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Now that a date has been set for an election, Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew says the Tory government should stop closing hospital emergency departments until after the vote.

Kinew, flanked by 27 of the party’s candidates, spoke in front of Misericordia Health Centre Sunday to urge Premier Brian Pallister to pause any "controversial" decisions until Manitobans show their support or disagreement on Sept. 10.

"Keep the emergency rooms open until the people of Manitoba have a chance to have their say on Sept. 10," Kinew said.

He cited a Privy Council of Canada policy on conduct known as "the caretaker convention," which says to ensure necessary government action continues during an election, but advises showing "restraint" regarding changes or announcements.

"Keep the emergency rooms open until the people of Manitoba have a chance to have their say on Sept. 10"

The Tories have entered into a voluntary 90-day pre-election blackout period, but Kinew said it doesn’t go far enough.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESSManitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew and party candidates highlight health care at a pre-election news conference in front of the Misericordia Health Centre in Winnipeg Sunday.</p>

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESSManitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew and party candidates highlight health care at a pre-election news conference in front of the Misericordia Health Centre in Winnipeg Sunday.

"Go a step further, and ensure that you won’t close any more emergency rooms, you won’t fire any nurses and you won’t sell off air ambulances" until the election, Kinew said.

"All right, you want this early election? Then live up to what an election really means."

Under the provincial fixed election date law, the election was scheduled for October 2020.

Pallister has said the election will be held early partly because Manitoba will celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2020.

Unlike countries such as Australia, Canada’s rules for campaigning during an election aren’t legally binding, political studies professor emeritus Paul Thomas said.

"It’s unlike a law," Thomas said of the 2015 Privy Council guidelines.

Tracy Barraza, an employee at Seven Oaks Hospital, waves a sign to passing motorists during a recent rally. Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files

Tracy Barraza, an employee at Seven Oaks Hospital, waves a sign to passing motorists during a recent rally. Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files

"A convention might be recognized by the courts but it’s not enforced by the courts. So we’re already in a grey area here."

Manitoba’s election laws include a ban on government advertising, but not on announcements or changes.

"We’re in transition and the rules are muddled; they’re muddied at this point. It’s a state of evolution, and we don’t have precedents," Thomas said.

"The legislature can’t hold people to account, because it’s not going to be meeting."

He said usually the caretaker convention guidelines would be followed — on the honour system — after the writ is dropped and the lieutenant-governor dissolves the legislature, which is expected to happen in August.

Kinew said the earlier emergency rooms close, the more difficult it would be to reopen them later.

(John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

(John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

He confirmed that if the Seven Oaks General Hospital ER changes to an urgent-care centre this summer, the NDP would reopen the ER if elected to government. He stopped short of committing to reopening the ER at Victoria Hospital. 

In response to the NDP’s announcement, a spokesperson for the Tory government referred to a statement issued by Health Minister Cameron Friesen on Thursday, which explains the plan to convert ERs.

"We inherited an overly complex health system from the NDP that delivered increasingly poor results," Friesen said in the statement.  

"We have said the transition at Seven Oaks to a 24-7 urgent-care centre will occur when it can be assured that patient-safety standards and the stability of the overall system can be maintained.

"Clinical leadership is recommending this transition occur this summer. That recommendation will be considered over the next few days."

Friesen added measures used during the Concordia Hospital’s emergency department transition to urgent care will be used at Seven Oaks, including keeping the intensive care unit open.

Thomas noted there are no rules for the post-election period before a new government takes power — which he said leaves an opening for an ousted government to stack boards and civil service jobs after being voted out.

tvanderhart@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @tessavanderhart