Premier leaves her decency at the rink Ignoring question about dead mother to brag about son a callous act

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.

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Opinion

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

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 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)

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.

“Before I get to the member’s question, I just wanted to say that sometimes… we need to remember that we need to take time to celebrate our kids,” said Stefanson.

“And last night, it was a proud mum moment for me, it was a proud parent moment for both my husband and I when we were at a hockey rink in Selkirk, and Tommy and his high school hockey team were playing — the St. Paul’s Crusaders. And… they defeated the Westwood Warriors to be­come the Manitoba provincial high school hockey champions.”

Stefanson used up her entire allotted time to congratulate her son and his team.

“I just want to congratulate Tommy, all his team members and the coach, Andrew Harder, for their victory last night,” she said. “It’s an exciting day for our family, and just thank you for the opportunity to say a few words about that.”

It’s hard to know whether Stefanson is that insensitive or whether she’s just so self-absorbed and disconnected that she couldn’t see how utterly inappropriate it was to ignore the question and talk about her kid’s hockey team.

It wasn’t until the premier was asked a second time that she addressed the question.

Krystal Mousseau died last year after a failed attempt to airlift her to a hospital in Ontario. (Facebook)

“Of course, our condolences go out to the family of Krystal, and this is a very serious issue,” she said. “And members opposite know that sometimes in our first questions we have the liberty as leaders to be able to address other issues.”

No, leaders do not respond to questions in the house about tragic issues such as Mousseau’s death by carrying on about their kid’s hockey team. There is a time and a place to recognize or congratulate constituents (including family members) in the house. Stefanson could have done so during members’ statements, which immediately precedes question period, or at some other appropriate time.

Instead of showing sympathy and understanding, Stefanson then went on to make excuses for why critically ill patients were shipped out of Manitoba during the third wave of the pandemic last year when she was health minister.

She quoted part of a letter written by Manitoba’s chief medical examiner, Dr. John Younes (who has declined to call an inquest into Mousseau’s death), which stated that health-care systems across the world have been overwhelmed by the pandemic.

“Manitoba was no exception,” said Stefanson. “This is what’s happening across the country.”

Actually, Manitoba was an exception. Manitoba and Saskatchewan were the only two jurisdictions in Canada during the pandemic that had to transfer intensive-care unit patients out of province. Manitoba airlifted 57 to Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta (more than twice as many as Saskatchewan’s 27).

One of the reasons Manitoba’s ICUs were overwhelmed is because Stefanson ignored the advice of outside experts who pleaded for weeks with the province to prepare for a massive wave of infections from the Delta variant (which had already devastated other parts of Canada).

Stefanson and her boss at the time, premier Brian Pallister, had the luxury of time to prepare for the third wave. Instead, they refused to bring in stricter public measures to protect hospital capacity.

Stefanson could have talked about her son during members’ statements before question period, or at some other appropriate time. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

They gambled with the lives of Manitobans and they lost. Mousseau was one of those casualties.

Instead of taking responsibility for that and finding ways to prevent it from happening again, Stefanson continues to make excuses and gives flippant and inappropriate answers to serious questions, which she did Wednesday and Thursday when asked further questions about Mousseau’s death.

The premier issued a brief written apology to the media late Thursday, but didn’t have the courage or decency to offer a formal one in the legislature or in person.

These are not the hallmarks of a thoughtful and effective leader.

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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