In the final days of October, CBC Manitoba reporter Ian Froese tweeted this comment from Premier Brian Pallister: “A government can't protect you from this virus, you have to protect each other and that’s our obligation as friends, as family members, as citizens of this beautiful province. This is an obligation we share.”
Hours later, Union Station MLA Uzoma Asagwara responded with a single, biting sentence: “This is literally what people elect a Government to do.” They’re not wrong.
On Wednesday, Nov. 4, the province had 3,772 active COVID-19 cases, including 140 people in hospital. The same day, the United States recorded over 100,000 new coronavirus cases in a single day for the first time, and five states set single-day case records.
Dr. Bill Hanage, an associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, called this milestone “the completely foreseeable consequence of not taking pandemic management seriously.”
It can be tempting to point fingers at our southern neighbours, but the reality is we aren’t faring much better in Canada. Manitobans, in particular, don’t have much to brag about (especially considering the province’s current 10.7% test positivity rate), although the Progressive Conservative government seems to disagree.
During a recent health estimates committee hearing, Health Minister Cameron Friesen said “Manitobans need most to understand that the people in charge have got this.”
When addressing the public in late October, Premier Brian Pallister said he “takes responsibility for any negatives” in the province. As CBC Manitoba reported, “he also reprimanded people not taking care to limit the spread while suggesting Public Health and the province aren't solely responsible.”
Although individuals play a crucial part in slowing the spread of the virus, Pallister could be doing more to ensure public safety. “It's very disingenuous to say the government can't protect you from this,” Michelle Driedger, a University of Manitoba community health sciences professor, told CBC.
Driedger says governments are responsible for giving people access to credible information and public health recommendations, as well as the ability to stay home from work or school when needed. This pandemic, however, has highlighted how the Pallister government routinely places profit over people.
I left Winnipeg a day before Code Red restrictions came into effect, and it says something that I feel safer now in Philadelphia, a city that has also seen a surge in coronavirus cases, even while living with my immunocompromised inlaws during a volatile presidential election.
Here, Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine has proactively encouraged citizens to get flu shots and avoid holiday gatherings, even though state hospitals are “not challenged” at the moment. Pallister’s government, however, relaxed restrictions for businesses, restaurants and bars at the first signs of case improvement over the summer – to devastating effects.
Pallister has been quick to fault people who are going out and doing “dumb things (that) are endangering all of us,” but he is responsible for setting restrictions to help keep Manitobans safe. It’s a tall order, since his government has systematically gutted Manitoba’s healthcare system and mistreated its workers.
It’s clear much of Manitoba’s strife falls squarely on Pallister’s shoulders, and now is not the time for him to deflect blame. After all, I’m inclined to believe Manitoba’s doctors, who say “we are in grave peril.”
Pallister, I couldn’t have said it any better than you did: “Grow up. Stop going out there and giving people COVID.”
Danielle Doiron is a writer, editor and marketer who splits her time between Winnipeg and Philadelphia. She’s spending the pandemic reading, practising yoga and cursing out the governments in both cities she calls home.
Published in Volume 75, Number 09 of The Uniter (November 12, 2020)