The minister who mobilizes federal help for Manitoba’s northern First Nations suggested Monday the province dropped the ball on it preparations for the second wave.
Ottawa is sending support to Opaskwayak Cree Nation after all the residents of a personal care home in the community tested positive for COVID-19.
Over the weekend, an outbreak was declared at Rod McGillivary Care Home after 28 residents and 17 workers tested positive for the virus. One resident has died.
Onekanew (chief) Christian Sinclair said physicians will visit the home each weekend as part of a rapid response team deployed to the community by the Manitoba First Nations Pandemic Response Team, and residents are being closely monitored.
The First Nation has also been in touch with the federal government to request assistance — including the military’s help, if need be — to bolster staffing, Sinclair said.
"We continue to take this situation day by day, hour by hour," Sinclair said, adding health officials will be assessing what additional levels of support are needed over the next two days. "It’s our priority to protect them and provide them with the best service possible. And that’s what our team is doing right now."
Testing of community members is ongoing and a number of people in the community are sick, adding additional pressures to the regional health system.
But Sinclair said he’s been in touch directly with federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller, adding "we’re very confident knowing that we have the full support of the Canadian government behind us now, to be able to deal with this matter."
Miller said he’s trying to support Manitoba, but suggested the province has added to the difficulties on northern First Nations.
"I’m facing this in Manitoba, needing to work with the provincial government, knowing that mistakes have been made with respect to the second wave," Miller said Monday. "Opaskwayak Cree Nation is an example of that. We need the regional health authorities to be stepping up, and we’re there to help."
Asked about Miller’s comments, Premier Brian Pallister said Tuesday that every province is doing its best.
"There are people who reveal themselves during stressful times by blaming others, and I’ll leave it at that," he told reporters, repeating his years-long demand for more generous health transfers.
"We have yet to blame the federal government for the lack of support in any number of categories, despite the fact that we could."
This month, Miller's department topped up previous pandemic funding and sent an extra $61 million to Manitoba First Nations communities to boost their prevention plans and create isolation spaces, as the province started reporting some of the worst COVID-19 spread in Canada.
Miller said Ottawa is collaborating with the Manitoba government on testing, isolation and contract tracing, noting the approach is more productive than unilaterally invoking measures such as through the Emergencies Act.
"Creating a political storm in the middle of this — I’m not going to speculate but it could cause delays, if we were to do it the wrong way," Miller said.
His comments come after some public health experts said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau needs to go over the heads of provinces and implement measures, instead of urging premiers and mayors to put health ahead of the economy.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.