Manitoba NDP demands pre-election freeze on controversial government decisions

The Manitoba NDP is calling on the government to refrain from controversial announcements in the lead-up to the next election — such as closing the emergency room at Seven Oaks General Hospital.

Caretaker convention restricts the power of government from making major decisions

NDP Leader Wab Kinew demands a reversal on the decision to close the ER at Seven Oaks General Hospital ahead of schedule. (Ian Froese/CBC)

The Manitoba NDP is calling on the government to refrain from controversial announcements in the lead-up to the next election — such as closing the emergency room at Seven Oaks General Hospital.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew told reporters on Sunday the government should act with restraint in making pre-election decisions that could bind a further government into decisions it doesn't want to follow.

The idea is known as the "caretaker convention," a principle generally followed by governments before an election.

Kinew said the Manitoba government is flouting its role as the caretaker of power by expediting the closure of the Seven Oaks ER and the further privatization of Lifeflight air ambulance.

"Don't make these rushed decisions just because you know you're going to be leaving office in a few months," Kinew said outside the Misericordia Health Centre in Winnipeg, surrounded by two dozen of his party's candidates.

'Enter caretaker mode,' Kinew demands

Although Brian Pallister has not signalled the beginning of the election campaign, Kinew says we're effectively in an election period already since the government set the date of the vote to Sept. 10 and self-imposed an advertising blackout.

He called on the Pallister government to take its election preparations a step further.

"If you're serious about this election, then make this a real campaign period — enter caretaker mode," Kinew said. "No more cuts, no more closures, until the people of Manitoba have a chance to have their say."

The Seven Oaks ER was slated to close in September, but staffing woes — partially stemming from health-care professionals seeking positions in other facilities due to the impending ER's closure — will push the change to earlier this summer, said the Winnipeg Reginal Health Authority last week.

"The further we get from the closures to when we get a chance to form government, the more difficult it's going to be to fix the damage that Brian Pallister is causing in the health-care system," Kinew said.

Kinew said the NDP would reverse the June conversion of Concordia's ER into an urgent care centre, as well as the planned transformation at Seven Oaks ER, if they are elected. His government would consider re-opening the ER at Victoria General Hospital as well, which became a urgent care centre in 2017.

The Privy Council of Canada released its guidelines for the caretaker convention in 2015, after the federal Conservative government was chided for violating the unwritten constitutional rule.

Under the principle, the government in power can still make decisions, but they must be routine, non-controversial and in the public interest.

At a rally last week, health care workers at Seven Oaks General Hospital pushed for their emergency room to stay open. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

If it was already in force in Manitoba before the writ is dropped, as Kinew suggests, major changes at Seven Oaks would be ruled out.

"What the caretaker convention spells out is the government has to keep the lights on," Kinew said. "They have to keep the emergency rooms open."

When asked for comment, the provincial government ignored questions about the caretaker convention and instead provided a statement, originally sent out last week, on the timing of Seven Oaks' conversion into an urgent care facility — which was pegged for September.

Clinical leadership has recommended the move occur this summer to assure "patient safety standards and the stability of the overall system can be maintained," Health Minister Cameron Friesen said in an emailed statement. Friesen added the government would consider the recommendation over the next few days.


  • We initially reported that Health Minister Cameron Friesen said the conversion of Seven Oaks ER into an urgent care centre would happen this summer. In fact, Friesen said the timing was recommended by clinical leadership.
    Jun 23, 2019 5:12 PM CT


Ian Froese

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Ian Froese covers provincial politics and its impact for CBC Manitoba. He previously reported on a bit of everything for newspapers. You can reach him at


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