It was mostly all about front-line health care on the 2011 provincial election campaign trail Tuesday, but beneath the surface it had more to do with wooing voters in two key ridings that could determine which man becomes the next premier.
NDP Leader Greg Selinger and Progressive Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen both promised voters more nurses and more ambulances on a day that saw them take their campaigns to NDP-held ridings -- ridings the NDP want to keep and the Tories want to steal on Oct. 4.
The Tories unveiled their blueprint for healthy communities in the south Winnipeg riding of Seine River, currently held by Health Minister Theresa Oswald.
"We wanted to highlight what people already know, which is that Theresa Oswald and Greg Selinger have a 12-year record of broken promises in health care," McFadyen said.
The PCs are running former Winnipeg city councillor Gord Steeves as their candidate in Seine River as they think the high-profile Oswald is vulnerable.
At an event in Steeves' spacious campaign headquarters on Ste. Anne's Road, McFadyen promised, if elected, to add 2,165 new front-line health-care workers over the next six years. Included in the promise, as previously reported by the Free Press, are 1,700 new nurses and 250 new doctors. The PCs pegged the cost of their health pledges at $118 million, some of which would be paid for by making cuts to the health system's bureaucracy.
Earlier in the day, Selinger, with Oswald at his side, said the NDP will recruit 2,000 nurses if they remain in government. The NDP made their pitch to voters at the School of Nursing at the University of Manitoba. It was the second day this week Selinger and Oswald teamed up for a health announcement; on Monday they pledged to cut wait times for cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Selinger said the hiring blitz is needed over the next four years to meet growing demands on the health-care system and because more nurses will reach retirement. About 1,000 nurses are expected to retire over the next four years.
The plan calls for 100 new nurse training seats at universities and colleges and covers the training costs for nurse practitioners who agree to work in the north and rural areas for two years.
Legislation for nurse practitioners came into effect in 2005, allowing those with the necessary training to take on some of the jobs traditionally reserved for physicians, including ordering diagnostic tests, prescribing medication and performing minor surgical procedures.
"You don't get more nurses magically," Selinger said. "You have to have the commitment."
Selinger also announced a new ambulance station in Ile des Chénes to serve people living southeast of the Winnipeg city limits. The area makes up a large part of the new riding of Dawson Trail, formerly called La Verendrye.
It's held by NDP incumbent Ron Lemieux, who now has to campaign more in a rural area that's voted Tory in the past.
Later in the day, the two parties waged a war over which one had done a better job of costing out their health-care promises.
The NDP war room challenged the accuracy of McFadyen's math. The New Democrats said it would cost $236 million -- not $118 million -- to hire all the new health professionals that the Tories are contemplating. Party spokesperson Jennifer Howard said the error calls into question the PCs' credibility and sincerity on health care.
"It tells me there's not enough money in their budget to do what they want to do," she said.
The PCs quickly blasted out their own response, saying the NDP were "distorting facts in a sad bid to smear" the PC plan.
"In their rush to throw mud, they have once again ignored the facts, putting all 2,165 new hires into the first year, when in fact the plan calls for the increase to take place over six years," PC director of communications Greg Burch said in a release.