July 7, 2020

16° C, Clear

Full Forecast

Winnipeg Free Press



Minister's spin evades accountability for Lifeflight decisions


Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/1/2019 (523 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

"The op-ed speaks for itself."

That was the reply sent to the Free Press this week in response to several requests for an interview with provincial Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler, in the wake of publication of an opinion column in which the minister defended the Pallister government’s issuance last year of a request for proposal (RFP) to privatize Manitoba’s Lifeflight air ambulance service.


Manitoba Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler</p>


Manitoba Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler

In the column, which was posted on the Progressive Conservative caucus website and published in at least one local newspaper, credited author Mr. Schuler said the RFP for air-ambulance privatization is intended "to build a better, safer air ambulance service for northern Manitoba."

The 647-word commentary also noted that if the private sector cannot provide service that improves on the current model, the province will not proceed.

The Free Press received the op-ed submission, but opted not to publish it.

In addition to reiterating the province’s position on air-ambulance privatization, the op-ed included comments by the writer that inflamed tensions between the government and the 16 physicians who staff air-ambulance flights. Mr. Schuler stated in the column that the province has met multiple times with the doctors involved and has addressed their principal concerns by hiring two new pilots and accelerating scheduled maintenance on one of the province’s jets.

Immediately upon the op-ed’s publication, the president of Doctors Manitoba issued a three-page response that said, in part, the two pilots have not yet been hired and the aircraft in question has not been sent for repairs as stated in Mr. Schuler’s column.

Dr. Shannon Prud’homme also said Lifeflight’s February schedule currently has nearly 30 shifts that do not have a pilot: "Trying to fill a schedule in such an uncertain environment beyond a few days when it is riddled with gaps in pilot and plane availability is concerning."

Which, of course, would make it very useful for reporters covering the issue to be able to ask the minister direct questions about what has and has not been accomplished in relation to the concerns that have prompted air-ambulance doctors to threaten to withhold their services unless the issues are addressed.

However, because "the op-ed speaks for itself," Mr. Schuler was kept under wraps.

Health Minister Cameron Friesen did offer a general response to questions about how long the RFP for Lifeflight has dragged on (since last March), but the author of the incendiary op-ed was not made available to media.

In addition to escalating the dispute in a manner which, according to Ms. Prud’homme, "place(s) a measurable chill on the ability to retain and recruit physicians and other professions to Lifeflight," the distribution of the opinion column by Mr. Schuler stands as the latest example of the provincial government’s inclination to skirt public accountability by refusing to answer publicly for its actions.

Rather than having its elected members face the media and provide direct answers to direct questions, the government of Premier Brian Pallister prefers to disseminate press releases, issue prepared statements and distribute minister-penned opinion columns that are carefully spun in a manner intended to allow the legislators whose names are attached to avoid the uncomfortable but necessary experience of in-person public scrutiny.

It’s a deliberate subversion of democratic tradition which, quite frankly, speaks for itself.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.

Your support has enabled us to provide free access to stories about COVID-19 because we believe everyone deserves trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

Our readership has contributed additional funding to give Free Press online subscriptions to those that can’t afford one in these extraordinary times — giving new readers the opportunity to see beyond the headlines and connect with other stories about their community.

To those who have made donations, thank you.

To those able to give and share our journalism with others, please Pay it Forward.

The Free Press has shared COVID-19 stories free of charge because we believe everyone deserves access to trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

While we stand by this decision, it has undoubtedly affected our bottom line.

After nearly 150 years of reporting on our city, we don’t want to stop any time soon. With your support, we’ll be able to forge ahead with our journalistic mission.

If you believe in an independent, transparent, and democratic press, please consider subscribing today.

We understand that some readers cannot afford a subscription during these difficult times and invite them to apply for a free digital subscription through our Pay it Forward program.

The Free Press will close this commenting platform at noon on July 14.

We want to thank those who have shared their views over the years as part of this reader engagement initiative.

In the coming weeks, the Free Press will announce new opportunities for readers to share their thoughts and to engage with our staff and each other.

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.