Manitoba spending almost $250K to tout 2022 budget, but nothing more on vaccination push

The Manitoba government is not running an advertising campaign to encourage people to get vaccinated against COVID-19, but it is spending money to promote its latest budget.

The province confirmed Tuesday it is committing nearly a quarter-million dollars to tout the accomplishments of the 2022 budget.

Opposition parties have criticized that advertising campaign, seen prominently on billboards across Winnipeg, as a more concerted public relations effort than what government is currently doing to boost vaccine uptake.

Manitoba has previously run promotional campaigns to promote vaccinations, but those efforts have ceased for the moment.

People line up outside Winnipeg’s RBC Convention Centre on July 14, 2021, to get COVID-19 vaccinations. The province is currently not participating in any advertising campaign to boost vaccine uptake, although it has in the past. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

At a news conference Tuesday morning, Health Minister Audrey Gordon rejected a question that suggested Manitoba could be doing more to spur vaccination rates.

“I disagree that the province isn’t doing more. We’re doing absolutely a lot to get that message out,” she said. 

“I myself was publicly vaccinated for my my third dose. We have social media campaigns running. I don’t know if you’ve taken a look lately at some of the [bus] benches in your areas you’re driving throughout your community, but we still have our COVID vaccine benches out.”

She also said she saw her own doctor last week.

“He was going through the electronic medical record system just to make sure that I had been triple dosed.… Our physicians are doing that; our pharmacists are doing the same.”

Several strategies to promote vaccination: minister

In response to a CBC reporter on Twitter, Gordon described billboards, newspaper ads and bus benches as “just a few of several strategies used to promote vaccinations.”

The bus benches that Gordon referenced, which she said are still in place in some locations, were part of a previous government advertising campaign. 

Manitobans rolled up their sleeves in droves for the first two vaccine doses, with more than 85 per cent of eligible people getting those shots. The province was also the first to limit certain venues to only fully vaccinated people, which was seen as having a beneficial impact in encouraging people to get their shot.

But the same isn’t true with third dose uptake. Just over half of Manitobans aged 12 and up had their third shot as of April 10, which is lower than the national average of 54.3 per cent. The province no longer has any public health orders that restrict the access of unvaccinated people.

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said the government’s advertising priorities are out of place.

“It would be great to see the kind of public relations campaign, advertising campaign they’ve put into promoting themselves and their budget and reopening,” he said.

Finance Minister Cameron Friesen is applauded by his Progressive Conservative colleagues in the chamber after delivering the 2022 provincial budget earlier this month. (David Lipnowski/The Canadian Press)

The campaign to advertise the budget started on April 13, with outdoor billboards, social media, digital display, print, radio and direct mail, the province said in an email. It’s slated to run for two-and-a-half weeks, but the billboards will be up for four weeks.

The advertising campaign is valued at $245,142, the spokesperson said in an email to CBC News at the end of the day on Tuesday.

When asked after to detail government spending on promoting COVID-19 vaccinations during the pandemic, the spokesperson said they didn’t have the time Tuesday to get an answer.

Twelve months ago, the province told CBC News it had spent more than $2 million to advertise various pandemic measures up until that point, ranging from general awareness ($575,000) to public health messaging ($940,000) and economic programs ($225,000).

NDP Leader Wab Kinew pressed the Progressive Conservative government on Tuesday to heighten its push for vaccinations, as hospitals are under strain. 

A rise in COVID-19 infections in Winnipeg has been driving up wait times for hospital emergency and urgent care departments, the head of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said in a recent email to staff. 

“As we see our hospitals overrun with patients and we see the health system straining under the impact of PC cuts, it seems like it’s a pretty common-sense intervention for us to throw more resources, more effort and more urgency behind the campaign to get more Manitobans vaccinated,” Kinew said.

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