No evidence to support claim that health minister accused NDP critic of paying off nurses to quit: Speaker

The Speaker of the Manitoba Legislature has ruled she can’t find any evidence to support an allegation that the province’s health minister accused an Opposition critic of paying off nurses to quit their jobs.

The allegation arose last month, after several nurses with the sexual assault nurse examiner, or SANE, program at Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre resigned.

Uzoma Asagwara, the Opposition’s health critic, claimed in a tweet last month that during debate in the legislature about the issue, Progressive Conservative Health Minister Audrey Gordon accused them of paying the nurses to resign so the NDP could score a political victory.

The Union Station MLA, who uses they/them pronouns, brought the allegation up again during question period earlier this month, calling the allegation “outrageous” and a clear violation of the legislature’s procedures and practices.

“Specifically, the minister said ‘How much did you pay the nurses to resign?'” they said in the legislature on April 3, asking for an investigation into the accusation.

In her ruling announced on Wednesday, Manitoba Speaker Myrna Driedger said she couldn’t find anyone at fault because Hansard, the written transcription of what was said in the legislature, doesn’t include the comment Gordon was accused of making.

But Driedger noted Gordon was accused of making the statement while heckling during the debate, which doesn’t come up in the transcriptions.

“It does not mean the words were not said. However, if the words do not appear in Hansard, the Speaker really does not have the scope to make a ruling about the language used,” she said.

Gordon doesn’t deny making statement

Following Wednesday’s question period, Gordon told reporters that she is focused on the needs of Manitobans rather than “smear campaigns.”

When asked repeatedly by reporters to clarify whether or not she actually made the statement Asagwara claimed, Gordon did not specifically deny the allegation, but pointed to the transcripts.

“What I am saying is that Hansard is the official record of discussions that are held in the chamber, and Hansard shows that I did not speak that morning,” she said.

“The Speaker has made a ruling based on the matter of privilege that was brought forward. I respect the Speaker and I respect the ruling.”

Asagwara said they also respect Driedger’s ruling, but they weren’t impressed by Gordon’s response.

“I think it is pretty obvious that the minister did in fact make those incredibly offensive and false accusations toward me,” Asagwara told reporters after question period, claiming that multiple people heard Gordon make the accusation.

“The minister has not denied making that statement — she has simply used the procedures of the House to try and shield herself from accountability.”

A person is pictured speaking to the media.
‘The minister has not denied making that statement,’ NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara said after the Speaker’s ruling on Wednesday. (CBC)

Asagwara said their biggest concern about the alleged comment was “how a Minister of Health can possibly remain in her position when she makes those kinds of accusations about nurses in our province.”

While she didn’t admit to making the comment, Gordon said the incident is a reminder that members of the legislature need to set an example for the public.

“There’s a lot that is said during heckling — it’s just a reminder to us that Manitobans are watching.”

Driedger’s ruling reflected that sentiment as well.

“I am challenging all of us to do better when it comes to respectfully disagreeing, and that would include being careful about making allegations [and] attributing motives … when heckling,” she said.

The Speaker also mentioned that the upcoming provincial election has led to an increase in accusations being made by MLAs in the legislature.

“I am well aware that there is a provincial general election scheduled to take place in October, and perhaps due to this fact, rhetoric and accusations on both sides of the House have been ramping up.”