Health minister accused of brain freeze for promoting Slurpees
Read this article for free:
Already have an account? Log in here »
To continue reading, please subscribe with this special offer:
All-Access Digital Subscription
$1.50 for 150 days*
- Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
- Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
- Access News Break, our award-winning app
- Play interactive puzzles
*Pay $1.50 for the first 22 weeks of your subscription. After 22 weeks, price increases to the regular rate of $19.00 per month. GST will be added to each payment. Subscription can be cancelled after the first 22 weeks.
A syrupy, sweet message from Manitoba’s health minister left a sour taste with some after she encouraged people to head to 7-Eleven for a Slurpee sugar rush courtesy of the convenience store chain.
On Monday, Health Minister Audrey Gordon was criticized for a social media post promoting the frosty, sugar-laden drinks amid higher-than-average obesity rates and as the federal government considers warning labels for sugary and fatty foods.
“Happee 7-Eleven Day! I stopped by my local 7-Eleven on the corner of Elizabeth Rd/Archibald St (Windsor Park) to celebrate and enjoy a Frog Water Watermelon Lime Slurpee,” Gordon posted to Twitter, along with three photos at the store. “Stop by your local 7-Eleven today and enjoy a Slurpee!”
The minister was rapped for her choice to promote the drink over healthier lifestyle choices by social media commentators, opposition MLAs and the Manitoba Nurses Union.
“It is so disheartening to see the continuous two steps forward, and one step back, politics of this government,” MNU president Darlene Jackson said in a statement to the Free Press.
On Monday, Jackson met with Premier Heather Stefanson in Victoria during the annual premiers conference. Jackson said the pair discussed the crisis in the health care system.
“Hours later the minister of health is tweeting about drinking a Slurpee. There is clearly a disconnect here,” Jackson said.
While some Manitobans are proud to live in the so-called “Slurpee capital of the world”, with residents buying more of the beverage than in any other jurisdiction for 22 years, Jackson said she would rather the province be known for positive change.
As of 2018, Manitoba had the third-highest obesity rate in Canada, with 30.8 per cent of adults considered to be obese, according to Statistics Canada. The national average was 26.8 per cent.
“Instead of promoting unhealthy choices, or dragging a sofa around town, imagine if Minister Gordon worked on being known for developing a strategy to attract nurses to Manitoba. Or helping to decrease PTSD on the front line? Or being someone who works to improve the health of all Manitobans,” Jackson said, referencing the Southdale MLA’s plan to take a sofa to parks and open spaces this summer to visit with constituents.
Meanwhile, the federal government will require manufacturers of foods high in sugar, sodium and saturated fat to include clear warning labels, in an effort to promote healthier choices and reduce health risks, by 2026.
Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said the government must spend hundreds of millions each year to respond to the “diabetes epidemic” in the province, and all people living with Type 1 diabetes still do not have coverage for insulin pumps and continuous glucose-monitoring systems.
“If the health minister wants to promote free anything, it should be insulin pumps and supplies for people of all ages,” Lamont said in a statement to the Free Press. “We could be preventing everything from blindness and kidney disease to amputations, strokes and heart attacks.”
Opposition health critic Uzoma Asagwara said the health minister ought to focus her time on fixing health care, not posing at a convenience store chain.
“It sounds like something that will get some play on social media and have literally no impact in the real world.”
– University of Manitoba professor of political studies Royce Koop
“While many nurses and other front-line health-care staff are working mandated overtime today, the health minister had time to promote getting a free Slurpee,” the Union Station MLA said.
University of Manitoba professor of political studies Royce Koop said politicians use social media to build up their personal profile in addition to communicating with the public about government policy and the work of their ministry.
Koop described the health minister’s post promoting 7-Eleven and the free Slurpees as innocuous and as a subject of interest to residents — including parents with kids — in her suburban constituency.
“It sounds like something that will get some play on social media and have literally no impact in the real world,” Koop said.
However, Manitobans also want to know that the health minister is well briefed on their portfolio and able to guide the department out of the pandemic, Koop said. Gordon has also faced criticism in the past for her handling of media questions on matters related to the health system.
“She has a dual role. She’s the minister but she’s also the MLA for Southdale,” Koop said. “The view that she’s spending time buying a Slurpee (and) she’s not spending time doing ministerial work, people have to make their own decisions about these kinds of things.
“She is an MLA for her constituency and I wouldn’t begrudge her trying to do that role,” Koop said.
A spokesperson for the health minister’s office did not answer questions about whether she was invited by the convenience store chain to participate in a photo opportunity for 7-Eleven Day.
In a statement to the Free Press, Gordon’s office said the minister supports “all businesses in her community and is proud to promote Manitoba in all aspects including our title as the ‘Slurpee capital of the world.’”
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.