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Viro labs, Ombudspeople and nurses

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Did anyone notice:

The half-page ad in the A-section of Sunday's New York Times for the new virology lab at the University of Alberta? My alma mater just got a $28 million donation from a Hong Kong businessman plus $50-odd million from the Alberta government to expand the lab. It will put the U of A "at the cutting edge of discoveries of virology in the world," said the U of A's president. Does this mean Winnipeg's virology lab (and the possible $300 million expansion) has some big competition? It sounds like Alberta's lab doesn't handle the really bad bugs -- they study mostly flu and SARS and hepatitis -- so it's not quite as sexy. But Winnipeg's bio-cluster sure doesn't have much to crow about these days in the New York Times. National public health boss David Butler-Jones decamped officially to Ottawa recently. The proposed HIV vaccine facility crashed and burned and the virology lab has been waiting years for an expansion.

* * *

That B.C.'s ombudsman is now officially an ombudsperson? B.C. and Manitoba both have female ombudsmen but so far Manitoba's Irene Hamilton has been content with the old-school title. I'm good with that. Ombudsperson takes up way too much room in a headline and I'd rather see Hamilton spend time and money on, say, the timely investigation of FIPPA appeals and whistleblower complaints rather than changing all the letterhead.

* * *

The Manitoba Nurses Union is polling big-time? In addition to a spate of television spots touting nurses, the MNU just finished gauging how people feel about its battle with the province over a wage freeze. It was one of the more sophisticated polls I've heard about. People were asked, among other things, whether people feel nurses are overpaid, under what circumstances a wage hike would be warranted, what kind of messaging would best convince them of the need for a wage hike and how they feel about some kind of job action -- anything from refusing OT to information pickets to a strike. MNU President Sandi Mowat said negotiations with the province are still underway and the union hasn't begun to talk seriously about what to do if they reach an impasse. And she said it's common for the union to poll before bargaining, so don't read too much into it. But, between the ads and the poll and the commercials the MGEU just launched, this could be shaping up to be a nasty battle.

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About Mary Agnes Welch

Mary Agnes Welch joined the Free Press in 2002, first as a general assignment reporter and then covering city hall and the Manitoba legislature before moving to her current post as public policy reporter.

Before Winnipeg, she worked at the Windsor Star and the Odessa American, a small daily newspaper in West Texas. There, in addition to covering more than 20 counties, she took high school football scores from coaches all over West Texas by phone every Friday night.

Mary Agnes is a graduate of Columbia University’s journalism school, has won several Western Ontario Newspaper Awards and has been part of two teams of reporters nominated for a Michener Award. In 2011, she was nominated for a National Newspaper Award in the beat category. She is also the former national president of the Canadian Association of Journalists.

She once misspelled "Shih Tzu" in the paper and received 37 emails from angry dog-owners.

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