The president and CEO of St. Boniface Hospital visited her family home in Quebec during the holidays, against provincial health advice that discourages Manitobans from travelling.

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The president and CEO of St. Boniface Hospital visited her family home in Quebec during the holidays, against provincial health advice that discourages Manitobans from travelling.

Martine Bouchard joins a growing list of Manitoba public figures who have ignored pleas by the premier and health officials to stay home during the code red pandemic restrictions.

"As Manitobans are aware, Ms. Bouchard... accepted this leadership role in our province pre-COVID with arrangements to return home to her husband and children with some regularity," a hospital spokeswoman said Thursday in an email to the Free Press.

"As the pandemic progressed, efforts were made to extend her stays in Winnipeg, as often as possible, especially as she and our executive continued to monitor and respond to the unfolding pandemic."

Bouchard's frequent commutes to Montreal have sparked controversy in the past. She also worked exclusively from her Quebec home between April and August 2020. She has held the hospital's top job since April 2018.

St. Boniface Hospital would not say how much time Bouchard spent in Quebec over the holidays nor confirm whether she has yet returned.

"She did travel to Quebec to be with her immediate family over the holidays. When returning to her home in Winnipeg, she follows all public health orders, including self-isolation," the hospital spokeswoman wrote.

NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara said it's disappointing to see persons in powerful positions failing to adhere to public health guidelines.

"It sets a bad example. And it sends the message to Manitobans that there's one set of expectations for one group of folks and another set of expectations for people in positions of leadership... That's unacceptable," the Union Station MLA said.

In recent days, it's been revealed the province's top civil servant, clerk of the executive council David McLaughlin, was allowed to work from his family home in Ottawa for the last two weeks of the year.

The province's director of strategic communications and marketing, Logan-Theanna Ross, also travelled to Eastern Canada during the holiday period.

Progressive Conservative MLA James Teitsma (Radisson) took a driving trip to British Columbia with his family Dec. 21-30. Premier Brian Pallister has said he is "clearly not pleased" with the Tory backbencher's decision, but has made no move to discipline Teitsma.

Meanwhile, a source said Thursday a special assistant to former health minister Cameron Friesen also travelled out of the province over the holiday season. The source said the ministerial assistant and Ross were both cleared to travel by a senior human resources official who reports to the premier.

Olivia Billson, Pallister's press secretary, declined to comment on the claim. "As you are aware, HR matters are confidential, and thus I am unable provide comment," she said in an email.

Asagwara said while Bouchard travelled to see her family in Quebec, Manitobans were prohibited from visiting extended family over the holidays and some were prevented from being at the bedside of dying loved ones.

While Bouchard was in Quebec, hospital officials were asking health-care workers to voluntarily give up their booked time off in late December and January, in exchange for vacation pay, Asagwara noted.

"I think it's a slap in the face to the health-care workers at St. Boniface Hospital who didn't get to see their family members over the holidays, who continue to work exorbitant amounts of mandated overtime, who put their health and the health of the families at risk in order to make sure that the health-care system is accessible and continues to meet the needs of Manitobans," Asagwara said.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature reporter

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.