With PCs a no-show, little separates remaining parties at health-care debate

One day after taking part in his first debate of the provincial election campaign, things went back to normal on Thursday night for Manitoba Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister.

NDP, Libs and Greens all agree to collaborate on health issues, if they form government

NDP Leader Wab Kinew sits next to a empty seat which was reserved for PC Leader Brian Pallister, who has not attended any debates other than Wednesday's televised debate. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

One day after taking part in his first debate of the provincial election campaign, things went back to normal on Thursday night for Manitoba Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister.

Much to the chagrin of many in attendance at the University of Manitoba's Fred Gaspard Theatre, neither Pallister nor anyone from his party showed up at the debate hosted by the Manitoba Health Coalition. 

"It is unfortunate Mr. Pallister failed to attend any formal debate outside of the televised leaders' debate," said Brianne Goertzen, provincial director of the non-partisan coalition. "Issues of poverty, hunger, climate change, women's rights, gender equity are not fringe issues."

While Pallister was absent from the debate, the NDP and Green Party were represented by leaders Wab Kinew and James Beddome, respectively. The Liberals sent River Heights candidate Jon Gerrard in place of leader Dougald Lamont, who had a last-minute commitment.

With no right-of-centre party in attendance, many of the topics ranging from universal pharmacare to reproductive health produced little in the way of debate Thursday night. 

With so much agreement among the three centre-left parties, U of M medical student Lucy Karp said she was optimistic about what changes could be made, if one of them managed to win power on Sept. 10.

"I was encouraged by the fact that they all do seem to have robust health care plans that they've thought about and that a lot of those health care plans are based on equitable and universal health care services," she said.

Lucy Karp, a medical student at the University of Manitoba, said she was most impressed by Wab Kinew and the NDP platform during Thursday's debate on health. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

During the debate, all three parties said they would be willing to collaborate across the aisle on health issues to move the province forward.

For Karp, who plans on working in the province as a doctor in the future, there is room for improvement all the way around.

"Rural health care is really lacking right now, health care for northern Indigenous communities is really lacking and then health care for people who are struggling with any mental health or substance use issues," she said.

While she agrees with Kinew and Beddome on reopening emergency rooms at Concordia and Seven Oaks hospitals, Karp was surprised by the Liberals' noncommittal answer.

"Dr. Jon Gerrard dodged that question a little bit, and I couldn't really understand if he planned to be explicitly open the ERs or not," she said.

When all was said and done, Karp was most impressed by what she heard from Kinew, who she said seemed to have spoken with professionals working in the field.

"He constantly deferred to experts … whether they were health care providers or research … it really seemed like what he was working with was evidence."

Differences between parties

Compared to Wednesday's televised leaders' debate, there was a lot less sniping and talking over each other among the participants on Thursday.

On the subject of safe consumption sites, both Kinew and Beddome said they are in favour, while the Liberals said they support them, but not for methamphetamines.

"There is just no evidence it works. We would support it for injections on other drugs, but it does not work for methamphetamines," said Gerrard.

The panel at the Manitoba leaders' debate on health, from right: moderator Terry MacLeod, NDP Leader Wab Kinew, Liberal candidate for River Heights Jon Gerrard and Green Party Leader James Beddome. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

When asked by the moderator about specific issues in the province that keep them worried, Kinew raised the amount of time it will take to reverse the "chaos" caused by Tories.

Beddome said he's not worried because the province does have good health care, but it needs investment to get it up to a world-class level. He said focusing on social detriments needs to be evaluated, and fixing them will alleviate the strain on the system.

Gerrard focused on mental health, which he said is vastly underfunded within the province, and is not easily accessible to young people seeking it.

On Sept. 6, the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce will host the only major provincial leadership debate remaining in the campaign. Pallister has yet to acknowledge if he will be attending.

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