Opposition in the age of COVID-19: How MLAs try to get things done

Tom Lindsey knows the NDP is fighting an uphill battle while advocating for more COVID-19 measures. The Flin Flon MLA is practicing social distancing while working with his fellow opposition MLAs to influence the ruling Progressive Conservative (PC) party.

“I don’t think [the PCs] have been as receptive as they could be,” he said.

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“Obviously, whether in a crisis or not, we're never going to get everything we asked for and we wouldn't expect that. Otherwise, we'd be the ones in charge. It's about listening to what the opposition parties are saying, what's important to their constituents, then finding that balance to make sure that people are being looked after.”

The ruling PC party has 38 seats in the legislature. Opposition parties hold 15 seats between the NDP and Manitoba Liberal Party.

“Nobody wants to be the one standing outside throwing stones, but the Manitoba government has been really slow in things that are going to be really helpful financially for people.” Lindsey said.

“They’ve talked about money towards research, which is great. They talked about helping corporations, but they haven’t really put money towards making sure people aren't going to lose their houses and how people are going to survive.”

Lindsey said the federal government has stepped up to provide that individual help and he’d like to see the provincial government step up.

“The provincial government has taken a back seat I think, to let the feds announce financial stuff,” he said.

“We can learn a lot from other jurisdictions.”

Lindsey, along with NDP MP Niki Ashton, is asking the Manitoba government to give more details on COVID-19 cases in the north. Lindsey said making more information available for northern cases is important.

“We have linkages to different communities,” he said.

“If there’s a case in Flin Flon, for people in Cross Lake or Tadoule Lake, it doesn't concern them. If there’s a case in Thompson, they would be concerned, because those are the trading centers. That's where the people go for medical, that's where the people go for dental, that's where people go for groceries.”

Provincial chief provincial health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said the province does not want to give more details on location because all Manitobans should be practicing social distancing.

That attitude isn’t matching what Lindsey is seeing inside the communities he represents.

“I agree everybody should be doing the right things, but everybody isn't,” he said.

“[Announcing a location] stops a lot of the rumours and speculation.”

Premier Brian Pallister has held near-daily updates and media conferences announcing new plans and policies. Provincial health officials have provided daily briefings on COVID-19.

Lindsey said it’s easy for opposition parties to get lost in the shuffle, now that most communication is done through email.

“When we’re in the house, at least I can go over and talk to the minister or go to the minister’s office to try and get answers,” he said.

“It’s a little more difficult now.”

Lindsey thinks his job description as an opposition MLA hasn’t changed with the current crisis.

“[We] advocate for people that have issues and try to convince the government to do the right thing,” he said.

“There's people that are losing their jobs or people are in danger of losing even their rental accommodation. [We’re] making sure that all those issues get brought up.”

Lindsey said the NDP is working to expand childcare coverage, provide more direct support for small businesses and individuals and hold off different bills.

“Lots of times you don't get press coverage on the national press or the provincial on those kinds of things because they are focused more on what the government is saying,” he said.

“At the end of the day, they're the ones making the decisions.”

Manitoba MLAs will gather in the legislature April 15 to vote on proposed bills dealing with COVID-19.

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