Manitoba

Manitoba election: PCs won't rule out privatizing parts of health-care system

Manitoba Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister says he wouldn't discount the possibility of privatizing parts of the health-care system if elected.

PC leader supports privatization initiatives that leave 'people out in the cold,' Greg Selinger says

Manitoba Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister (right) and NDP Leader Greg Selinger sparred over ideas on private and public health-care models Tuesday in a leaders' debate in Winnipeg. (CBC)

Manitoba Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister says he wouldn't discount the possibility of privatizing parts of the health-care system if elected.

The PCs have polled ahead of their opponents in recent weeks​, and Pallister found himself in the cross-hairs of the other party leaders Tuesday night during a televised debate at the CBC Manitoba headquarters in Winnipeg.

NDP Leader Greg Selinger said Pallister favours privatization initiatives over public models and claimed he would push through a two-tiered health-care system if elected April 19.

"You've mused about two-tier health care, you've mused about doing experiments with families in terms of how they're treated," Selinger said to Pallister during one exchange.

Pallister said the private sector is already widely used to supply services to Manitobans. He shot down suggestions he would ever consider privatizing Manitoba Hydro, saying it "belongs to Manitobans," not political parties.

The leaders of Manitoba's four main political parties squared off in a televised debate at CBC Manitoba headquarters Tuesday night that touched on taxes, health care, the economy and poverty. 49:38

Asked specifically about his plans for health care, Pallister evaded the question but wouldn't rule out the possibility of implementing private systems.

"Many Manitobans are actually resorting to private sector options in other countries because of extensive wait times," he said. "Over half our health-care services right now are provided by the private sector, so I don't know how to answer this question any other way."

Pallister said Manitobans already have a two-tiered health-care system under Selinger, referring to long hospital wait times and ambulance fees that top $500 in some rural areas.

But Pallister's failure to flatly shut down the possibility of privatizing even parts of the health-care system is a sign it's something he's already considering, Selinger said.

"He didn't make a clear commitment not to do those things," Selinger said. "He's always supported privatization initiatives and that has always left people out in the cold."

Pallister added he would liaise with front-line workers to come up with solutions to common problems and help shorten wait times.

"I don't want to rule out suggestions that are going to come from people in our health-care system for getting better health care for Manitobans," he said. "I'm not an ideologue here — I want the best results for Manitobans."​

Analysts weigh in on debate

Analysts said they'd be watching the debate closely to see what the leaders had to say and whether any mud-slinging from the past few days would surface.

"The campaign has gotten a little bit nasty in these last couple of days," said Quito Maggi, president and CEO of Mainstreet Research.

Political scientist Royce Koop said he was surprised Selinger didn't mount a more aggressive offensive against Pallister during the debate, considering how things have gone in recent days.

In three days prior to the debate, Selinger said he thinks the PC leader is homophobic and unwilling to be honest with Manitobans about his finances.

Selinger revealed details of his 2014 tax return Sunday; Bokhari followed suit, unveiling parts of hers' from 2013 the same day. Pallister refused, calling it a desperate political "stunt" from Selinger in the final days of the election.

While Maggi said it's very uncommon "to have a knockout punch" and clear winner in leaders' debates,Koop added the Liberals and NDP didn't do enough to challenge Pallister and the PCs.

"The other leaders are far behind Mr. Pallister. If they wanted to knock down his lead, they had to take chances, they had to take risks and they had to go on the offensive," Koop said. "For the most part, besides the Green Party, we didn't really see that."

With files from the Canadian Press

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