Government seeking proposals for air services from private companies

The Manitoba government announced July 26 that it had issued a request for proposals (RFP) to provide air services to the government to see if these services can be provided more cost effectively or with a higher level of service.

“Our government’s top priority is ensuring that safety and service standards remain high, and that these vital services are always available when Manitobans need them. If the RFP does not result in an outcome that is at least as safe and efficient as the current delivery model, we will not proceed,” said Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler in a news release, noting that virtually all of Manitoba’s air ambulance services and more than half of its overall air service needs are provided privately already. “None of those private services were ever tendered, nor do we do have binding service contracts. There is no guarantee of available aircraft, no service standards and insufficient safety requirements. That’s why it is often a challenge to provide air ambulance service to communities who need it most.”

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Recently elected St. Boniface MLA and Manitoba Liberal party leader Dougald Lamont said providing air ambulance services privately would prevent jets from flying into some northern communities because their airports have gravel runways.

“The Pallister government’s plan to privatize air ambulances means the best planes for the job can’t even land in 23 of the communities they are supposed to serve,” said Lamont. “This is reckless, ill-considered and if Minister Schuler is true to his word in saying they will not proceed with the RFP if it is less safe, it should be abandoned immediately.” 

Using propeller planes instead could be the difference between life and death, said Liberal health critic Dr. Jon Gerrard.

“In medical emergencies, like heart attack, strokes, or traumatic accidents, an extra hour of travel can make the difference between life and death,” he said.

Liberal Keewatinook MLA Judy Klassen, who represents some of those remote communities with gravel-runway airports, said the government is moving in the wrong direction.

“The province of Manitoba already has gaps in emergency services that need improving, but instead we are being put at greater risk,” Klassen said. “We need improved health care, not lower, slower care and response for northerners.”

The government said it would retain ownership of all its forest fire water bombers and that they would remain under the direction of Manitoba’s wildfire program regarding when and where they were deployed. They could still be deployed outside of the province as part of mutual assistance agreement with other provinces, but not without the provincial government’s assent. Most Canadian provinces supplement publicly operated forest firefighting planes with privately operated services, the provincial government says.

“Our decision-making is always guided by what’s best for Manitobans,” Schuler said. “This RFP process will be driven by evidence, not by ideology.  We will only proceed if the result will be a better level of service than is currently provided.”

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