WINNIPEG -- The official opposition is accusing the Pallister government of “flirting” with anti-maskers and refusing to criticize Manitobans who violate public health orders on face coverings.

“The health minister’s denial of a growing anti-mask movement shows just how out of touch he really is,” said NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara in a statement Thursday.

The comments come the same day Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen was asked by reporters if he was concerned by an anti-mask rally held in his constituency of Morden-Winkler on Tuesday, when hundreds of people gathered outside the Garden Valley School Division office to protest mandatory face-coverings in schools. 

“I don’t think it’s necessarily a growing anti-mask surge that’s happening there,” Friesen said.

“I have had a chance to speak as the local MLA to the groups that are voicing concerns about mask-use in education.”

Masks are mandatory on buses and for students in Grades 4-12, parents at the protest in Winkler voiced concerns face-coverings are causing psychological and physical harm to their children. 

“(The parents) are making some good points,” Friesen said. 

“Two metres at the desk you don’t have to wear a mask, but 1.7 metres and you do have to wear a mask, but if you’re seated and looking straight forward is it really necessary?” 

He added that based on conversations he’s had, he believes the group was “seeking to comply and seeking to be reasonable.”

“But I would say this to all Manitobans, COVID-19 is real and we need to take precautions and sometimes those precautions mean wearing masks,” Friesen said.

The NDP said Friesen’s remarks didn’t go far enough.

“The Pallister government should stop flirting with anti-maskers and instead show their clear support for science - everywhere in this province,” said Asagwara.