Province pushes forward in air services privatization

Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative government has taken a decisive step towards privatizing provincial air services, sparking backlash from the Opposition NDP and the union representing the workers to be affected.

Read this article for free:

or

Already have an account? Log in here »

To continue reading, please subscribe with this special offer:

All-Access Digital Subscription

$4.75 per week*

  • Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
  • Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
  • Access News Break, our award-winning app
  • Play interactive puzzles
Continue

*Pay $19.00 every four weeks. GST will be added to each payment. Subscription can be cancelled anytime.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/07/2018 (1675 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative government has taken a decisive step towards privatizing provincial air services, sparking backlash from the Opposition NDP and the union representing the workers to be affected.

After months of hinting at the possibility, the provincial government put out a request for proposal Friday, meaning its Lifeflight air ambulances will be sold off and then operated for-profit. The government also plans to begin leasing out the province’s water bombers.

“Our government was elected to be more efficient and to use taxpayer dollars in a more effective way. Make no mistake, our government’s top priority is ensuring that safety and service standards remain high and that these vital services remain at the ready. From the very beginning, this process has been guided by evidence, not ideology,” Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler wrote in a statement Friday.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees Union.

The news was delivered in the morning to the roughly 70 public-sector workers whose jobs are now in jeopardy, according to Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union president Michelle Gawronsky.

At a hastily-called afternoon news conference, Gawronsky accused the Tory government of placing more value on private-sector profits than on the lives of Manitobans.

According to the provincial government website, Lifeflight, staffed by medical professionals, provides 24-hour, rapid, inter-facility air ambulance transport for critically ill or injured Manitobans from areas outside a 200-kilometre radius of Winnipeg.

“There’s no respect for these people; this government has habitually done this now. Someone has to show me, as a taxpayer, how this is in the best interest of Manitobans. A child’s life, they’re putting a price tag on it. They’re putting a price tag on Manitobans. And to me that’s just wrong. It’s immoral. It’s unethical,” she said.

“I remember during the last election (in 2016), Pallister said there were no sacred cows…. They’re actually going to cut air ambulances that transport people in critical condition… Yeah, now I believe him”
– NDP leader Wab Kinew

In addition to the air ambulance services set to be privatized, the province also plans to start leasing out the 11 water bombers it owns, which – according to NDP and union officials – could mean they’re unavailable, or out-of-province, when Manitobans need them most.

“These are planes that are supposed to keep you alive. That are supposed to be there to fight forest fires. These are essential services. They need to be there at all times during an emergency, not just when it’s profitable. This is a line that shouldn’t be crossed,” Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew said.

Kinew was skeptical the proposed move will save money, pointing out Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative government, led by then-premier Gary Filmon, looked at doing the same thing in the 1990s — ultimately deciding against it.

“Filmon looked at this and they decided they wouldn’t save money, so they kept these planes in government hands. It says something that the (Premier Brian) Pallister government is pursuing something that even Gary Filmon wouldn’t touch. To me, that suggests this isn’t so much about cost-saving, as it is about opening up some profiteering opportunities,” Kinew said.

Friday’s request for proposal marks the third step towards privatization of the services.

In 2017, the government expressed interest in moving towards privatization, essentially testing the marketplace waters. Six companies reportedly made contact, interested in purchasing or leasing out the various services and assets.

On March 13, a request for proposal was issued, seeking a consultant capable of creating a RFP like the one released Friday. While the writing appeared to be on the wall to many in March, government officials claimed at the time no final decisions had been made.

“I remember during the last election (in 2016), Pallister said there were no sacred cows. To me, this is a pretty clear indication that he meant what he said when he said that. They’re actually going to cut air ambulances that transport people in critical condition,” Kinew said.

“Yeah, now I believe him: there are no sacred cows, as far as he’s concerned.”

ryan.thorpe@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @rk_thorpe

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe
Reporter

Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.

History

Updated on Friday, July 6, 2018 7:41 PM CDT: removes photo of helicopter

Report Error Submit a Tip