COVID-19 reality check: Pallister on small business supports, nursing numbers

Premier Brian Pallister regularly makes broad statements regarding his government's response to the coronavirus pandemic. Here is a look at the fact and fiction behind some remarks made Tuesday at his most recent press conference.

A look at some assertions made by Manitoba's premier at a recent press conference

Premier Brian Pallister says over 1,000 nurses have been hired since June of 2019 — but the numbers don't reflect that statement. (Government of Manitoba/YouTube)

Is Manitoba leading the pack when it comes to support for small business? Have over 1,000 new nurses been hired in Manitoba? 

If you ask Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, the answer is yes. However, those directly involved say otherwise. 

CBC producer Kristin Annable takes at look at these two statements made at Tuesday's press conference to try to separate fact from fiction. 

Statement: Manitoba has 'most effective' small business supports in Canada

The premier has repeatedly touted Manitoba's plan for small business as "the most generous in Canada." When faced with questions about that generosity on Tuesday, he changed his tune and said the province's programs are the "most effective" in Canada.  

He implored media to explore whether the programs announced by other provinces are even used by those who need them.

"When I say our programs are well designed, I mean it. Our programs have got money out the door," he said on Tuesday while discussing how Manitoba stacks up to the rest of the country.

"You'll find out that Manitoba has the most effective programming to support small businesses and it's working."

However, figures provided by the government show that of the combined $240 million budgeted for the Manitoba Gap Protection, Manitoba Job Restart, Back to Work in Manitoba, Back to Work This Summer and Student Wage Subsidy programs, only $73.5 million has been spent to date.

WATCH | Premier Brian Pallister discusses support for small business at Tuesday's press conference:

Brian Pallister on Manitoba's support for small business

12 months ago
The premier claims Manitoba has the most effective supports for small business in Canada. 0:18

Manitoba's gap program — a $6,000 one-time, interest-free forgivable loan to small and medium-sized businesses — was announced in May with a budget of $120 million. To date, only $56 million has been spent. 

Critics such Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce president Loren Remillard say rather than being effective programs, they have been too restrictive and don't reflect the effects of the second wave washing over the province. 

For example, anyone who uses a federal support program is disqualified from the gap program.

And any program subsidizing a student wage or getting more student jobs seems irrelevant in the fall. 

Meanwhile, officials in British Columbia announced a new small and medium-sized business recovery grant in October, offering $5,000 to $10,000 grants that require a business to also access federal support. 

Overall, the feeling is that Manitoba is "about the middle of the pack," said Jonathan Alward of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

Since the beginning of the second wave in Manitoba, no new supports have been announced for small businesses.

"The supports that they are providing now, I do think, were not designed with a second wave in mind, and they need to be there with new supports for small business immediately," said Alward. 

Statement: Manitoba has hired over 1,000 nurses in the last year

When questioned about the capacity of Manitoba's intensive care units, Pallister noted 1,300 nurses had been hired in over a year, with 200 new nurses being hired this summer.

He doubled down later in question period, repeating that his government has hired over 1,000 nurses since last year.

How the premier got to that number is unclear.

Numbers from the College of Registered Nurses of Manitoba show the number of nurses registered to work in Manitoba has declined from 13,617 registered nurses as of Dec. 31, 2019 to 13,444 at the end of this month.

Darlene Jackson of the Manitoba Nurses Union questions how the premier came to the figure that 1,300 new nurses have been hired in Manitoba. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Figures provided to the Manitoba Nurses Union by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority show the vacancy rate in nursing positions within WRHA and Shared Health facilities is 16 per cent and over 1200 nursing positions are vacant. 

When asked for comment, the premier's press secretary could not cite how the premier came to that figure, but said 375 new nursing positions have been filled since June of 2019.

Darlene Jackson, the union president, said the numbers don't add up.

"If this government has truly added more than 1,300 nurses to the system since last year, we have one question: where are they?" she said.

"Nurses across the system are reporting worsening short-staffing and dramatically increased workload every day. They have not seen any substantive relief."


Kristin Annable is a member of CBC's investigative unit based in Winnipeg. She can be reached at