Tories accused of private-health bias with board appointees


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The Progressive Conservative government’s trumpeting of the for-profit business ties of its appointees to the new permanent board in charge of Shared Health is being viewed as a sign Manitoba’s non-profit public health system is open for business.

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The Progressive Conservative government’s trumpeting of the for-profit business ties of its appointees to the new permanent board in charge of Shared Health is being viewed as a sign Manitoba’s non-profit public health system is open for business.

“They are very intentionally signalling that their solution is privatization and (there’s) a greater role for private corporations and private companies in the future of Manitoba health care,” said Thomas Linner, director of the Manitoba Health Coalition.

The board, announced in March, will oversee Shared Health, which was created in 2018 to plan and co-ordinate the integration of patient-centred clinical and preventive services across Manitoba.

Thomas Linner, director of the Manitoba Health Coalition, believes the Shared Health board is filled with people who would work to ensure private companies are involved in the health-care system. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Nearly half of the 11 members have business backgrounds and links to for-profit health care; not one representative comes from a labour background.

The advocates for health care providers and community groups say once for-profit companies take over the delivery of services, the priority becomes increasing profits rather than the well-being of the public.

Others say the health care system is so broken, it needs a “reconceptualization” that business expertise on the board could provide.

The coalition, however, says there are several potential or perceived conflicts of interest among board members.

Initially, it flagged the appointment of Brenda Martinussen because of her connection to the for-profit Nurse Next Door, which competes for nurses with the public system that is struggling with severe staff shortages.

Now it’s pointed to board chair Brenna Shearer, who was the chief executive officer of Pharmacists Manitoba until 2021. Last month, the provincial government announced a “Quit Smoking with Your Manitoba Pharmacist” social impact bond. Shoppers Drug Mart will invest $2 million to pay for trained pharmacists to counsel smokers to quit and will receive up to $2.12 million if outcomes are met or exceeded.

Board member Laurie Campbell is a former Telus sales solutions director. In January, shortly after Shared Health’s board nomination process was announced, Telus lobbyists registered with the Manitoba government. Their stated intentions, according to the lobbyists registry, were to “influence the making or amendment of a regulation” and “increased adoption of health technology including electronic medical records, electronic prescribing, and virtual care.”

Until March 2021, Celia Kaufman worked with People Corporation. It offers a “proprietary, end-to-end virtual health solution” through its partners, including Telus Health Virtual Care. Board appointee Gordon Hrynyk works for Valeo Pharma, whose asthma medication was added to Manitoba’s drug benefits formulary in February.

Board members are not able to comment on any potential or perceived conflicts, Shared Health said.

Board members abide by Shared Health’s conflict-of-interest compliance requirement and its industry relationships policy, a spokesman said.

“Board members are required to disclose any conflict or potential conflict, including any items in the preceding 12 months before being appointed to the board,” he said. The policy prohibits any board member from voting on any matter in which they have a personal conflict.

Their disclosure statements aren’t made public because they contain personal information, the Shared Health spokesman said. Disclosures are submitted annually. At the beginning of each board meeting, members are asked to disclose any new or additional conflict, he said.

The board is “a highly qualified and diverse group selected to guide Shared Health at this critical time as we continue to restore our health-care system and address the challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic,” a Manitoba Health statement said.

Members represent all five health regions, it said.

University of Manitoba economics professor Gregory Mason said the issue is whether the board members understand how to deliver care efficiently.

“There’s, quite clearly, something structurally wrong with our health-care system,” he said.

Railing against too much private-sector representation on the Shared Health board won’t fix it, Mason said.

“I think it’s equally wrong for the government to assume that putting more private-sector people on the board will actually make the system more efficient.”

He thinks a logistics expert and those who think “outside the box” should have been appointed.

“People on the board need to have dynamite in their hip pocket and blow up the ice jam,” he said.

Concern about the appointments has nothing to do with their motivations or ability, but rather the Tories’ approach to managing health care, Linner said.

“The government has not learned the lessons of the last five years of health care and has, in fact, decided to double down on its approach,” Linner said.

In a recent Probe Research poll conducted for the coalition, 67 per cent of Manitobans said closing emergency departments, cutting critical-care capacity and privatizing outpatient services compounded the pandemic crisis and hurt care.

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 Friday, May 6, 2022 7:35 PM CDT: Removes comma.

Updated on Saturday, May 7, 2022 9:12 AM CDT: Fixes spelling of Linner

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