During the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada, Manitoba seemed like an enviable prairie refuge from steadily rising infection rates—especially in comparison to the plight of its eastern neighbour and their particularly inadequate premier. Since mid-September, however, cases have been climbing at an alarming rate. October 27 saw a record-breaking 184 new cases and a provincial positivity rate of 7.5 percent. The numbers in Winnipeg are especially troubling, as the city recorded 144 new cases and a positivity rate of 8.3 percent. This jump has given Manitoba in general, and Winnipeg in particular, one of the worst per capita infections rates in the country.
Despite this, Premier Brian Pallister and his cabinet have shown little interest in implementing the widespread, long-term restrictions necessary to stem community transmission. Instead, the government has avoided sustained intervention in private enterprise while blaming increased case numbers on individual instances of rule-flouting. Although house parties and large gatherings continue to be a concern, focusing on this fact can cause one to overlook the massive governmental incompetence that has led the province to this critical moment.
Health Minister Cameron Friesen is a prime example of the failure of Pallister’s cabinet. He recently met with anti-mask protestors and said afterward that “they’re making some good points.” When the NDP lambasted him for this, he accused his critics of sowing hate and division among Manitobans and insisted that “instead of hate, we prefer hope.” And yet, all the hopes this government can muster have done nothing to slow the climbing death rates in personal care homes throughout the province, which Friesen described as “unavoidable” in a CBC Radio interview (his statement has been condemned by multiple specialists in geriatric medicine).
A care home called Parkview Place is facing one of the worst outbreaks in the province, with almost 40 percent of residents infected and reports that COVID-positive patients are not being segregated. It is owned by an Ontario-based private company called Revera, which in 2019 faced 85 lawsuits across Canada alleging neglect of residents contributing to death. Friesen, resisting calls to evacuate the facility, has stated that Parkview Place’s private owners will be trusted to implement recommendations from the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.
In September, the provincial government also chose not to renew a ban on evictions and rent increases during the pandemic. A recent NDP freedom of information request found that the PC government has approved 100 percent of above-guideline rent increases this year, a move that will doubtlessly hurt low-income renters even more and open the door to pandemic evictions.
As cases continue to spiral out of control in Manitoba, it is once again clear that the PC government is allowing private interests to run rampant over the needs of the people.
Owen Schalk is a writer based in Winnipeg. His areas of interest include post-colonialism and the human impact of the global neoliberal economy.