For the first time in his 20-year Manitoba legislature career, Liberal MLA Jon Gerrard was asked to leave the chamber Thursday, following what the Speaker called "extremely rude and inappropriate behaviour."
During a question period exchange with Health Minister Cameron Friesen, Gerrard (River Heights) asked the minister about what he believes are inadequate staffing levels at personal care homes.
He also asked Friesen whether the government was prepared to invest in seniors care or if it thought of personal care homes as places where seniors are sent to die.
In his rebuttal, Friesen rebuked Gerrard for allegedly insulting staff who "(work) hard every day in personal care homes to provide exceptional care for our seniors." He said Gerrard should apologize to them for his remarks.
Gerrard could then be heard shouting across the chamber that Friesen should be the one apologizing.
Speaker Myrna Driedger asked Gerrard three times to apologize and withdraw his comments. With his arms crossed, the Liberal MLA stood in his place and refused. Driedger then told him to leave the chamber for the rest of the day.
"The minister was accusing me of going after people who are working in personal care homes, when the problem in personal care homes is that they are short of staff and they are short of training," Gerrard said.
"And the minister should have been looking after that... Instead, he was trying to cast aspersions on me, who is standing up for seniors. I wasn’t going to apologize for standing up for seniors."
Friesen defended the care being provided and touted a new 143-bed personal care home being built in Steinbach.
"Our personal care homes are fully-staffed... We have health-care aides. We have RNs and other nurses. We have psychiatry. We have an array of volunteers who assist on a daily basis and we should give a shout-out to all of the people who volunteer in personal care homes," Friesen said.
The minister invited Gerrard to come to his office with any particular issues.
Dolores Minkus-Hofley watched the exchange from the gallery and was shaking her head. She said her husband has Parkinson's disease and has been living in a personal care home for more than three years. She reported his level of care has declined significantly.
"What we were told (is): ‘They’ll be looked after, they’ll be okay.’ And it’s just gotten worse and worse every year," Minkus-Hofley said, adding she's heard similar complaints from many whose loved ones are living in personal care homes.
"We just need staff. We need bodies. We need people. We need training. We need money," she said. "And (with) the governments — whether it was the NDP or (the Tories) — this is an ongoing issue that needs to be brought to the fore."
Gerrard's ejection from the chamber was the first in recent memory in Manitoba. In 2006, Liberal MLA (now MP) Kevin Lamoureux was asked to leave by Speaker George Hickes for using unparliamentary language.
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.