Manitoba government accuses opposition of ‘terrible breach’ after recording of health meeting leaked

Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative government tried repeatedly Wednesday to get opposition parties to admit they privately recorded a video meeting between public health leadership and elected officials — an accusation the Liberals and NDP deny.

During question period Tuesday, Premier Brian Pallister and Health Minister Cameron Friesen accused their rivals of an ethical breach, after a recording of the Monday meeting was provided to CBC News.

Part of that recording was quoted in a Tuesday online story. Health officials, including Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin, were quoted in the story as saying the province was looking into a longer winter break for K-12 schools, and was also considering expanding provincial travel restrictions.

Friesen said on Wednesday that the good faith the government showed by briefing the opposition parties at the Monday meeting was violated.

“This represents a terrible breach. It is a ethical failing. It is a privacy breach. It is conduct unbecoming of a member of the legislative assembly,” Friesen said. 

The minister said the health-care leaders felt exposed now that their private comments had been made public.

May rethink information sharing: Friesen

He said the government may change how it shares information going forward. 

“Look, I remain committed to keeping opposition parties informed about what we are doing and how we’re doing it, but this relies on trust,” Friesen said.

“When that trust has been broken, then we have to think about maybe how we would alternately provide such information in a way that does not present this risk.”

CBC News is not identifying its source to protect their confidentiality, but Friesen did not blame CBC for reporting on the content of the recording.

The Monday briefing between public health officials and opposition legislators included the suggestion that schools may have an extended holiday break. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

He said 14 NDP MLAs and one Liberal MLA were on the call. Both opposition parties vehemently denied any responsibility for the leak.

“I don’t like the fact that someone on that call leaked it,” NDP Leader Wab Kinew said. “All of my MLAs, they were not involved with this thing. They did not leak this.

“I suspect also, if you didn’t include independent Liberal MLAs in the call, then you probably wouldn’t see any more leaks.”

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont disputed that.

“As far as I know, we did not” leak the recording, he said. “I understand and I feel very badly for individuals who want to be able to speak freely, because they don’t know they’re being recorded.”

While critical of the government’s pandemic response, both leaders said they felt reassured by the plan that health officials laid out for dealing with it.

Kinew said the finger-pointing deflects from the crisis unfolding in Manitoba.

The provincial government is “botching the pandemic response,” the Official Opposition leader said, “and they want to come out here and change the channel. This is a distraction.”

Lamont said the problem in Manitoba’s pandemic response isn’t the public servants.

“They are ready in a way that our elected officials just aren’t.”

University of Manitoba political scientist Christopher Adams said officials have an expectation their private meetings are held in confidence, but agreed that “the government would probably like attention to be paid somewhere else,” as opposed to the pandemic.

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