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Is Medicare in Manitoba at Risk?

A strange thing is happening in Manitoba. An ironic combination of factors originating from various elements of the Conservative political universe is conspiring to destroy Medicare in the province.

The first factor was the government formed by Brian Pallister in 2016. The cuts to health care in Manitoba, pursued out of Pallister’s maniacal commitment to reduce the provincial deficit regardless of the consequences, meant that Manitoba’s health care system was badly weakened even before the COVID pandemic struck. Emergency room closures, reduction in ICU capacity, general staff cuts, and particularly nurse shortages were the order of the day, all blissfully and uncritically presided over by Pallister’s quiescent Minister of Health, who is now his successor as Premier. Manitoba was unprepared for ongoing normal, never mind a pandemic.

The pandemic itself did not arise from the Conservative universe. Nevertheless, the second factor is that the fourth wave is a lot worse than it would be, thanks in large part to elements of the Conservative rural and conservative Christian political base in parts of southern Manitoba that have refused to take the vaccine. The pandemic, in so far as hospitals are concerned, is a pandemic of the unvaccinated. Hospital beds are presumably clogged with many unvaccinated Tory supporters, while vaccinated Manitobans of all political stripes are facing the cancellation of necessary life saving, or life enhancing surgeries.

Greater love hath no one than this, to lay down their life for another, has morphed into greater Christianity hath nothing better to offer than wilfully endangering your neighbour’s life rather than get vaccinated. This morally pathetic and unbiblical perspective has, of course, not been directly challenged by leaders in the Tory universe. Instead it was subtly sanctioned and perversely affirmed by the ambiguous, dog whistling, secretive approaches taken for so long by both the provincial and federal Tory leaders as to whether their own MLAs or MPs should be vaccinated.

The final factor, or destructive gift to Manitoba, could well be an expansion of private sector health care delivery. Such an expansion, in the name of pandemic inspired “ innovation”, would be a long time Tory dream come true. It is no secret that Tory back room chatter contemplates more privatization of government services, from health care to hydro. Denials notwithstanding. Sometimes the truth even gets out, as it did when Erin O’Toole briefly alluded to it as part of his plans for health care reform. Thanks to the cover of the pandemic nightmare, this favourite Tory ideological dream may well prove, like the condition known as long COVID, a lasting post-pandemic long term bad dream for those who value the integrity of Medicare.

In the meantime, Manitobans who have somebody important to them who is anxiously awaiting a critical surgery, should know which political universe to thank for such an unacceptable and preventable situation.

Bill Blaikie is a former MLA and MP from Winnipeg and is a board member of the Broadbent Institute.