The Pallister government has hired a Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries district manager as provincial director of its COVID-19 immunization clinics.

Kurt Janzen, who joined the Crown corporation in 2005 and holds an MBA from the University of Fredericton, will serve in the role for approximately six to nine months, an internal MLL memo says.

Kurt Janzen in 2013 while MLL regional sales manager.

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Kurt Janzen in 2013 while MLL regional sales manager.

The Jan. 20 memo says Janzen accepted the position last week and will return to Liquor & Lotteries once his term with the province is done.

The Progressive Conservative government announced this week it had filled the provincial immunization director's job but repeatedly refused to name the successful applicant.

After the Free Press identified Janzen as the successful applicant on Friday, the province confirmed the hiring in an email.

The PC government has come under heavy criticism for not filling the position until after the vaccination rollout began. The government has responded that others have filled the role, but are now returning to their previous jobs.

NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara said it is "concerning" that Janzen does not appear to have any medical or emergency management experience.

NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara: "concerning."

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NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara: "concerning."

"I give Mr. Janzen credit for doing what so many Manitobans have done throughout this pandemic, which is to step up and rise to the occasion and fulfil a role that needs to be fulfilled during this crisis that we're in," Asagwara said.

But Asagwara said the position should have been filled months ago. That would have given Janzen time to build relationships with the key players in government in the vaccine rollout effort.

By filling the position at this late stage, the government has made it much more difficult for its new immunization director to be successful, Asagwara said.

According to his LinkedIn account, Janzen has held the title of district manager with MLL since June 2009. The position involves providing "coaching, support and leadership" for retail Liquor Mart store managers.

Previously, Janzen was a liquor store manager for close to four years and held a managerial position at Sobeys.

"I give Mr. Janzen credit for doing what so many Manitobans have done throughout this pandemic, which is to step up and rise to the occasion and fulfil a role that needs to be fulfilled during this crisis that we're in." — NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara

Blake Robert, a government spokesman, said Janzen's "primary responsibility is the workforce hired for the immunization campaign and related operations."

He said Janzen brings more than 15 years of "provincewide operations and logistics experience" to the role.

"It is important to note that Mr. Janzen’s role is not clinical in nature, but includes hiring, scheduling, payroll management and co-ordinating services," Robert said in an email.

Janzen will report to Lynda Tjaden, the province's executive director of population and public health, "who is the operations lead for the COVID-19 vaccine implementation task force and has 29 years of health-care experience," Robert said.

Chuck Sanderson, former executive director of Manitoba Emergency Measures Organization (EMO).

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Chuck Sanderson, former executive director of Manitoba Emergency Measures Organization (EMO).

Given Janzen's job description, "it’s not really accurate to refer to him as the 'vaccine czar,'" the provincial spokesman said.

"He’s responsible for a certain aspect of the operation, but does not have the broad authority over the entire program that the term 'czar' might suggest," he added.

Chuck Sanderson, a former longtime head of Manitoba's Emergency Measures Organization, said a capable, experienced big-picture person is precisely what Manitoba needs right now.

Ideally, the person directing Manitoba's vaccination rollout "would be an emergency management expert with knowledge of vaccination programs," he said.

"The logistical issues that (the government has) missed the boat on are not things that you have to have an MD or a medically trained technician to do. They are things that the emergency management organization of the province is there to do. And I believe they've been bypassed," Sanderson said.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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