Health minister stumped by even basic questions Gordon whisked away by staffer from disastrous scrum

Health Minister Audrey Gordon seems to be in over her head.

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Opinion

Health Minister Audrey Gordon seems to be in over her head.

It’s not only that her department appears to be grossly mismanaged right now, she has trouble fielding even the most basic questions about her portfolio. On Wednesday, when journalists had a long list of queries, including about hospital capacity and pandemic restrictions, the minister could barely answer them.

Earlier that day, deputy chief provincial public health officer Dr. Jazz Atwal announced that as of March 15, Manitobans would no longer have to self-isolate after testing positive for COVID-19 (the same day the mask mandate is lifted). It was a major announcement. Atwal, whose office falls within Gordon’s portfolio, unveiled the change in a Zoom news conference where journalists have limited ability to ask follow-up questions and hold government officials accountable. Apparently it’s safe enough to eliminate vaccine mandates and lift capacity limits, but it’s not safe enough for senior public health officials to hold in-person news conferences.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / FREE PRESS FILES
Health Minister Audrey Gordon made herself available in person to answer those and other questions, but only for about seven minutes

Gordon made herself available in person to answer those and other questions, but only for about seven minutes before her assistant, Draper Houston, whisked her away. That may have had something to do with how she struggled in front of the microphone.

Gordon’s answers were clumsy and inarticulate. When asked why her government’s surgery wait time task force hadn’t provided an update since January (in December, Gordon promised monthly updates), she said it’s because they wanted to ensure they were providing Manitobans with “substantial” information and didn’t want to give the public false hope.

If the government is making progress on reducing the surgical backlog, why would there be false hope? Is it because there was no substantial progress to report last month?

No, Gordon said, the task force makes progress every day. However, she couldn’t say what that progress was. To date, the task force has yet to release any targets or dates on when backlogs will be eliminated.

If the government is making progress on reducing the surgical backlog, why would there be false hope? Is it because there was no substantial progress to report last month?

The minister said the province is still finalizing “agreements” related to reducing wait lists.

“Whether we are able to report the finalization of agreements depends on whether the ink has dried on those agreements,” she said.

When will that ink be dry? Gordon wouldn’t say.

She also wouldn’t say, or didn’t know, whether surgical backlogs and wait times for other hospital procedures such as diagnostic testing are still growing. Instead, she said she’s eager to announce the awarding of a contract for a new centralized wait list management system. That system will allow the government to assess the “true” backlog, she said.

However, she didn’t know whether the backlog was growing, had stabilized or was shrinking.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / FREE PRESS FILES
When asked whether she expects an increase in COVID-19 cases once the province’s mask mandate is lifted March 15, and self-isolation is no longer required for people infected with the disease, Gordon didn’t answer.

“That information I will share with you at our next update,” she said.

At the time, Gordon couldn’t say when that update would be. It wasn’t until late Thursday that she announced an update is scheduled for Friday.

Meanwhile, when asked whether she expects an increase in COVID-19 cases once the province’s mask mandate is lifted March 15, and self-isolation is no longer required for people infected with the disease, Gordon didn’t answer. Instead, she explained — in a bizarre response — how positive thoughts fill her day.

“I tend to have a very positive outlook,” she said. “I wake up every day that way and I walk through the day that way, and so I’m going to continue with that optimism, not just for myself but for all Manitobans.”

That’s wonderful, but the question was more from a scientific perspective: what do public health officials expect when the measures are lifted?

That’s the plan, to let people get sick enough that they require intensive care treatment?

“We are planning for a slight uptick in cases,” she said when asked again, but lamented that “we don’t have that modelling yet from the federal government or provincially.”

So the government is making public health decisions without modelling.

And what is the plan should cases rise after March 15?

“Well, we are looking at our ability to increase our ICU beds because, as you know, that many individuals over the last two years have turned up in our ICUs so we’re planning… an orderly process to increase our number of ICU beds if we need to,” said Gordon.

That’s it? That’s the plan, to let people get sick enough that they require intensive care treatment?

What a train wreck.

tom.brodbeck@freepress.mb.ca

Tom Brodbeck

Tom Brodbeck
Columnist

Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.

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