As the need to beef up enforcement of public health orders builds, Manitoba may be short the tools it needs to do so.
"I think that there's work (to do) to increase that ability," Manitoba chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said Thursday, after announcing the highest daily COVID-19 death toll (four), highest number of hospitalizations (42) and second-highest daily case count (147) since the start of the pandemic.
"If we want to have a targeted approach, we have to be able to enforce — and enforce it in a significant manner to ensure we have everyone on board and that everyone can see how important this is."
On Wednesday, Premier Brian Pallister announced increased fines for those who violate emergency and public health orders, and promised to increase enforcement to do deter scofflaws putting others' health at risk amid rocketing COVID-19 transmission rates.
He talked about police and provincial agencies stepping up COVID-19 enforcement. Pallister said the province was amending regulations to empower close to 130 municipal bylaw officers — and Winnipeg's mayor and other municipal leaders were requesting it.
On Thursday, Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said he was "surprised" by the premier's announcement and hasn't spoken to Pallister for six months. The last time the pair talked about city bylaw officers helping with COVID-19 enforcement was at a joint news conference to announce a community safety ambassador program, Bowman said.
"I had raised the limitations of our enforcement with him at that time," the mayor told reporters. "I haven't had any dialogue with him since then."
After Pallister's news conference Wednesday, city officials reached out to the province.
"We've got just under 20 bylaw officers that could potentially be leveraged," and pulled away from some of their regular duties, Bowman said. "We're trying to get an idea from the province what issues of enforcement are they looking to municipalities to help them with.
"Once we get that information, we'll see what we can do to help."
As for other municipalities, Municipal Affairs Minister Rochelle Squires said Thursday her officials are in constant communication with them. Using preset fines and bylaw enforcement officers are another "tool" to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, she said.
"We need all hands on deck when it comes to fighting the pandemic," said Squires. "We know we're asking a lot from people."
The Pallister government is asking a shrunken civil service to do more with less by adding COVID-19 enforcement to the workload of conservation officers, workplace health and safety inspectors, and others, the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union said this week.
"We are working very collaboratively with all enforcement agencies, and certainly do not anticipate putting pressures on them that they're not equipped to deal with," Squires said Thursday.
The minister wouldn't say if the province would hire more civil servants to help with COVID-19 enforcement.
"This pandemic is very fluid," she said, adding the government is making sure Manitobans get through it safely.
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.