Opinion

For step-by-step instructions on how to make a bad situation worse, please Google Janice Morley-Lecomte.

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This article was published 22/11/2021 (217 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

For step-by-step instructions on how to make a bad situation worse, please Google Janice Morley-Lecomte.

On Friday afternoon, the Seine River MLA was shown the door at a South Osborne restaurant after refusing to produce appropriate proof of her COVID-19 vaccination status.

Arriving with a group of friends for a midday meal, Morley-Lecomte was asked to provide a proof of vaccination card or digital image, both of which include a scannable QR code. Instead, she produced some other piece of paper that did not have the code.

This is where things go from bad to worse.

Seine River MLA Janice Morley-Lecomte was shown the door at a South Osborne restaurant after refusing to produce appropriate proof of her COVID-19 vaccination status. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Seine River MLA Janice Morley-Lecomte was shown the door at a South Osborne restaurant after refusing to produce appropriate proof of her COVID-19 vaccination status. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press files)

According to the restaurant, when informed she did not have the appropriate proof of vaccine status, Morley-Lecomte announced she was an MLA and tried to convince serving staff they were mistaken about the requirements. We must assume she did this knowing it was a fib.

It was at this moment the MLA was asked to leave the premises.

This is, in and of itself, a bizarre story made even more bizarre by the fact that Morley-Lecomte is fully vaccinated.

She has consistently refused to say one way or the other when asked by the Free Press and other news organizations. In early October, however, the Free Press reported she told a legislative committee meeting she was fully vaccinated but did not want it to become public.

There is little point trying to figure out why an elected member of a governing party desperately trying to fend off a fourth wave of COVID-19 would hide her vaccine status, then try to bluff her way into a restaurant using the incorrect proof of status, and then lie to staff about the requirements for admission to restaurants in public health orders.

However, there is a point to asking Premier Heather Stefanson what she's going to do about it.

Given the hyper–sensitive nature of leadership politics, Stefanson can be excused for not dealing with unruly MLAs while also trying to win their support. However, now that she is firmly in charge, she needs to start imposing her will.

On Tuesday, the Stefanson government will unveil a Speech from the Throne to kick off a new legislative session. And while Morley-Lecomte's antics do not deserve a mention in the official text of that speech, the need for Stefanson to discipline her and other misbehaving MLAs has become an important subtext at this early, but still critical stage in her leadership.

Among the group of other MLAs that deserve some tough love is Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler, the remaining member of the PC caucus who, it is believed, is unvaccinated.

Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler refuses to divulge his vaccination status. He has been working out of the legislature but not attending in person any proceedings or meetings, suggesting he is not vaccinated. (Alex Lupul / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler refuses to divulge his vaccination status. He has been working out of the legislature but not attending in person any proceedings or meetings, suggesting he is not vaccinated. (Alex Lupul / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Like Morley-Lecomte, Schuler has refused to state his status; unlike his caucus colleague, however, Schuler has not been attending in person any proceedings or meetings, suggesting he is not vaccinated.

When asked about Schuler, Stefanson has declined to eject him from government benches as has been done by premiers in other provinces. However, Monday, she said her government would start requiring anyone who enters the legislative building — be they an elected official, staff or member of the public — be fully vaccinated by Dec. 15.

This will make it extremely difficult for Schuler to continue serving in cabinet.

There is also unfinished business with Radisson Tory MLA James Teitsma, who made headlines in late August for suggesting vaccine mandates were comparable to some of the most notorious human rights abuses in this country, including the residential school system, the internment of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War and forced sterilizations of Indigenous women.

Radisson MLA James Teitsma accused his own government of infringing on Manitobans' rights, seemingly comparing the vaccination mandate to residential schools and the forced sterilization of Indigenous people. (Facebook photo)

Radisson MLA James Teitsma accused his own government of infringing on Manitobans' rights, seemingly comparing the vaccination mandate to residential schools and the forced sterilization of Indigenous people. (Facebook photo)

The current PC government does have a habit of saying things that are insulting to specific groups of Manitobans. However, not even former Premier Brian Pallister — the master of self-inflicted disaster — could insult and enrage multiple constituencies in one fell swoop. I guess that qualifies as multitasking.

Add them together, and you have three members of the PC caucus that deserve to be disciplined but have escaped the wrath of the leader largely because there has been a lot of change at the top of the party's leadership hierarchy.

That's an important point that bears repeating: given the hyper-sensitive nature of leadership politics, Stefanson can be excused for not dealing with unruly MLAs while also trying to win their support. However, now that Stefanson is firmly in charge, she needs to start imposing her will on all aspects of her party and government.

In order to be competitive in 2023, Stefanson needs to re–shape the party into something decidedly more enlightened and progressive. And quietly tolerating MLAs who flout provincial law and government policy is not getting that job done.

It would be wrong to suggest the Tory caucus has run amok during the period in which interim premier Kelvin Goertzen was in charge. However, there are a number of nagging concerns to go along with Morley-Lecomte's abominable behaviour. And yet, the misbehaviour by these three MLAs cannot be ignored.

Although Schuler is solid in his riding of Springfield-Ritchot, Teitsma and Morley-Lecomte represent critically important Winnipeg seats that, prior to 2016, were held by the NDP. The mischief they have authored around the pandemic and vaccines — Teitsma's hysterical assertion that vaccine mandates are human rights atrocities, and Morley-Lecomte's absurd insistence on keeping her status a secret — does not help their re-election chances.

It also doesn't help Stefanson build a new and improved brand for the PC Party. In order to be competitive in 2023, she needs to re-shape the party into something decidedly more enlightened and progressive.

And quietly tolerating MLAs who flout provincial law and government policy is not getting that job done.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

Dan Lett

Dan Lett
Columnist

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.