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Calling on the Pallister government to step back from its push to privatize the lifeflight air ambulance service.

On Tuesday, November 6 in Question Period, I called on the government to step back from its attempt to privatize the lifeflight air ambulance service.  We have had all the doctors working on life-flight come forward with major concerns about the government's plans.  I raised these concerns in Question Period and asked the government to keep this service a public service rather than privatizing such an essential service.  My questions and the Minister of Health's responses are below:

Lifeflight Air Ambulance - Privatization Concerns

Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): Madam Speaker, from the very beginning of the government's attempt to privatize the air ambulance, it has been misguided and misfired.
      When the government indicated it wanted to privatize this service, it signalled to pilots that there was uncertainty about their future. We now learn that four pilots have left, with the latest being one in September and one in October, and this has happened because of the uncertainty that this government has created.
      Will the government come to its senses and immediately withdraw its misguided attempt to privatize the air ambulance service?

Hon. Cameron Friesen (Minister of Health, Seniors and Active Living): Well, Madam Speaker, the member seems to be advocating for a moratorium on retirements, but we can't do that, of course, as a government. People will serve the Province and eventually they will leave, for a variety of reasons, one of which is retirement. And so the one point I would acknowledge with the member is that people do eventually leave the employment of the Province.
      In this case, of course, what the government is  really doing is asking the questions that should  always have been asked about whether this is  the best preservation of the service in this form.  The market will tell us. If it is, we will be confirmed. If it's not, we will examine and take up those opportunities to do better for Manitobans.
      Better care sooner for Manitobans–that is our goal.

Madam Speaker: The honourable member for River Heights, on a supplementary question.

Mr. Gerrard: The service operated well, and so the government wants to break it.
      Service is a critical issue for doctors. In 33 years of public service, Manitoba's air ambulance has had no incidents. Since privatizing the air ambulance in Ontario, there have been crashes, including one in which two pilots and two paramedics died. No one wants this to happen here.
      Air transport regulations stipulate that a private  company cannot land a jet airplane on the short gravel runways which are present in 23 of the communities where air ambulance service is critical and operates. This can mean up to two additional hours in emergency response time.
      Will the government come to its senses and immediately withdraw its misguided attempt to privatize the air ambulance service?

Mr. Friesen: Well, the member seems to be saying that government should in no circumstances ever ask questions about value, and we reject that thinking. Madam Speaker, those were the approaches of the former NDP government.
      We understand that asking those questions is essential in a system that is becoming more expensive. The member knows that. Aging is becoming an issue, price of drugs, the price of medical remuneration, these are all pressures on our system.
      It is exactly by asking questions about that value that we will be able to harness savings and reinvest them in the health-care system to make the investments we want for shorter wait times, and those were the kinds of improvements that the NDP government failed to get and that the attitudes of the member will fail to get as well.
      We will take up those opportunities and get that value for all Manitobans.

Madam Speaker: The honourable member for River Heights, on a final supplementary.

Mr. Gerrard: Madam Speaker, one of the fundamental principles of good government is that you look at what is working really well and then you leave it and improve it, but don't go in there, as this government is, and mess it up.
      We now have all the doctors working with the air ambulance service saying they will quit if the government privatizes the air ambulance. These are doctors with great dedication and great experience. It will not be easy or cheap to replace them with the doctors of similar quality and experience. This is not a sexy job. Getting up in the middle of the night, responding to an emergency, flying to St. Theresa Point or Garden Hill, having to take a boat in the summer or across the ice in the winter in cold blowing weather is not fun.
      Will the government come to its senses and immediately withdraw [from privatizing the lifeflight air ambulance service.]

Madam Speaker: The member's time has expired.

Mr. Friesen: Well, Madam Speaker, the member for River Heights talks about slower response times, and that might've been an issue in the past, but he understands that new turbo prop technologies are much more approximate to the speeds of current jets. But more than that, had he been paying attention, he would've understood that, in addition, consultation with physicians from the Northern Medical Unit have indicated that delays in triaging and activating the current Lifeflight system are much more significant than anything else. And those things could actually be collapsed and be more approximate to what they are in other jurisdictions.
      If that member really wanted to stand up and talk about what's important, he could talk about asking Ottawa to be a more full partner for health-care provision in the province of Manitoba. Where they used to give 25 per cent, they'll now give 18 per cent.
      We're standing up to get more value for Manitobans, not less.


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