The following op-ed first appeared in print in the Thursday, June 22 edition of The Carillon. An online version of the article is not yet available. A link will be provided as soon as possible.


The Manitoba Health Coalition is a leading voice in the fight against efforts to privatize health care, such as the provincial government’s Surgical and Diagnostic Recovery Task Force’s decision to sign secretive contracts with out-of-province and out-of-country clinics. The Carillon’s Greg Vandermeulen has added to this debate with an editorial that includes several criticisms of our stance on this issue. We are grateful for the opportunity to respond.

While Mr. Vandermeulen acknowledges the high cost of these contracts, it is worth re-stating that they have taken up 18% of the Task Force’s budget ($24 million of the $110 million allotted) for just 1 percent of procedures (478 of 72,300). He suggests that the coalition has used this price tag as a “campaign opportunity.” This is not backed up by the facts. We have been concerned, from its inception, that the Task Force was set up to put private profit over public health-care solutions. 

The Task Force was established in December of 2021. In February of 2022 the coalition contracted with highly respected (and Manitoba-based) pollster Probe Research to query Manitobans on their preferred solution to ongoing backlogs and waitlists in the health system. The response was emphatic: 68 percent of respondents expressed their preference to hire and train more staff and purchase more equipment within the public health system; only 24 percent supported paying private health care providers (including some based in the U.S.) even if that meant some of these services could be delivered sooner.

On this, Manitobans are aligned with doctors and health care providers who have expressed concerns with the Task Force’s emphasis on contracting services out-of-province and ignoring solutions within the system.

As early as January of 2022 the Canadian Spine Society complained specifically that the deal with Sanford Health in North Dakota was a choice that would forego needed investments within Manitoba.

Dr. Dan Roberts - acting head of neurology at the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg - has publicly intervened twice. In April, he pointed to the province’s over-emphasis on sending patients out of province. In May,  he wrote of the frustration felt by doctors that carefully prepared proposals to improve capacity within the public system are being actively ignored by the Task Force.

While not related to the question of out-of-province contracts, this analysis is supported by the resignation of the lead specialists at the Sleep Clinic over the government’s contract with a private sleep-study provider, and the Task Force’s decision to publicly hold necessary investments in the public system hostage to a renewed contract with this private company.

While Mr. Vandermeulen states that these contracts should only be in place for the short-term, it should be noted that the Task Force continues to forge new agreements, including a round just finalized in March. As no timeline has been made available, we have no sense of when these contracts might end.

Mr. Vandermeulen’s argument rests on the fact that Manitoba is experiencing a shortage of healthcare professionals. In this he is, of course, correct. But here again we believe that the government’s choices play a big part. Despite its insistence on the merits of its Action Plan,

 it refuses to tell us how many health care professionals have left the system. We believe that the Task Force’s decision to bypass local solutions in favour of out-of-province contracts, and the provincial government’s refusal to take credible action on the health-care staffing crisis, must be considered as two parts of a whole. One becomes the justification for the other - leaving Manitobans to pay the price.

A final note: Mr. Vandermeulen does bring up the question of partisanship in relation to the fact that MHC’s board includes several labour representatives. This is true. We are also represented by fantastic community organizations (such as the Women’s Health Centre and Sunshine House) doing incredible work in our community and concerned individuals. We are proud to be a coalition that will fight for public health care regardless of which party forms government.

 We do wonder why the public contributions of the various chambers of commerce and business lobbies in our province are never prefaced in any such way. You don’t have to dig far for similar evidence. For instance, three of the last five Canadian Federation of Business representatives in Manitoba have either worked for, or even ran for, the provincial PCs - they are also billed as non-partisan.

Our belief is that all these organizations – business, labour and advocacy - have an important part to play in the democratic life of this province, and that we should be treated equally in the public conversation.

Thomas Linner is the provincial director of the Manitoba Health Coalition