A warning to government appointees that they will be terminated if they travel "for leisure purposes" outside permitted areas is drawing a mixture of praise and criticism.
Premier Brian Pallister issued the warning in a statement late Monday while revealing that the board chairman of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, Wayne McWhirter, would be stepping down from his role.
McWhirter travelled to Arizona last month, creating a public furor. The government refused to remove him from his position last week, and Pallister suggested that he be cut some slack because his role was largely that of a volunteer.
However, the government's tone changed late Monday when the premier announced that any order-in-council (cabinet) appointee will be terminated for flouting public-health advice against unnecessary travel.
"I think some people will think that this is a bit late, but at the same time I think it's a prudent move," said Christopher Adams, adjunct professor of political science at the University of Manitoba.
The premier's edict extends to political appointees of some 150 boards, agencies and commissions, from directors of Sport Manitoba and the Winnipeg Art Gallery to Manitoba Hydro and the Farm Products Marketing Council.
Brandon University political science professor Kelly Saunders said the Pallister government's reaction to the controversy surrounding McWhirter is emblematic of how it has handled the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Their reaction is always to go on the offensive first and to attack, and then they have to walk back from that." – Kelly Saunders, Brandon University political science professor
"Their reaction is always to go on the offensive first and to attack, and then they have to walk back from that," she said.
In early November, then-health minister Cameron Friesen lashed out at hundreds of doctors for issuing a letter demanding that the government institute a provincewide lockdown to get rising virus numbers under control. A few weeks later, the government instituted code-red restrictions throughout the province.
Saunders said the latest controversy, surrounding McWhirter, comes after a series of reports of questionable travel involving the government's top bureaucrat, David McLaughlin, at least one political staffer and a Progressive Conservative MLA.
None has faced serious consequences for their actions.
While the premier has exhorted Manitobans not to travel, they've seen political appointees and close government advisers play by a different set of rules, Saunders said.
"They look at the Pallister government saying one thing and doing another," she added.
As for the PC government's latest directive: "I think they're just trying to cover their actions," she said.
Pallister did not hold a media availability Tuesday. However, Families Minister Rochelle Squires did.
Asked what actions she has taken to monitor appointee travel in agencies under her control — and how the new directive will be enforced — Squires declined to answer, referring a reporter to the health minister.
NDP Families Department critic Malaya Marcelino said she was disappointed by Squires' response.
"The minister is in a leadership position. As leaders, we do have to make sure that the folks we appointed are held to the same standards we would expect from all Manitobans," she said.
Malcolm Bird, associate professor of political science at the University of Winnipeg, said he viewed Pallister's edict as a "positive development" in the government's ongoing effort to manage the pandemic.
Bird said the federal government ought to shoulder a lot of the blame for a less-than-clear public message involving travel.
While Ottawa regulates air travel, it is only now enforcing strict quarantine rules for incoming passengers, he said.
"We know when we look at other countries that have been very successful at managing COVID, the firm and enforced rules regarding quarantine, particularly of international travellers, has been one of the key pieces to their success," Bird said.
— With files from Carol Sanders
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.