The Manitoba NDP is calling on the Progressive Conservative government to rapidly increase the number of health-care workers in the province and start offering appointments at COVID-19 screening sites.
Official Opposition leader Wab Kinew laid out his party’s vision Tuesday in its alternative throne speech, one day before the government is set to signal its priorities in its own throne speech.
The NDP’s document was focused squarely on the province’s response to the pandemic, which it considers inadequate.
“You, as a Manitoban, have sacrificed so much this year,” the NDP leader said, referring to the social and economic effects of the pandemic.
“When you look at the work that the government is putting in to staffing these [COVID-19] testing sites, can you honestly say that they’ve matched your commitment with an equivalent level of effort on the other side? I don’t think so.”
Kinew accused Premier Brian Pallister’s government of moving slowly to beef up staffing levels at testing sites. The province has faced mounting criticism as people wait hours for a test, with some being turned away.
He called on the province to actively recruit recently retired nurses by knocking on doors. The government has already invited former nurses back to work during the pandemic, but Kinew argued the province needs to double-down.
He also said the province has an abundance of trained nurses who aren’t working in their field because their foreign training isn’t accredited locally. The province should fast-track the process to recognize their training, Kinew said.
Let Manitobans book tests: NDP
In addition to bolstering the number of staff at existing testing sites, the NDP wants the government to expand hours and establish more screening locations so people anywhere in the province can book appointments — an option at some testing sites, but one which is not available right now for many Manitobans.
Health Minister Cameron Friesen has promised that his government would double the number of Winnipeg testing sites over the next few weeks.
The NDP is also pushing to make masks mandatory indoors across the province. Face coverings are currently mandatory in the Winnipeg capital region, which is in the orange, or “restricted,” level on the province’s pandemic response system, but not the entire province.
The Tories squandered the two months at the start of the pandemic when Manitobans were in lockdown, Kinew said, and the government should have been ready for the expected second wave of the virus.
“It’s time to have a government that matches your commitment.”
The NDP’s alternative throne speech also included calls to hire more teachers and education staff to ensure maximum class sizes of 15 students.
The party is also advocating for rent relief for small businesses and more child-care funding.
The New Democrats offered no cost estimate for their ideas.
Kinew said the next legislative session, which opens on Wednesday, will include roughly half the usual number of MLAs sitting in the chamber, who will have to wear masks while moving around.
The remaining MLAs will be part of the proceedings virtually through Zoom, and will be visible to their colleagues through two big-screen televisions in the chamber.
The NDP leader wouldn’t say if his party would attempt to delay the government from passing any of its bills, as it did in the spring before the pandemic temporarily halted the legislative session.
The government announced last week it would return to the legislature in a new session, which means the previous bills in the queue have been quashed and must be re-introduced, if the government still wants them passed.
Premier Pallister said in September his party would pursue the same legislative agenda it set forth before the COVID-19 pandemic derailed normal business.
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