With shuffle, Stefanson makes her priorities clear
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Premier Heather Stefanson kept Health Minister Audrey Gordon and Seniors and Long Term Care Minister Scott Johnston in their posts in Monday’s cabinet shuffle, signalling her satisfaction with the leadership her government is providing for Manitoba’s health care.
The ministerial team she is presenting as this year’s general election approaches, therefore, offers more of the same in the health-care field. We may see some new approaches in finance, environment, consumer protection and sport, culture and heritage, where she has appointed new ministers.
At the new cabinet’s swearing-in ceremony, the premier described the shuffle as an opportunity “to reflect on the importance of hope and renewal,” and added that leaving several ministers in familiar roles is “about having that experience around the table, but also bringing in new, so they can help with training some of the new cabinet ministers.”
Janice Morley-Lecomte, newly appointed to the cabinet, may have an opportunity to bring new energy to her mental health and community wellness portfolio, but as a cabinet rookie she seems unlikely to achieve much before the election due in October.
Manitobans who are pleased with the current state of health care in Manitoba hospitals and personal-care homes and in home-care service should share the premier’s pleasure. Those who think Manitoba can do better may, however, be disappointed.
Ms. Stefanson’s recent spending choices also seem to express her satisfaction with Manitoba’s health care. When she found surprisingly large amounts of cash in the treasury, rather than committing it to health-care priorities she announced last week a spending spree focused on mailing out $200-million worth of cheques to Manitoba households, supposedly to help them bear the burden of paying the federal government’s carbon tax (though carbon-tax revenue is returned to households through the Climate Action Incentive Payments Ottawa already distributes).
The rest of the announced $850-million spending spree has to provide something for financial pressures within the health-care system, something for municipal infrastructure projects and something for economic recovery for communities and industries. This wide scattering of funds left little hope that pay or staffing levels in health care would noticeably improve.
The premier’s health care policy has essentially been to sort patients more carefully so as to deny care to some who have been at the head of the line in order to advance other patients in the hope of shortening their wait times – essentially robbing Peter to pay Paul. The net effect of these efforts has been to spread hospital staff more thinly and keep everybody waiting longer for care.
These efforts have not made health-care work appreciably more attractive as a career. Nor have they lightened the burden on over-stressed emergency departments. Eventually the government and its hospitals are going to have to improve the pay, hours and working conditions of nurses, doctors and therapists so fewer of them will turn to other career paths.
Neither the premier’s spending announcements nor her cabinet appointments give the public reason to hope for new thought, new resources or new leadership that might improve Manitoba’s health care.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has invited provincial premiers for their long-sought conference on health-care financing, raising hopes of a federal-provincial agreement on additional funds for health service. Ms. Stefanson’s immediate reaction was to promise cheques of $225 for each single person and $375 per couple, seemingly for the vital purpose of winning re-election for her government later this year.
Her government’s priorities are therefore reasonably clear.
Updated on Monday, January 30, 2023 9:25 PM CST: Corrects spelling of Morley-Lecomte