Couching health-care criticisms

Critics warn sofa-touting gimmick may instead become hot seat for health minister


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With emergency room wait times as long as 10 hours in Winnipeg and daily COVID-19 information updates no longer available to Manitobans, Health Minister Audrey Gordon is planning “sofa conversations” with her Southdale constituents.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 05/04/2022 (424 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

With emergency room wait times as long as 10 hours in Winnipeg and daily COVID-19 information updates no longer available to Manitobans, Health Minister Audrey Gordon is planning “sofa conversations” with her Southdale constituents.

“If you are out walking and see me sitting on my sofa, stop by and say hello,” the Tory MLA says in her newsletter to residents of the suburban Winnipeg riding.

In it, Gordon says she will visit parks and open spaces throughout her district this summer — and the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba caucus confirmed she will be taking a sofa with her. The idea: the furniture will allow for her to meet and have conversations with individuals and families.

Health Minister Audrey Gordon plans to engage her constituents in parks and open spaces this summer, offering ‘sofa conversations’ to Southdale residents. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Gordon was not made available to comment Monday.

“It is a clever idea, and fits in with her use of ‘retail politics,’ which she has done since elected (in 2019),” said University of Manitoba political studies adjunct Prof. Christopher Adams.

“This includes doing food drives for those in need,” said Adams (who disclosed he and Gordon, a former student, are friends).

It is not without risk, said Felix Mathieu, assistant professor of political studies at the University of Winnipeg.

“Gordon knows her government is very unpopular and these ‘sofa conversations’ and visits to local parks appear as one way for her to reach out to her constituents to secure her seat (in the 2023 election),” Mathieu said.

“If she’s seen as authentic and competent by the people she meets with, these small-scale events might boost her popularity… However, constituents can be hard to please, and she might end up receiving all the frustration that Manitobans have accumulated towards their governments during the pandemic,” Mathieu said.

“In this latter scenario, these events could damage her reputation and popularity.”

Hosting “sofa conversations” as the member for Southdale doesn’t limit her capacity as health minister, Mathieu said. “But if the Manitoba Nurses Union and other similar organizations still complain about not being heard by minister Gordon, while she is seen at the park talking about the weather and sports, the optics will be very bad for her and the government.”

Nurses and front-line health-care workers “would love nothing more than five minutes to sit down in a park and take a load off,” MNU president Darlene Jackson said Monday.

“We invite the minister to bring her couch to any ER or urgent care centre in this city, to a long-term care facility or the home of a patient waiting to have a hip replaced in her constituency.”

The union leader encouraged constituents who value health care to join Gordon on the couch: “Ask the minister when someone is going to accept some responsibility for this critical nursing shortage.”

NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara also was not impressed with the “out-of-touch gimmick.”

“Manitobans have tried every which way possible to have their voices heard by the minister, and she’s been unable to be reached,” Asagwara said.

“She’s doing this because she knows Manitobans are unhappy with their inability to get in contact with her, and get any accountability from their minister of health.”

Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press Manitoba Health Minister Audrey Gordon.

During question period Monday, the NDP tabled a chart showing wait times at the Health Sciences Centre emergency room in Winnipeg are higher now than in 2014 — before the PC government formed government in 2016, and began consolidating hospitals.

Provincial data show at HSC, the longest wait times for nine out of 10 patients seeking medical care in February was 10 hours — up from 6.62 hours in January.

“We’re seeing wait times longer than they’ve ever been,” NDP Leader Wab Kinew told reporters in a scrum.

“Once they started closing ERs and ICUs, we saw all sorts of strain on the system,” Kinew said.

“Rather than coming back with more talking points, what we really need to see are investments to fix the health-care system that has languished going back years prior to the pandemic.”

Kinew also called on the province to restore daily updates on COVID-19 pandemic-related data.

“In a vacuum of information, that’s where COVID can spread,” he said.

During question period, Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont asked the government who “signed off” on the decision to stop reporting COVID-19 data daily and to explain why.

“There was no answer,” Lamont told reporters outside the chamber. “This government is burying it.”

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.


Updated on Tuesday, April 5, 2022 6:11 AM CDT: Adds deck

Updated on Tuesday, April 5, 2022 6:25 AM CDT: Adds photo

Updated on Tuesday, April 5, 2022 6:40 AM CDT: Updates cutline

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