Borderland MLA gets the boot Premier punts PC colleague from health assistant role over support for anti-vax protest

Divisions within Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative caucus stoked by weekend “freedom convoy” protests against public-health restrictions were amplified Monday before Premier Heather Stefanson spoke up late in the day and demoted a member of caucus.

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This article was published 31/01/2022 (301 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Divisions within Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative caucus stoked by weekend “freedom convoy” protests against public-health restrictions were amplified Monday before Premier Heather Stefanson spoke up late in the day and demoted a member of caucus.

Borderland Tory MLA Josh Guenter posted his support on social media for the demonstrations, but some of his colleagues denounced the participants waving Nazi and Confederate flags and people who desecrated the National War Memorial in Ottawa.

On Saturday, Guenter said he visited some of the “freedom-loving Canadians” at the rally on Highway 75 in Manitoba.

Borderland Tory MLA Josh Guenter.

“Thank you to Canadian and Manitoban truckers for inspiring a movement focused on returning to civil liberties,” he said on Facebook.

Guenter, who publicly spoke out against his own government’s public health restrictions last year, was recently appointed legislative assistant to Health Minister Audrey Gordon. On Monday, he was removed from the role.

Stefanson issued a statement late in the day saying she’s instructed the clerk of the executive council to remove Guenter from the role that came with $4,750 pay bump.

“As I have stated before, I expect all representatives of the government, whether ministers or their legislative assistants, to support efforts to get all Manitobans vaccinated,” the premier’s statement said. The statement did not indicate that he was removed from the PC caucus. Guenter was not made available by caucus for an interview Monday.

“The recent events involving protests from Canadian truckers raised significant concerns,” Stefanson’s statement said.

“Thank you to Canadian and Manitoban truckers for inspiring a movement focused on returning to civil liberties.”
– Tory MLA Josh Guenter’s Facbook post

“Our government believes in democracy and the right to peacefully protest; however, we do not condone the use of anti-Semitic, racist imagery, and desecration of war memorials or statues.”

Before Guenter’s demotion, the health minister — a self-proclaimed “vaccine ambassador” — said Monday that she hadn’t seen his Facebook post supporting the protesters.

“I think each MLA is responsible for their comments and opinions and should be held accountable for those comments and opinions,” Gordon said Monday after having her photo taken with the Black History Month proclamation that starts Tuesday. When asked why someone who appeared to be undermining public-health orders had been named legislative assistant to the health minister, Gordon indicated she didn’t choose Guenter to be her assistant.

“I don’t have control over individuals’ opinions and how they express them,” she said before his removal from the post was announced.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Premier Heather Stefanson would not do an interview with Free Press reporter Carol Sanders, who broke the story. In an emailed statement, she called it "an oversight."

On social media, PC MLAs Shannon Martin (McPhillips) and Kelvin Goertzen (Steinbach) called out symbols of hatred on display at weekend protests and alluded to the desecration of the National War Memorial that was danced and urinated upon and used as a parking pad.

Goertzen’s Twitter post said he’s passed the war memorial in Ottawa dozens of times and always stops to bow his head at the tomb of the unknown soldier. “That’s it. That’s what it’s for.”

Martin was more explicit, calling out the symbols of hatred and urging all party leaders to denounce them.

“From flying Nazi and Confederate flags to desecration of the Terry Fox statue and National War Memorial, what we witnessed in Ottawa was not a rally for freedom,” Martin wrote. “Leaders of all political parties must align and condemn these inexcusable images and actions of hate.”

“I expect all representatives of the government, whether ministers or their legislative assistants, to support efforts to get all Manitobans vaccinated.”
– Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson

When asked if his party is split on the subject, Martin said divergent views can exist in any caucus.

“Our MLAs represent a variety of perspectives on the wide-ranging policy issues affecting Manitobans,” Martin told the Free Press. “As an elected conservative, I think it’s important to personally condemn the racist and hateful images and activities we witnessed this past weekend. This evil symbolism and rhetoric has no place in this country and the communities we serve.”

The premier’s statement said she supports truckers concerned about the border mandate requiring them to be vaccinated and repeated her contention that rapid testing should be considered as an option for truckers who aren’t vaccinated.

“As a result of the federal mandate, we are already experiencing supply chain issues and every single sector of our domestic economy is expected to be impacted,” the statement said. “Manitoba has had success implementing testing as an alternative to vaccination mandates, and using this method, we can mitigate further supply chain disruptions.”

This week the province will update Manitobans on plans for public health orders and give details about extending support to business, arts and culture sectors that have been impacted by the pandemic, her statement said.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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