvin Goertzen (Minister of Health, Seniors and Active Living): Madam Speaker, certainly the member opposite knows a little bit about cuts when it comes to the federal government reducing support here in Manitoba. There continues to be a decline of support from the federal government. We used to have a partner, a 50‑50 partner, many years ago; now we have a 19 per cent partner when it comes to health care from the federal government.
I'm glad that the member opposite is now concerned about funding for health care. I wonder where his concern was a few months ago when we needed his voice. [In fact, I have raised concerns about health care cuts many times in the last year].
Madam Speaker: The honourable member for River Heights, on a supplementary question.
Mr. Gerrard: Yes, Madam Speaker, my concern is about services; his concern is only about cuts.
Madam Speaker, the letter from the chair of the WRHA on the interim president's response to cuts in lactation specialists is twofold. She says the letter, which I table, acknowledges negative impacts and then says, we must promote evidence‑based care, particularly where there's evidence of long‑term benefits and access to that care. The current draft suggests we are not sure ourselves whether the decision was sound and if the new approach is the right one.
The Health Minister also received this email. Are he and the WRHA more concerned with messaging than with making sure that new mothers can breastfeed their newborn children?
Mr. Goertzen: Well, we have lots of concerns, of course, Madam Speaker. One of the great concerns we have is the lack of support from the federal government. There used to be, at a time many years ago, that the federal government was a 50‑50 partner in health. That was always the great compromise when it comes to health care in Manitoba: federal government would set the rules but they would provide 50 per cent of the support to provinces over time, and particularly under the federal Liberal government that 'cline'–has been reduced to the point where the federal Liberal government now only provides 19 per cent support when it comes to health care, yet they still insist on setting 100 per cent of the rules.
I'm glad that the member opposite has found his voice when it comes to support. I only wish he had found it a little bit earlier, Madam Speaker.
Madam Speaker: The honourable member for River Heights, on a final supplementary.
Mr. Gerrard: Madam Speaker, the minister only seems to deflect, instead of taking responsibility. At the very highest levels of the WRHA, it's clear there is doubt about the government's plan to break their campaign promises and fire front‑line health‑care workers.
The RHAs were created by the PCs in the '90s to have health care at arm's length from government, but the most powerful people in the WRHA now have no independence and no choice when the Premier (Mr. Pallister) and his Health Minister order them to make cuts, and little freedom to speak the truth.
Will the Premier and his minister listen to the board of the WRHA and reverse this decision to cut lactation specialists, or will the people who have spoken get trimmed for speaking their minds?
Mr. Goertzen: Well, Madam Speaker, there were at least five different conspiracies in that question. I would ask the member to remove himself from the grassy knoll.
What we are doing is ensuring that there is a health‑care system that is sustainable. We are looking at evidence. We are hearing from experts. Dr. Peachey, who was hired by the NDP government, is one of those experts. We've heard from many different experts. [It is important to know that Dr. Peachy did not specifically recommend getting rid of lactation consultants. It is also important to know that the cabinet signed off on the WRHA cuts.]
I would encourage the member opposite to also listen to experts. There have been national experts who said that health care isn't sustainable without a true federal partner.
That is an expert that the member opposite doesn't want to listen to. I would encourage him to listen to the many voices around Canada who said we need the federal government to be a real partner, to make sure that health care is sustainable.
He can stand here in this House and he can defend Ottawa all he wants, but he's elected to defend Manitobans, and he should stand up for Manitobans for a change, Madam Speaker.