Of museums, senior care and transparency

Earlier this month the Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba, the Honourable Janice Filmon, opened the doors to Government House and launched a new series of casual get-togethers she calls “Conversations and Celebrations”.

I was privileged to attend the inaugural session on May 8 centered on the theme of building community. As speakers, the Lieutenant Governor had collected a group of north end Winnipeg street fighters to shine a light into some of Manitoba’s darkest corners and share what it is that motivates them to keep working in the emotional trenches.

The common denominator is all three presenters: social worker Mitch Bourbonniere; Bear Clan leader James Favel and Michael Redhead Champagne the founder of Aboriginal Youth Opportunities, were driven to find a way to work from within after being frustrated by a system they felt lacked transparency.

The Lieutenant Governor said she had chosen these three because she was riveted by their work in helping youth at risk in Manitoba and wanted more people to have the opportunity to learn their stories beyond the newspaper headlines that attracted her to them.

Bourbonniere and Favel always fight at street-level to help some of Winnipeg’s most disadvantaged while Champagne finds himself stepping off the street on occasion to work within government committees and commissions, but all related they share a common frustration: dealing with the government in finding resources and better avenues of communication to help them deliver.

It’s an all too common complaint.

As citizens, we demand of our elected officials, not only to lead and guide, but also to communicate clearly and openly. When transparency isn’t evident, the citizenry rise up to make heated demands of its elected officials and frustration levels rise accordingly.

In the past month frustration levels in Portage la Prairie have risen over senior care, the Fort la Reine Museum and the economy. The citizenry remains frustrated today over all three of these issues after only being spoon-fed muffled, obtuse or delayed answers to each.

On May 10 concerned family members of residents in Lions Prairie Manor travelled to the legislature to be in the gallery as Liberal Health Critic MLA Jon Gerrard introduced his ‘Treating Our Elders With Dignity’ report outlining alleged cases of senior abuse at the important Portage la Prairie senior’s home.

Lynn White, Dot Sloik, Christy Klassen, Tanya Fries, Barb Lilley and Pauline Love are among the brave to sign their name to the report asking Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen to investigate their serious concerns.

It is suspected neither of these children of seniors at the centre would have felt it necessary to be part of the report had they understood Lions Prairie Manor in Portage la Prairie was already under investigation by Protection of Persons in Care Office (PPCO).

Instead, the report from an opposition party forced the ruling party’s hand to reveal the centre is under investigation. We have to wait 60 days to learn its findings. Nothing about care improvement at the centre in the interim.

No transparency, but at least the government is forced to act to a deadline.

Yes, there is an investigation into allegations of senior abuse at the centre.

Yes, because it is an investigation that may result in legal decisions being made, maybe charges, some information cannot be made public as to not negatively affect the outcome.

But…lots can be said and isn’t being said.

This isn’t the first time a senior centre comes under investigation.

Here’s what’s always learned: the facility is underfunded, understaffed, some staff are forced to undertake care functions they have not been trained for or are outside of their job description.

Lions Prairie Manor staff and management don’t wake up each morning plotting as to how they can torture those in their care! The large majority have chosen to work in this field because they are caring, warm professionals with the clients’ best interests at heart. And yes, there are always the bad apples — very much the exception than the rule. Remember, for every negative story about care there, there is a dozen great ones.

Gerrard’s report alleges some pretty serious lapses in care at the home and that has quite a few Portage la Prairie families worried about their loved ones living there.

“It was never a witch hunt,” Lynn White tells The Portage Citizen. “It was because we were unable to get accountability or acknowledgement in dealing with the care of our vulnerable loved ones. Repeated requests for meeting went unanswered and ignored…we could get no answers to issues and concerns within the manor (so) we went outside as advised in the resident information handbook to PPCO.”

White’s father is a resident at the manor. White wrote in the report that her dad was left unattended in a bathroom for 45 minutes.

These Portage families deserve better comfort than what Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen has told them.

Fort la Reine Museum

Recently a meeting was held by the newly formed “Friends of the Fort la Reine Museum”, a group concerned about what is happening at the museum.

The Fort la Reine Museum board did not renew an employment contract with Tracey Turner, its executive director/curator of seven years.

The Fort la Reine Museum board has the complete right to sign or not sign contracts, but with less than two weeks before the Manitoba Star Attraction facility was set to open not to, left its decision wide open to not only public criticism, but a rumour mill that jumped straight away into high gear and is still gaining momentum. I will not be surprised to see lawyers become involved in this.

The board could have released something like ‘We thank Tracey for her hard work and dedication over the past seven years and for turning the museum into the success it is today’, but it didn’t.

Instead, the Fort la Reine Museum board chair Dale Wood said the museum is going in a different direction.

(see Mitchell Omichinski letter to the editor ‘Museum board rebuke stings’ and Ron and Shelley Stewart letter, Decision will cost tourism dollars)

The rumour mill dragged Turner through the mud as well as praised her for being the best thing that has ever happened to the museum. I have not heard a rumour praising the museum board.

The meeting last week attracted about 75 people including Turner’s daughter who worked at the museum.

Portage la Prairie City Councillor Brent Froese was the only local government official who attended. All city, RM councillors and the museum board were invited. He made it clear he was attending the meeting as a citizen, not on behalf of the city. He assured Friends of the Fort la Reine Museum he would bring their concerns to city council.

It was mostly a Turner love fest with only one person speaking in support of the board’s decision.

The board’s lack of transparency resulted in that meeting being assembled. Now the Friends of the Fort la Reine Museum are deciding what to do next.

Mitchell Omichinski, one of the group’s organizers told The Portage Citizen, “my father (Joe) was an RM councillor for decades. He would have been really angry if someone from his council didn’t attend a meeting such as this. Where’s the accountability?”

Again, a lack of transparency will drive change.

Maybe the Friends of the Fort la Reine Museum will try and become the group to manage the museum! It was a topic at the meeting that kept coming up.

The economy

Starting about a month ago rumours began to run through Portage la Prairie Roquette was finished here.

Work at the site had come to a halt — this much is true — but no local government official would confirm anything strange or negative was happening. When construction halts at a half billion-dollar project, it doesn’t go unnoticed. It doesn’t go untalked about, either.

The rumours persisted for weeks until they finally hit the floor of the Manitoba Legislature. Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives Minister Ralph Eichler had to assure Manitobans — not Portagers — the pea protein plant’s future is not jeopardized.

We’ll never know the whole story, but the official line is that it is a big undertaking and “we want to measure twice and cut only once,” a Roquette spokesman said.

There were a few nervous people in Portage.

What a government lacks in transparency will always show in how angry its citizens are!

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