A controversial political appointee, accused by New Democrats of trying to muzzle them for asking about his alleged meddling in Manitoba Hydro, is a top leader of the province’s COVID-19 response.
Premier Brian Pallister said in an interview with the Free Press Tuesday that Treasury Board secretary Paul Beauregard is a "senior leader in our COVID response."
Pallister wouldn't reveal Beauregard's additional job title related to Manitoba's pandemic response, or say whether he's overseeing Shared Health, the provincial bureaucracy that administers health care.
"He’s been addressing issues like vaccine readiness and before that, (COVID) testing and tracing systems," the premier said. "He's a senior leader and tremendous bureaucrat in our government. He's done a great job."
Beauregard's done a great job for Pallister, but not for Manitobans when it comes to responding to COVID-19, NDP Leader Wab Kinew said Tuesday.
"I think most Manitobans know that this government hasn't been prepared for the second wave," Kinew told the Free Press. "I think what we also know about the relationship between Mr. Pallister and Mr. Beauregard is that they're very tight," he said.
"This is another piece of evidence of Mr. Pallister's insistence on being the decision-maker on everything," said Kinew. "It's one of the reasons that we have not been prepared for this second wave."
Kinew called Beauregard's position as leader of the pandemic response "a proxy for Mr. Pallister having his finger on the decision-making scale."
"I think it's unfortunate that Mr. Pallister is politicizing the vaccine rollout because this is such an important part of the pandemic and will hopefully lead to the end of the pandemic," said Kinew. "That's a "mistake," he said.
"I think most Manitobans would expect that Dr. (Brent) Roussin and Lanette Siragusa would be leading the vaccine rollout," the NDP leader said.
Roussin is the chief provincial public health officer and Siragusa is the chief nursing officer.
Kinew said he couldn't comment on the controversy involving Beauregard and the NDP because it's a matter of privilege that's yet to be ruled on by Speaker Myrna Driedger.
In September, NDP MLA Adrien Sala alleged that Beauregard had improperly directed Manitoba Hydro on a number of business issues, including its decision to award Bell MTS — a company that Beauregard worked for prior to his government job — a $37-million contract extension to manage networking services at government offices across the province.
In a point of privilege tabled Dec. 3, Sala revealed to the legislature he is the subject of a formal investigation under the provincial government’s respectful workplace policy, which was created to give civil servants protection from, and an avenue to complain about, workplace harassment and abuse.
"(Beauregard) alleged I failed to display respectful behaviour toward him, that I harassed him and bullied him, that I offended and embarrassed him and acted in a way that reflects negatively on this legislature by asking questions of the government and the premier in the legislature," Sala said in his point of privilege. He said Beauregard's complaint was an attempt to intimidate the NDP and to get it to stop digging into the relationship between Beauregard, Manitoba Hydro and Bell MTS.
On Tuesday, Pallister said the NDP's suggestion there's any wrongdoing is "shameful" and is part of a "smear."
"He's a senior person in the government. He shouldn’t be subjected to harassment by a political person hiding behind parliamentary privilege, no less." – Premier Brian Pallister
"We introduced anti-harassment legislation to protect all our people here, including political staff," the premier said.
"He's a senior person in the government. He shouldn’t be subjected to harassment by a political person hiding behind parliamentary privilege, no less," Pallister said.
"The man's met with the integrity commissioner, the conflict of interest commissioner — bared his soul, been entirely scrutinized. It’s an attempt to attack the integrity of a person who shouldn't be attacked."
Pallister said the provincial cabinet directed Beauregard to extend a three-year contract to Bell MTS. He said the contract was originally given to the company untendered by the NDP.
"Now the NDP is attacking him for extending a contract during COVID to provide Internet services, which is a decision cabinet made quite logically because it would be ludicrous to suggest that you should tender for Internet services in the middle of COVID," he said. There was "no padding of the contract, nothing to gain," the premier said. "The facts, they're all there."
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.