Premier Brian Pallister went out of his way Thursday to draw attention to the actions of a First Nations leader who eased restrictions for visitors over the holidays, as a reminder "of what happens when you run a victory lap too soon."
Only the leader he was referring to is in a community that has COVID-19 cases well under control.
"The numbers don't lie," said Peguis First Nation Chief Glen Hudson.
The Interlake community struggled with an outbreak last year, and reached a high of 76 new cases one day before flattening the curve in mid-December with zero daily cases for 26 consecutive days till mid-January. It continues to screen all visitors to the First Nation and has kept its 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew. On Thursday, it reported no new coronavirus infections, no one in intensive care and eight active COVID-19 cases — which are under control, the chief said.
Hudson said he was unaware of the comments the premier made about him during a news conference. Pallister responded to questions about the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the Northern Health region and the effect they might have on health care.
"Since Dec. 14, when coincidentally, one of our major Indigenous leaders proclaimed that public health orders didn't need to be followed in his case, till today, Manitoba First Nations Response Co-ordination team reports that the percentage of new cases went from 36 per cent in December on the 14th, to 58 per cent now," Pallister told reporters.
"It should remind us what happens when you run a victory lap too soon." –Premier Brian Pallister
The percentage of ICU patients who are Indigenous went from 52 per cent to 64 per cent, and the percentage of active case more than doubled from 34 to 73 per cent, Pallister said.
Hudson announced in December that Peguis would allow households to have one visitor for "holiday relaxed days" over Christmas and New Year's. At the time, Pallister railed against Hudson's decision during press conferences. He called out the chief and demanded First Nations obey provincial code red restrictions.
"It’s important we all follow the rules, and that includes Peguis First Nation," Pallister said on Dec. 22. On Thursday, he brought up Peguis's relaxed holiday days again and linked them to rising case numbers among Indigenous Manitobans.
"I say this while I also praise the work of virtually every other Indigenous leader in this province who has fought so hard to keep COVID out of their communities," the premier said. "It should remind us what happens when you run a victory lap too soon.
"I'm waiting for the federal government to come out and say provincial health orders have to be respected on and off First Nations... making sure we reduce the number of cases, hospitalizations, ICU patients and deaths in our province," said Pallister.
In an interview, Hudson said: "I guess there's jealousy of him not being able to achieve these things."
"I guess there's jealousy of him not being able to achieve these things." –Peguis First Nation Chief Glen Hudson
Opposition leaders said the premier seems to be "obsessed" with the Peguis "holiday relaxed days" and shouldn't try to shame anyone when his own government has fumbled its pandemic response, and senior members of his staff and caucus flouted public health guidelines by travelling out of the province.
"I don't know why the premier is obsessed about this," said NDP Leader Wab Kinew. "There's so many problems with the vaccine rollout and so many issues about getting the vaccines we have on hand delivered to Manitobans," he said Thursday.
"I think the premier's fixation on this leader is unhealthy, not to mention unproductive," Kinew said. "I'm not sure he can point out Peguis on a map if he's citing northern Manitoba (COVID-19) statistics in respect to a community that's located in the Interlake."
"I'm not sure he can point out Peguis on a map if he's citing northern Manitoba (COVID–19) statistics in respect to a community that's located in the Interlake." –NDP Leader Wab Kinew
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said: "For the premier to criticize Glenn Hudson (with so few cases on Peguis) when he himself OK'd several staff to travel in code red is the height of hypocrisy."
Hudson said he's not rattled by the premier's remarks.
"I guess the premier likes to finger-point and hold a grudge," the chief said. "There's no willingness on my part to engage in that. I think it's childish."
He offered the premier some tips for bending and flattening the province's COVID-19 curve.
"You can maintain control when you do contact tracing and monitor cases and monitor individuals coming and going," said Hudson. "When you implement checkpoints and curfews you can keep your numbers very low."
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.