While on the surface it seems reasonable to remove the Premier's involvement in public health decisions, the real answer is to have a Premier who can work together with the Chief Provincial Public Health Officer in the interests of all Manitobans. The problem at the moment is that in Manitoba there is often not a good parallel between the actions of Premier Pallister and Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Roussin. For example, just as the number of cases of COVID-19 infections were increasing, Pallister was launching an advertising blitz about opening up Manitoba for business. Pallister's badly timed advertising efforts led people to be less cautious about COVID-19 at the very time that the infections rate was increasing this fall, and made it more difficult for Dr. Roussin to impose stronger measures initially. This bill would not have made a difference in the Pallister advertising initiative. We need a Premier who better understands that the first step in having a better economy is having lower rates of COVID-19 infections. My speech at Second Reading on this bill on Thursday November 26 is below.
Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): I completely understand why the NDP are bringing forward this bill at this time. The Premier (Mr. Pallister) has made many poor decisions during the pandemic. He's shown poor leadership and his delay in preparation for the second wave, his closing of the incident command centre and many other decisions have caused a situation where Manitobans' health is now at risk from a booming second wave and our economy also is at risk.
But at the same time, we need political accountability. We need to know where the buck stops. We need the Premier and the public health officer working together to get us through the epidemic. We need the Premier to adequately fund public health orders.
We can't have a situation where there's dueling responses to an emergency, one coming from the public health orders and the other coming from emergency measures orders, where there's a disagreement between the two. [Wab Kinew explained in his opening talk about the bill, that if a Premier disagreed with the Chief Public Health Officer he could issue a counter order under the Emergency Measures Act].
So in spite of my sympathy for the position of the NDP, We're going to take a position against this measure. I speak from experience in Cabinet under Jean Chrétien, when I saw that the best results occur when the political head and the lead within the public civil service–including here the chief public health officer–are made with input from both and when the Premier can better listen, when the political lead [the Premier] can better listen to the public health officer, as sometimes does not appear to be the case now.
Controlling the COVID-19 pandemic is essential to improving our economic prospects. We see this this fall. Had the COVID-19 pandemic been kept under better control by the Premier with all the advice that he should've and was receiving from us and from many others, we would've had a much more open economy. The failure of the Premier to put health care first has put our economy last.
We could've had, as we've had in the past, an all-party task force working together. The Premier chose not to do this. That's his decision, Madam Speaker. And the Premier's decision to not listen always to the public health orders or public health doctor and the team from health care has been shown many times, including when there was a letter from many, many doctors and letter from many nurses bringing out problems with the Premier's approach.
So, in spite of the fact that we disagree very strongly with the approach that the Premier has taken, we still believe there needs to be political accountability so we will not, in this case, be supporting this legislation.