Body bags another blunder for Tories


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Reaction was swift last week when First Nations in northern Manitoba opened up shipments of supplies to fight H1N1 influenza only to find body bags amid their hand sanitizers and face masks.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/09/2009 (4819 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Reaction was swift last week when First Nations in northern Manitoba opened up shipments of supplies to fight H1N1 influenza only to find body bags amid their hand sanitizers and face masks.

As the news bubbled out, it caused a virtual cyclone among opposition MPs on Parliament Hill, who were tripping over one another to respond following question period Wednesday. Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq looked stunned by the situation when she spoke of it at a regularly scheduled pandemic flu news conference.

It was a political nightmare for the minister, but just the latest blunder in the government’s handling of H1N1 on reserves. From the month-long delay in shipping hand sanitizer to Island Lake reserves in the spring, to the lack of communication with chiefs and now body bags, it’s long been clear the department was not prepared for the potential public health nightmare on Canada’s reserves in a global pandemic.

What is even more disturbing is the flippancy with which some in Aglukkaq’s department dismiss First Nation concerns. In August, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs began fundraising to put together flu kits for every home on all of the 60-plus reserves in Manitoba. The provincial government committed some money, but Aglukkaq and Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. David Butler-Jones, would not.

They have continually said they don’t know what is in the kits and therefore aren’t funding them. When the story first broke, that response was appropriate, but wouldn’t it behoove the minister and the nation’s top public health doctor to find out the contents so they could make an informed decision?

The lack of this knowledge stood out at the H1N1 news conference Wednesday when Butler-Jones was asked yet again why the flu kits were being denied funding, but the government was willing to send in body bags.

"It’s a totally unnecessary thing," Butler-Jones said of the kits.

Then he went on to say that all people need to help fight the pandemic is hand sanitizer, Tylenol, a thermometer and soap and water to wash your hands frequently.

Guess what is in the kits? Hand sanitizer, Tylenol and a thermometer.

If he feels there are contents in the kits such as face masks and gloves that are unnecessary and potentially harmful — he has said he fears they give a false sense of security and prevent frequent handwashing — that’s where direct discussions with native leaders would help.

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Winnipeg advertising and design firm that had landed a big contract with the federal Conservatives to produce direct-to-your-inbox videos.

The story became slightly more interesting when, after my column ran, Mars Hill Group removed the promotional paragraph on its website mentioning the contract. It was reported the change was made because Senator Mike Duffy objected to the company saying he was a longtime party supporter.

The controversy didn’t affect Duffy’s participation, however. He was, as advertised, the star of the first of the videos that hit email inboxes last week.

The video is long, at almost three minutes. But it was personalized, with Duffy delivering a bright "Hi Gordon" before launching into a formulaic promotion of the Conservative platform and its record.

Given how well U.S. President Barack Obama used the Internet to get his message out and organize grassroots supporters, it will be interesting to see if this new foray for the Conservatives will bear fruit.

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