Reflecting on year as Minister of Health

MLA for Morden-Winkler Cameron Friesen (right) met with constituents at his Christmas Coffee on December 14. (LAUREN MACGILL, Winkler Times)

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MLA for Morden-Winkler and Minister of Health, Seniors and Active Living Cameron Friesen held his yearly Christmas Coffee with constituents on December 14, to hear from constituents before the end of the year.

Friesen underwent a big transition this year, moving from his post of Minister of Finance to become the Minister of Health, Seniors and Active Living.

While he was Minister of Finance, he said he was proud of the work the government did to move the needle on the deficit.

“We were losing the confidence of investors, we were losing the confidence of our bankers after years and years of chronic overspending,” he said. “To be able to not just manage, but to manage down that deficit in a slow-growth economic environment, we’re very proud of that. We’re not there yet, but we’re proud of that work we’ve done.”

Friesen said it has taken him some time to adapt to the change in his job description, but said he has been intentional in what he has been focusing on.

Friesen pointed to the recent proposed change in legislation to allow health care providers to share personal health care information if they believe doing so would reduce the risk of harm being done to them or anyone else.

“We’ve had some tragedies in this province when someone who was at risk to themself was allowed to be discharged from hospital who had a mental health issue,” he said. “We knew at that time clinicians didn’t feel like they had the power to tell someone.”

Friesen said it even has the support of opposition parties and is heading to the next stage. “Some Manitobans may say that seems like a small thing,” he said. “I assure you that whenever we can do something that will save lives it’s no small thing.”

Moving into 2019, Friesen said he expects to see the government continue to focus on growing usage of methamphetamines.

“You can expect us to be announcing more initiatives to address both the need for in-facility care for addictions but also other initiatives that we believe will significantly move the needle,” he said. “It’s a huge challenge we’re facing and we’re not going to solve it in the Department of Health. It is a justice issue, it is a health issue, it’s a policing issue. We need to do things that work, we need to talk to our neighbours and we’ll keep doing that.”

Friesen said the government must do a better job of explaining the ‘why’ of health care to Manitobans. “Manitobans are coming to know we’re changing health care and that we want to consolidate some things to make them work better and lower wait times,” he said. “Manitobans need to know why. We want a better system that provides better care sooner to all Manitobans and we believe that goal is actually in sight.”

The coffee event was also to focus on concerns of local residents. Because Morden and Winkler are rapidly growing areas, Friesen said he hears many immigration concerns. “Because there are people in stream for applications and things sometimes can go sideways or the wait times can start to tick up, we’ve got issues pertaining to immigration,” he said.

Of course, education is always high on the list of concerns from Morden residents. “There is a growing community here and a growing school-age population,” Friesen said. “I continue to say for Western School Division that the school division articulating the growth of student population and the pressure it puts on the existing infrastructure will be the best advocacy we can do with the government to continue to make the case that it’s time for a new school.”

Issues like roads and affordable housing often come up, Friesen said. “We know that capacity in personal care homes continues to be an issue,” he said. “That’s why our government has made that pledge that we intend to build 1,200 beds over the course of eight years because our seniors need appropriate places to go.”

Friesen said at the end of the day events like his Christmas Coffee are the most important. “As a minister I have some significant demands on my time, but constituency responsibilities come first,” he said. “These are the people who elect me to be their representative. When we put a sign out and say ‘Come for coffee…’ we invariably find on a morning like this someone will find us who didn’t find us before. Someone will ask us for help with an issue they might not have before and they’re remembering and we’re reminding them that there’s a constituency office here to serve them.”