TREATY 1 TERRITORY, WINNIPEG, MB – Manitoba Liberals say the PCs used an untendered contract to kill off Lifeflight, a 35-year public air ambulance company that served rural and Northern Manitoba, and have handed the business to an Alberta company, STARS, whose “Director of Development” is Colleen Mayer, a former PC Minister who was defeated in last year’s election.
Lifeflight was a top-quality air ambulance service that served rural and northern Manitoba, from towns such as Dauphin, Churchill, Thompson, and The Pas, to more than two dozen fly-in First Nations.
The PCs started destabilizing and undermining Lifeflight by selling away the fully-equipped jet ambulance that quickly brought doctors and nurses to remote communities — some of which lacked hospitals, ERs or doctors. Despite repeated promises from Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler that the service would not be privatized if the quality of service would be worse, Manitoba Liberal Health Critic Jon Gerrard says that is exactly what has happened.
“The PCs decision to use slower planes that can’t fly above bad weather has added hours to round-trip flights to remote communities, like Churchill, Tadoule Lake, Gillam and many First Nations,” said Gerrard. “If you’ve had a stroke, a heart attack or a serious accident, northern communities are going to have to an hour longer for first responders, and two hours longer to get back to an ER or ICU. Northern Manitobans’ should be worth the same as everyone else, but it’s not clear the Pallister PCs feel the same way.”
Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said that the Stars deal raises a number of red flags, given the company’s record of problems dating back years, in Manitoba and across Canada.
STARS’ first contract in 2011, an untendered contract for $159-million under the NDP, resulted in an investigation and report by the Auditor General of Manitoba, which concluded that “costs-per-mission were likely to be 231% to 618% higher than other province’s programs.”
In 2014, the Manitoba government had to ground STARS after three patients were deprived of oxygen on flights. One woman died and a 2014 review by B.C. Doctor Brian Wheeler found that “STARS air ambulance crews lack adequate training, are not familiar with pediatric patients and do not understand patient oxygen needs.”
In 2019, the Auditor General of Saskatchewan called for more oversight of the province’s STARS service.
Charity Intelligence, an independent agency that assesses Canadian charities, gave STARS a B- for its results reporting and pointed out that 26 cents of every dollar donated is spent on administration. STARS’ average compensation is $104,736, and the top ten salaries at the company are all over $160,000. The CEO makes over $350,000, and the company has over $40-million in reserves.
In 2001, the PC government in Nova Scotia chose not to renew STARS contract. At the time, Health Minister Jamie Muir told CBC, “the Tory government had fundamental differences with STARS,” and that, “STARS is a non-profit group which does corporate fundraising in an effort to offset its budget, and Muir says that made the province uncomfortable.”
“The Pallister PCs have taken an essential emergency service and used an untendered contract to hand it to a private not-for-profit whose local rep is a former PC Minister,” said Lamont. “The PCs promised not to privatize this service and they did. It’s clear they are more interested in feathering their friends’ nests than looking after Manitobans’ health or jobs.”