Political accusations fly over nurse resignations
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The allegation the NDP paid nurses to quit so the party could score political points signals a new low in the relationship between the government and those it once hailed as health care heroes, the leader of the nurses union charged.
“I have never seen the amount of disrespect and blatant disregard for nurses that I’m seeing now with this government,” Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson said Thursday.
Her assessment relates to an exchange in the legislature last week in which Health Minister Audrey Gordon allegedly asked how much NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara paid sexual assault nurse examiners to resign.
Asagwara tweeted about the March 23 comment, which allegedly occurred while Tory MLA Andrew Micklefield was speaking about government spending on health care.
The comment doesn’t appear in Hansard, the official record of legislative proceedings, but the voices of Asagwara and Gordon can be heard in the background of the YouTube recording that morning. The health critic can be heard piping up about “mass resignations” that occurred among sexual assault nurse examiners “on your watch.”
Gordon’s response is unclear on the recording, but was loud and clear across the aisle, said Asagwara. The New Democrat issued a tweet about it later that day.
“This morning, the minister of health asked me ‘how much I paid the nurses to resign.’ I was — still am — stunned,” Asagwara’s social media post said. “Not only does this show how completely she refuses to take accountability, it’s also wildly offensive. I’m deeply concerned about her leadership. She must resign.”
When asked if the minister had accused Asagwara of paying nurses to resign, a spokesperson for Gordon said in an email that “the health minister will not engage in hearsay over heckling.”
The spokesperson noted there is no “official record” of Gordon speaking in the house that morning.
“Sexual assault is trauma and our government takes this very seriously while standing with front-line health care workers who are providing the care and support patients require,” the emailed statement said. “That is why it was our government that recognized the need and implemented a full time 24/7 staffing program to address the casual sexual assault nurse examiner program being under served and underfunded by the former NDP government.”
Earlier this month, Gordon blamed health administrators for problems with the sexual assault nurse examiner program. At least seven of its 13 casual nurses have quit.
When Gordon allegedly blamed Asagwara, the New Democrat was stunned.
“I was stunned that the minister would make such an inappropriate, offensive, wildly untrue remark to me in the chamber about nurses.”–NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara
“She asked ‘How much did you pay the nurses to resign?’ specifically referencing the sexual assault examiner program,” Asagwara said. “I was quite shocked by the statement… I just said, like, ‘What? Pardon?’ And she repeated the statement, ‘How much did you pay the nurses to resign?’”
If Gordon misspoke or regretted saying it, she had an opportunity to apologize, Asagwara said.
“She chose not to. She doubled down.”
“Whether or not our mics are on, there are lines that we shouldn’t cross in terms of what we say about folks in our health care system,” said Asagwara.
“I was stunned that the minister would make such an inappropriate, offensive, wildly untrue remark to me in the chamber about nurses.”
Asagwara said the problem can be traced to the leadership of Premier Heather Stefanson.
“I’m looking at the premier wondering why it is she hasn’t removed this minister from her position,” the health critic said.
The president of the nurses union said leaders do set the tone, and right now it’s one of disrespect.
“I think that there is a blatant lack of respect for nurses by this government and it trickles right down to the directors and leadership underneath them. It seems to be getting worse and nurses are treated more disrespectfully every day,” Jackson said.
She defended the union’s advertisement campaign that targets the government for staffing shortages and long wait times.
“It’s all about ensuring that voters realize what the situation really is like in health care,” Jackson said.
“We have employers and government saying ‘It’s all good, it’s all fine. Go to the hospital, it’ll be fine. We’ll care for you,’ which doesn’t even begin to reflect how bad it is on the front line,” Jackson said.
“I have never seen the amount of disrespect and blatant disregard for nurses that I’m seeing now with this government”–Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson
“It’s entirely shameful that the only way to get action from this government is to call them out and that’s what we’re doing,” she said. “We’re looking for them to do something to stop the number of nurses leaving the health-care system.”
Political observer Paul Thomas said Asagwara could raise the matter of the alleged comment — about paying nurses to quit — in the legislative chamber Monday, when the session resumes. Asking the Speaker to rule on a point of privilege would keep the issue alive.
“It would cause more damage to the reputation of the health minister. It might help the NDP election prospects in Southdale (which Gordon represents) and beyond,” said the University of Manitoba political studies professor emeritus.
While the NDP would likely lose the ruling, it could score political points, said Thomas.
“Without a record of what was said, there are probably no grounds for upholding a point of privilege,” he said. “The incident could lead to another stern reminder by the departing Speaker that incivility and heckling do damage to the image and reputation of the legislature.”
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.