TWO of the three men who want to be premier took their health-care visions into a part of the city where they think it matters most on Thursday.

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TWO of the three men who want to be premier took their health-care visions into a part of the city where they think it matters most on Thursday.

Both Premier Greg Selinger and Progressive Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen used vote-rich south Winnipeg as their backdrop not only to highlight what they'd do if elected, but to showcase their candidates to an electorate just tuning in to the campaign.

For Selinger, he waded into the Seine River riding along with his six candidates in south Winnipeg to promise faster medical care to Manitobans through more QuickCare Clinics and ACCESS Centres.

Standing behind him were Health Minister Theresa Oswald, Education Minister Nancy Allan, Advanced Education Minister Erin Selby, Water Stewardship Minister Christine Melnick, Housing Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross and St. Norbert candidate Dave Gaudreau.

Selinger said it wasn't by chance his senior ministers had joined him.

"We're obviously doing it in strategic areas where we think the battlegrounds are going to be important," he said. "You can never stop being on the offensive when you're in an election. You have to be moving down the field with your best people."

The NDP's pledge for better health-care services comes in a week of other promises like 200 more doctors and 2,000 more nurses if they win a fourth term.

But Hugh McFadyen and the Tories are determined to prevent the NDP from seizing the health-care initiative.

Two days after announcing the Tories would hire 2,165 new front-line health-care professionals over the next six years, McFadyen on Thursday unveiled a $5-million program to improve care for Alzheimer's patients.

He chose the home turf of Winnipeg cabinet ministers in south Winnipeg -- a key election battleground -- for both announcements. On Tuesday, he was at Seine River, where former city councillor Gord Steeves is hoping to knock off Oswald. On Thursday, he was in Riel, where Tory staffer and former journalist Rochelle Squires is vying to sink Melnick.

Asked Thursday if the PC strategy was to tackle the NDP head-on on an issue the New Democrats think they own, McFadyen replied: "I think they probably do consider it to be their issue but Manitobans beg to differ."

Once an area of weakness for the Conservatives because of cuts made during Gary Filmon's tenure as premier, the politics of health has become more competitive this campaign. McFadyen underscored his seriousness to the essential service by saying the Tories cannot see balancing a budget before 2018 so that it's properly funded.

The NDP has responded by warning that the Tories can't be trusted on health because of their previous record in office and their questionable math in how much their 2,165 new health professionals would cost. (There's a $118-million difference between what each party says that promise would cost.)

The Conservatives seem to be banking on that after 12 years in office, the NDP may be vulnerable on health. Despite increased health-care staffing and spending during the NDP reign, problems remain and wait times for some procedures continue to be long.

The case involving Brian Sinclair, who died in 2008 while waiting for assistance in a city hospital waiting room, continues to make headlines and is not helpful to the NDP, either.

Thursday's promises

THREE more QuickCare Clinics and three more ACCESS Centres under its plan to get every Manitoban a family doctor by 2015.

The three new centres will be built in St. Boniface, southeast Winnipeg and southwest Winnipeg. The new centres are in addition to ACCESS Centres in River East, Transcona and downtown and the two that are under construction in St. James and northwest Winnipeg.

The cost is $21 million over four years.

"We want to have access to health care that's close to where people live and reduce lineups and ensure that people can get quick service when they need it," Premier Greg Selinger said.

A QuickCare Clinic is staffed by nurse practitioners to see patients with more minor health issues, which can take pressure of hospital emergency rooms and family doctors.

An ACCESS Centre offers a wider range of services than a normal clinic, including doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, home-care workers, mental-health workers, dieticians, pharmacists, social workers and other staff support for seniors, employment and income assistance, housing and child care.


Progressive Conservatives

PC Leader Hugh McFadyen said Thursday his party would make Alzheimer's disease a public health priority.

Chief among his plan is increasing the number of "behaviour beds" for patients with violent tendencies to 45 from 35. The Tories estimate that would cost $2.75 million.

"Demand for these beds far exceeds supply. Wait times can be as long as one year," McFadyen said.

He said a Tory government would also work with the Alzheimer Society of Manitoba to update the province's Alzheimer's strategy, which has not been revamped in almost a decade.

As well, the Conservatives would spend $350,000 a year to re-establish the Memory Assessment Clinic, closed in 2002. And they would invest $200,000 a year to fund First Link, which connects dementia sufferers and their families to the Alzheimer Society's programs and services and other community health services.

The PCs estimate the total cost of their Alzheimer's proposals would cost $4.95 million over four years.



THEY pledged to create 24-hour urgent-care facilities adjacent to big-hospital emergency rooms to ease the pressure on ERs and reduce wait times.

The staffing cost alone would amount to $18 million in the first year of implementation, Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard told a news conference at the constituency office of Tuxedo candidate Linda Minuk.

Gerrard said the urgent-care facilities would handle patients with non-life threatening conditions.

"Giving Manitobans more access to urgent care will work to significantly reduce wait times in our hospitals," he said.

The Liberals say their plan makes sense since studies show it costs 20 to 50 per cent less to provide services in primary-care clinics than in an ER setting.

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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