'Seeds of division:' Indigenous leaders criticize Brian Pallister's vaccine comments
Published Friday, December 4, 2020 6:27PM CST
Manitoba premier Brian Pallister speaks to media prior to the reading of the Speech from the Throne at the Manitoba Legislature in Winnipeg, Wednesday, October 7, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
WINNIPEG -- Manitoba's premier is facing backlash from Indigenous leaders for comments criticizing Ottawa's planning for COVID-19 vaccine distribution among First Nations.
"Instead of uniting Manitobans during a health crisis, Brian Pallister is purposefully sowing seeds of division and hate," Southern Chiefs' Organization Grand Chief Jerry Daniels said Friday.
Pallister criticized the federal government's national vaccine rollout strategy during a news conference Thursday.
The Progressive Conservative premier said Ottawa has plans to distribute the vaccine on a per-capita basis.
"They are also telling us that they are going to hold back the portion of our vaccine for Manitoba that they would then allocate to Indigenous and First Nations communities," Pallister said.
"What that would mean than is Manitobans who do not live in northern Indigenous communities would be the least likely to get a vaccine in the country."
Manitoba has the highest percentage of Indigenous people in its population of all the provinces. The premier said the results would be unfair.
"This puts Manitobans at the back of the line. This hurts Manitobans, to put it mildly," he said.
The premier has since reached out to Indigenous leaders to arrange a meeting to discuss the rollout, Daniels said.
The grand chief added that he has "no interest in meeting with a premier who race baits and plays loosely with the inter-governmental relationships."
Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew called Pallister's comments unfortunate.
"The premier is trying to divide team Manitoba and have it turn in on itself at a time when we are actually asking everyone to do the exact opposite," Kinew said.
When asked about vaccine distribution plans Friday, federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said there have been conversations with provincial and territorial leaders "to assess what their perspective is."
"There is a federal role to play in protecting a certain amount of product -- whether we're talking about vaccines or personal protective equipment -- for federal populations that we're responsible for, as well as for urgent situations," she said.
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas also criticized Pallister for giving people the false idea that all vaccine doses would be going to people in the north.
A significant surge of COVID-19 infections has disproportionately affected First Nations people in Manitoba during the second wave of the pandemic.
There were 625 new cases in on- and off- reserve populations in the last seven days, according to data from the First Nations COVID-19 Pandemic Response Coordination Team in Manitoba.
First Nations people make up 30 per cent of all people in hospital and 42 per cent of those in intensive care.
The five-day test positivity rate among First Nations people in Manitoba is 20 per cent.
Chief Eric Redhead of the Shamattawa First Nation posted online Friday that there were 117 active infections in the northern Manitoba community of about 1,100. Its five-day test positivity rate was more than 50 per cent.
"We are literally at a breaking point," Redhead said.
Redhead said health professionals with the rapid response team in Shamattawa have also tested positive or are isolating due to exposure. He has called on the federal government to provide military help.
Manitoba released new modelling Friday that shows that three people end up in hospital and one person dies for every 48 cases of COVID-19.
"We need to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our communities or we will continue to see these harsh effects," said Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba's chief public health officer.
The province recorded nine more deaths from COVID-19 and 320 new infections Friday. There were also 361 people in hospital with 55 in intensive care.
The province brought in tighter public health measures last month, with restrictions on public gatherings and business openings.
Roussin said that if no measures had been put in place, there would have been up to 1,055 new daily infections by Sunday. Daily cases have recently been tracking between 300 and 500.
But Roussin said the test positivity rate remains too high. The five-day test positivity rate was 13.4 per cent provincially and 14.6 per cent in Winnipeg.
"It's too early to say we are changing trajectory."
The restrictions expire next Friday, and Roussin said he expects the majority will stay in place.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4, 2020.