Premier apologizes after being skewered for response to ICU death

Accused of being callous and out of touch, Premier Heather Stefanson has apologized for talking about her son’s hockey triumph in response to questions in the legislature about the death of an ICU patient.

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This article was published 17/03/2022 (199 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Accused of being callous and out of touch, Premier Heather Stefanson has apologized for talking about her son’s hockey triumph in response to questions in the legislature about the death of an ICU patient.

During question period Tuesday afternoon, NDP Leader Wab Kinew questioned the premier about concerns surrounding the failed attempt to airlift 31-year-old Krystal Mousseau out of province for critical care on May 25 — when Stefanson was health minister — and if she agreed a probe into the incident was necessary.

Stefanson responded by taking a “proud parent” moment to congratulate her son on his high school hockey championship win. She ran out the clock on Kinew’s first question, the Free Press first reported late Tuesday.

The premier then offered condolences to the family of Mousseau, who was from Ebb and Flow First Nation. Stefanson also stood by the chief medical examiner’s decision not to call an inquest into the death of the mother of two, and the decision by medical staff to try to transport her to Ontario because Manitoba ICUs were overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients.

Her salute to her son’s sports success was widely shared on social media. It sparked outrage and was picked up by other media outlets.

On Thursday, Stefanson was not made available to answer reporters’ questions. Her office issued a written statement apologizing for the “misplaced” timing of her remarks.

Ignoring question about dead mother to brag about son a callous act by premier

When asked if teams transporting critically ill patients should have proper training and the necessary equipment, Premier Heather Stefanson congratulated her son on his high school hockey team’s championship victory. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Posted:

It’s hard to imagine a more callous and indifferent answer than the one given this week by Premier Heather Stefanson, when asked about the tragic death of a Manitoba mother of two last year.

Krystal Mousseau, 31 — a critically-ill COVID-19 patient from Ebb and Flow First Nation — died May 25 after a failed attempt to airlift her to a hospital in Ontario.

Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew has been calling for an inquiry into the fatality after “systemic failures” may have contributed to Mousseau’s death.

When Kinew asked Stefanson during question period in the legislature Tuesday if she believed teams transporting critically ill patients should have proper training and the necessary equipment, Stefanson didn’t answer. Instead, she responded by congratulating her son on his high school hockey team’s championship victory.

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“First and foremost, my thoughts go out to Krystal Mousseau’s family as they grieve the loss of their loved one,” the statement said. “I recognize the timing of my comment about my family was misplaced, and for that I sincerely apologize.”

When asked to respond to the premier’s apology, Kinew pointed out that Mousseau’s daughters will miss out on their mom sharing “proud parent” moments about them.

“Krystal Mousseau’s kids will not have their mother there to celebrate their life milestones,” the NDP leader said. “That’s why we’re pushing for answers. That’s why, today, we’re asking for an inquiry. Because of that, Manitobans should want to understand the truth of what happened here.”

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said reaction to the premier’s “misplaced” remarks ranged from “disbelief” to “disgust.”

“I’ve had people telling me they couldn’t believe it and that they found it disgusting,” Lamont told reporters. “It’s a colossal lack of judgment.”

With it being the first, and therefore the highest-priority question of the day in the chamber, he said he would’ve expected a greater level of preparation from the premier in her response.

“It’s something that really, unfortunately, came across as incredibly callous,” Lamont said.

“I’ve had people telling me they couldn’t believe it and that they found it disgusting. It’s a colossal lack of judgment.” – Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont

During question period Thursday, and for the second day in a row, Kinew asked the premier to call a provincial inquiry to find out if there were systemic issues that contributed to Mousseau’s death.

In question period a day earlier, he cited a letter sent from Prairie Mountain Health Region to Mousseau’s family, which outlined the findings of a critical incident report on the circumstances of her death. It raised issues concerning the equipment and training of staff involved in her transport, said Kinew, who at the time didn’t make it public because it contained personal health information and details about Mousseau’s death.

When Kinew asked Stefanson to call an inquiry to ensure patient transfers are safe and guidelines are followed, she said he was making serious allegations and that she needed to see the critical incident letter to which he was referring.

MIKE DEAL / FREE PRESS FILEPremier Heather Stefanson's office issued a written statement apologizing for the “misplaced” timing of her remarks

She asked Kinew to publicly release the letter and table it in the legislative assembly to “help the family out, help us all out.”

On Thursday, Kinew tabled a copy of the letter and repeated his call for an inquiry.

Stefanson said the chief medical examiner has ruled there are no grounds for an inquest.

“I will take the advice of the chief medical examiner, the professional in this, not the leader of the opposition,” Stefanson told the legislature.

The NDP wants a judicial inquiry, which has a broader scope than an inquest. The premier can call an inquiry when there are systemic issues connected to an extraordinary event that may or may not involve a death.

“I will take the advice of the chief medical examiner, the professional in this, not the leader of the opposition.”–Premier Heather Stefanson told the legislature

Past inquiries investigated the justice system’s treatment of Indigenous people, the Tory vote-fixing scandal of the mid-1990s, the death of young Phoenix Sinclair and the wrongful convictions of Thomas Sophonow and James Driskell.

Such a sweeping review should look at the province’s pandemic response, not just the death of Mousseau, said Lamont.

“It wasn’t just this failure, it was the failure at Maples (care home) and a series of failures,” the member for St. Boniface said.

“When you look at the last two years, we’ve have crisis after crisis and there’s been failure after failure and we need to find out what happened and learn from them,” he said. “Instead… there’s been an urge to move on and dismiss it.”

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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