WINNIPEG — Manitoba's Opposition New Democrats promised Monday to build three new emergency departments at Winnipeg hospitals to replace ones closed by the Progressive Conservative government.
If the NDP wins the election slated for Oct. 3, it would ensure emergency departments are available at the Victoria, Seven Oaks and Concordia hospitals, NDP Leader Wab Kinew said. The Progressive Conservative government downgraded those facilities in 2017 to urgent care centres, which are not aimed at dealing with life-threatening cases such as heart attacks.
"Closing the three emergency rooms in Winnipeg was the biggest mistake that Heather Stefanson and the PCs made when it came to health care," Kinew said. Stefanson, who became premier in 2021, was justice minister when the emergency rooms were converted.
The goal of the Tory plan was to increase capacity at the remaining emergency rooms and divert less serious cases to urgent-care centres. But wait-times remained high and critics said the government failed to properly expand the remaining emergency departments.
Building new or replacement emergency departments would cost an estimated $150 million each in capital expenses alone, Kinew said, and would require annual operating funding. The projects would be done over a period of up to eight years, he said, and only after assurances that there would be enough staff to work at each facility.
The promise came one day after the NDP pledged $500 million over four years to hire more nurses, physicians and other health-care personnel.
Kinew said the province can afford the extra spending because transfer payments from the federal government have risen sharply in recent years. He also pointed to a half-billion dollars in "contingency" funds in the provincial budget — money set aside for unexpected expenses.
Manitoba has been running deficits every year since 2009 with the exception of a small $5-million surplus in 2019. Kinew said an NDP government would balance the budget within the first term.
The governing Progressive Conservatives said Kinew's promises do not add up and contradict earlier media interviews in which he said he would not reopen all three emergency departments.
"Desperate empty promises show that Wab Kinew is just not ready for government," Tory legislature member Shannon Martin said in a written statement.
Kinew was supported at his announcement by Dr. Eric Jacobsohn, an anesthesiologist and intensive care physician who said wait-times at emergency rooms must be reduced
"Patients suffer, their families suffer. Staff have become disillusioned and staff are burned out," he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 28, 2023.
Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press