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Premier Brian Pallister emerged from a Wednesday meeting of his Progressive Conservative caucus in Brandon to urge Manitobans not to give into fears about rising COVID-19 case counts.
He also defended the spending of public money on a new advertising campaign that promotes the safe reopening of the provincial economy (the theme: Ready. Safe. Grow.).
The government has begun by buying billboard and radio ads, and there are plans to expand the campaign to print and digital platforms. It has spent $250,000 on it so far, and the final budget has not been set. The province says the ads are intended to build public confidence and awareness of public health measures and employment support programs.
Pallister said he and his PC colleagues were in Brandon — site of the province's largest known cluster of COVID-19 cases — to show support for the city and Westman region.
"We recognize that here in this part of the province there have been more cases lately. We also understand why, and we also understand that this should serve as motivation for all of us to do the right things to prevent the proliferation of future COVID cases by following proper rules," he said.
At a news conference streamed on the province's website, Pallister sought to assure Manitobans — particularly the parents of schoolchildren — his government has a well-considered plan for reopening schools and the general economy.
He also said the government needs to better communicate its plans as the school year draws near.
"We haven't actually embarked on the strategies of communicating effectively as much as I think we need to," the premier acknowledged.
He announced Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen and chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin would hold a news conference Thursday to update Manitobans on public school reopening plans.
"I think there is much detail about our plan that needs to be shared," Pallister said. "I think it's important that Manitoba parents, families, all of us who value education and safe environments for all our children have as much information as is possible to share."
The premier assured Manitobans the government would follow the advice of health experts in all of its decisions.
"We haven't actually embarked on the strategies of communicating effectively as much as I think we need to" ‐ Premier Brian Pallister
"If we have a safer society, we're going to have people more confident to go to work, to shop and to create more job opportunities for those who deserve a chance to get back to work," he said, noting close to 40,000 Manitobans are still without a job as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
He said, ironically, the extremely low active case counts in the first half of July may have caused Manitobans to become more fearful as case numbers rebounded.
"We can't get into fear... fear can't be our master here. Fear and panic are not a plan," the premier said.
Manitoba's COVID-19 case numbers are among the lowest in North America. On Wednesday, the government announced 16 new cases, bringing the grand total to 578; 202 are active.
Pallister said while he understands Manitobans' concerns, he advised them to be careful not to "become possessed by emotion or current trends."
"Take a look at the longer-term success of our plan. Ask yourself: why is it working, why is it working so well? And the answer to that may give you some comfort."
Meanwhile, NDP Leader Wab Kinew questioned the value of the government's COVID-19 ad campaign.
"When I look at the billboards that have gone up around town, I put myself into another Manitoban's shoes... If I'm a small-business owner struggling to pay the rent and I see this blue billboard that says 'ready, safe, grow,' how does that help me? If I'm a parent who's worried about sending my kids back to school — wondering what the precautions are going to be, what's the class size going to be, is my kid going to be provided with a mask — how does 'ready, safe, grow’ help me?" he said.
"We're in a public health emergency... and I don’t see how branding our economic recovery — before the province is even really invested in getting that recovery going — how that helps anybody."
— with files from Carol Sanders
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.
Updated on Wednesday, August 12, 2020 at 7:33 PM CDT: Adds active cases per 100,000 chart
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