The City of Winnipeg has shut down most of its gyms after being accused of unfairly keeping them open for weeks while pandemic restrictions forced other fitness facilities to close.
Mayor Brian Bowman blamed provincial public health advice.
"We should be able to rely on provincial officials to provide complete guidance and it’s unfortunate (that didn’t occur)," said Bowman.
The mayor said the city reached out to the province months ago for clarity on whether its gyms could remain open to city staff. He said the province said that could happen and even inspected the sites in question.
"This just underscores the challenges that, I think, many folks are having in this province of getting clarity from the provincial government when they need it," said Bowman.
The mayor credited city staff for quickly closing five gyms "within hours" of learning the province had allowed them to be open only because municipal governments are exempt from a public health order.
Five of the six facilities offered to general city staff closed Tuesday evening, said city spokesman David Driedger.
"We closed (nearly) all employee fitness facilities with the exception of those located in Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service stations or Winnipeg Police Service stations because mandatory fitness standards are a requirement of first responders’ jobs," wrote Driedger, in an email.
In addition to WFPS and WPS station facilities, a gym at 457 Main St. will remain open to first responders only, he said.
The owner of a private fitness facility, which has been forced to close since November, cried foul.
"I think it’s ridiculous and unfair. There is a total double standard here. We have government or politicians telling us, as small business owners… that we can’t open and then they are opening their own private gym for employees at city hall," said Craig Larkins, owner of Riot Cycle.
Larkins said he understands the requirement for firefighters and police to remain fit, but questions why other city employees were still able to exercise at workplace gyms.
"It’s really unfortunate that was going on at the same time all of the city’s gyms were struggling to keep afloat," said Larkins.
In a written statement, Manitoba’s chief public health officer said a public health inspector did provide the city with information "that was incomplete and lacked context" on the use of the gyms. Dr. Brent Roussin also stated he believes municipal gym access should be limited to emergency responders only.
"While it is understandable that firefighters, paramedics and police may need access to such equipment at their workplace to meet the fitness requirements of their duties, a private gym at city hall or other city facilities, for use by elected officials or other city staff, does not fall into that description and should not remain open under (the) spirit and intent of Manitoba’s public health orders," the statement said.
Jason Shaw, Winnipeg’s assistant chief of emergency management, said the city did attempt to closely follow provincial health orders and will be more careful in the future.
"There was no intent to try and not follow the public health orders either in spirit or the law and we’ll do better now," said Shaw.
Bowman said he understands the frustration of business owners who were forced to close.
"With what we learned (Tuesday) from provincial public health officials, I can appreciate how they felt," he said.
The mayor vowed to more closely scrutinize provincial advice.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.