Health Minister Erin Selby sinks to new low | Columnists | Opinion | Winnipeg Sun

Health Minister Erin Selby sinks to new low | Columnists | Opinion | Winnipeg Sun.

Health Minister Erin Selby sinks to new low
BY TOM BRODBECK ,WINNIPEG SUN
FIRST POSTED: THURSDAY, MARCH 27, 2014 04:35 PM CDT | UPDATED: THURSDAY, MARCH 27, 2014 04:49 PM CDT

I’ve covered a lot of legislative committee meetings in Manitoba over the past 17 years. But I’ve never witnessed one where a minister stooped as low as Health Minister Erin Selby did this week when she played gutter politics with the tragic deaths of 12 babies at Health Sciences Centre in 1994.

Opposition Tory health critic Myrna Driedger was asking Selby questions during the first day of health estimates Wednesday, a budget-related process where departmental spending is reviewed at the committee stage.

The topic was largely about the Selinger government’s controversial ambulance helicopter program — the subject of a scathing review released last week by Manitoba’s auditor general.

Selby refused to directly answer any of the questions about the program, including why government did not tender the contract and why it ignored the findings of a 2009 feasibility report that called for a needs assessment process.

The rookie health minister repeatedly responded with a handful of irrelevant stock answers that had nothing to do with the questions, followed by partisan attacks against opposition members at the committee table. It was a remarkable level of arrogance for such a new minister and a surprising amount of contempt shown towards the people who pay her salary — taxpayers.

After all, the estimates process is one of the few times cabinet ministers have to answer detailed questions publicly about departmental expenditures and operations. Instead of answering the quesitions, though, Selby responded by accusing the opposition of things like “firing 1,000 nurses” in the 1990s under the former Filmon government, “cutting $37 million from rural hospitals,” and giving an untendered contract to a health consultant more than 20 years ago.

“Previous governments, the previous Conservative government, entered an untendered contract with Connie Curran with the sole purpose of cutting $64 million from health care,” Selby said, when asked why the Selinger government didn’t sign an interim contract with STARS while tendering out the long-term contract. “And we know that that resulted in firing of 1,000 nurses.”

But it was during repeated questioning from Driedger about the age of the STARS helicopter that Selby trotted out the most crass and distasteful response when she made an irrelevant reference to the 12 babies who died during pediatric surgery at Health Sciences Centre in 1994.

“We know how things were done when they were in office, Mr. Chair, they ignored problems — they swept them under the rug,” said Selby. “And it is hard for me to imagine, but they allowed 12 babies to die and still didn’t take into consideration what happened to learn from such devastation that those families went through.”

The pediatric surgical deaths was a horrifying period for the families involved and a very dark time for Manitoba’s medical community. An inquest into the fatalities by then associate chief judge Murray Sinclair identified a number of serious shortcomings within the surgical program, which was shut down as a result of the deaths. Selby’s decision to open a wound from 20 years ago and attempt to profit politically from the misery these families went through was nothing short of despicable.

It’s bad enough the minister childishly refused to answer any of the questions asked of her about the STARS helicopter and why taxpayers are doling out $10 million a year for it, in return for only a fraction of the missions that were promised.

It’s even worse she would try to capitalize politically on the death of infants to do it, especially when the pediatric surgeries had nothing whatsoever to do with an ambulance helicopter 20 years later.

This former CityTV Breakfast Television host is clearly in over her head.