In a fundraising pitch full of big plans and high hopes for the year ahead, the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba makes no mention of COVID-19.

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In a fundraising pitch full of big plans and high hopes for the year ahead, the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba makes no mention of COVID-19.

As the province braces for soaring hospitalizations with runaway COVID-19 transmission, the party is telling Manitobans to expect "a remarkable economic recovery" in 2022.

The message sent to those on a party email list on New Year’s Day avoids referencing the pandemic but predicts 4.8 per cent economic growth will come from hard work, collaboration "and all the effort that Manitobans will put in to making sure this becomes a reality."

A public affairs consultant and former longtime NDP cabinet minister questions the reality that the party is promising.

"Reading it, I thought I was in Mayberry," said Gord Mackintosh, referring to the fictional town of Mayberry made famous in the bucolic 1960s sitcom, The Andy Griffith Show.

Premier Heather Stefanson’s holiday message sent to party members touched on the challenges the province has faced this year, the party says. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press files)

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Premier Heather Stefanson’s holiday message sent to party members touched on the challenges the province has faced this year, the party says. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press files)

"Even political spin needs to be anchored in some reality," he said.

Manitoba’s reality Monday was a COVID-19 test-positivity rate of nearly 38 per cent, with the virus spreading out of control — signalling it’s high time for a code-red pandemic response and shutdown to protect the health-care system, Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont tweeted.

When asked to comment Monday, the PC party responded with an email that included a copy of Premier Heather Stefanson’s holiday message sent to party members Dec. 21 "which did indeed touch on all the challenges each and everyone of us has faced again this past year."

The party’s response said that "COVID was and will continue to be an important part of our messaging as we all work through the most challenging health care crisis of our lifetimes."

The Progressive Conservatives’ "to-do list" for 2022 sent on the weekend said it will support startups and small businesses and help them get new exports to markets, reduce red tape to spark investment in mining and boost development opportunities for First Nations and northern communities. A venture-capital funding program is in the works.

A "laser-focused" plan includes expanding the provincial nominee program and skills training to address labour shortages, while offering incentives to get nursing graduates to stay in Manitoba. The Tories are promising to improve K-12 education and to have industry work with post-secondary schools to prepare Manitoba for the "jobs of the future."

Health Minister Audrey Gordon, the premier and public health officials meet daily to stay on top of the situation, a spokesperson says. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Health Minister Audrey Gordon, the premier and public health officials meet daily to stay on top of the situation, a spokesperson says. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)

On the same day that the fundraising message was sent, the Health Sciences Centre’s Dr. Jillian Horton painted a dire picture of the near future for Manitobans.

"We’re bracing for the worst," the internal medicine specialist said Saturday in an interview with CBC national TV. The lack of available staff has resulted in nurses being moved around in a high-stakes game of "musical chairs — only we’re playing on the deck of the Titanic."

The PC party’s new year’s message doesn’t say anything about navigating the health-care crisis but that "our Progressive Conservative team has a clear plan to set Manitoba on a course to progress together and reach economic success."

For Manitoba to achieve success, Stefanson needs to impose a lockdown, said Dr. Lisa Bryski.

"We don’t have any backup for our resources and we have chipped away at them successively with each wave that we haven’t acted early on," said Bryski, who retired as a front-line physician after the first year of the pandemic.

"When you get to situations where an illness is rampant in the population, what we need right now is leaders to stand up and give direction. That direction needs to include further restrictions.

Manitoba has been setting daily record case counts and many health-care professionals are calling for a code-red pandemic response and shutdown to protect the health-care system. (Shannon VanRaes / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Manitoba has been setting daily record case counts and many health-care professionals are calling for a code-red pandemic response and shutdown to protect the health-care system. (Shannon VanRaes / Winnipeg Free Press files)

"(Ontario Premier) Doug Ford has just spoken up saying that they have a tsunami coming for their hospitals — that they have no idea how to quantify (infections) because they’ve lost track of tracing with it, as well. We are in the same situation. Our numbers are through the roof for Manitoba."

Stefanson’s press secretary said the premier and Health Minister Audrey Gordon are responding to the ever-evolving situation and will be available to reporters sometime this week, Olivia Billson said in an email.

"Daily — sometimes multiple daily — briefings are taking place between public-health officials and provincial leadership, including the premier and health minister," she wrote Monday.

"We are constantly monitoring Manitoba’s rising case numbers and their impact on the health system and will implement the measures necessary to fight this virus and protect Manitobans. Additionally, we are monitoring the COVID situation across the country as we learn more about the Omicron variant."

The PC party says there is only one thing that could stop the "plan for success," and it’s not the pandemic.

"Rest assured, even though we have a clear plan and direction, and we have the team to make it happen, we know that Wab Kinew and the NDP are going to take every opportunity to try and stop this plan for success," the email said.

The pitch for donations doesn’t mention any of the current challenges government needs to address, such as tackling climate change, affordability challenges for families and restoring health care, Mackintosh said.

As a fundraising strategy, painting such a positive portrait of the province may convince some to donate, said the former MLA who has taught political studies at the University of Winnipeg.

"It appears all is well in Tory land — and that just might get someone to write a $50 cheque," Mackintosh said.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.