Manitoba

Manitoba Tories want ER wait time data released, but Grits argue that would break election blackout rules

Manitoba's Progressive Conservatives want permission to release ER and urgent care wait times for the month of July — but the provincial Liberal party is refusing that request, saying it would break blackout rules in place during an election period.

NDP think stats should be released, but accuse Pallister of politicizing Winnipeg Regional Health Authority

Manitoba Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister is being accused of politicizing the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority after asking for the release of recent ER wait time data during an election period. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

Manitoba's Progressive Conservatives want permission to release ER and urgent care wait times for the month of July — but the provincial Liberal party is refusing that request, saying it would break blackout rules in place during an election period.

The Liberals called the request from the Tories "bizarre" and claimed it would violate Manitoba's Election Financing Act, which includes blackout rules intended to prevent the governing party from abusing its position by releasing certain information during the campaign period.

"Pallister is asking other parties for permission to break elections law. The answer is no," said Harold Davis, the Liberal candidate for Union Station.

PC campaign director David McLaughlin wrote to the Liberals and NDP asking for permission to release the July data for Winnipeg hospitals.

"I think Manitobans deserve to know what the wait times stats are, good or bad," Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister told reporters Wednesday. "Manitobans deserve to know."

Manitoba Liberal Party Leader Dougald Lamont speaks during a press conference at a community centre in Winnipeg on Tuesday. The Liberals have refused a request from the Progressive Conservatives, who want ER wait times for the month of July released. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

Pallister, whose party is seeking re-election in the Sept. 10 vote, said health-care reforms his government has made have created an overall reduction in wait times, and argued the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority shouldn't be restrained from releasing data during an election campaign period.

"If they don't report them, it looks like they've covering it up."

WRHA spokesperson Scott Sime said Friday the authority consulted with the province's health department while preparing for the election. Based on the advice they got, the WRHA is refusing media requests that could influence the public discourse on changes to the health care system in Winnipeg, he said.

Real-time waits still online

Sime pointed out the health authority is still posting real-time waits for emergency departments and urgent care centres and is confirming some non-election-related operational details to media, such as information about the recent outbreak of scabies at a personal care home.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew said Friday the authority should release the numbers and believes it is free to do so — but he questions Pallister's motive for wanting the data released.

"The existence of this letter [from the PC campaign] is proof that Mr. Pallister is trying to politicize the WRHA during the election period," Kinew said.

"He should not be inserting himself into the decision making on this, or any other public-health mater. The WRHA is free to do its normal business."

Manitoba's Election Financing Act restricts government departments and Crown agencies from advertising during an election period. But the act says information related to important matters of public health or safety is exempt from the rules. 

The NDP maintains the blackout rules wouldn't apply in this situation.

Sime said the WRHA plans to post the July data online after the election. Monthly ER and urgent care data is normally posted on the last Thursday of every month, he said.

The PCs are urging the Liberals to reconsider their decision.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

​Austin Grabish is a reporter for CBC News in Winnipeg. Since joining CBC in 2016, he's covered several major stories. Some of his career highlights have been documenting the plight of asylum seekers leaving America in the dead of winter for Canada and the 2019 manhunt for two teenage murder suspects. In 2021, he won an RTDNA Canada award for his investigative reporting on the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which triggered change. Have a story idea? Email: austin.grabish@cbc.ca

With files from Ian Froese

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