New report highlights the risks of privatizing Manitoba Government Air Services

“The study released today reinforces what our members, including pilots, nurses and other frontline staff have been telling us: privatizing this essential service will either increase costs or put Manitobans at risk." — Michelle Gawronsky, MGEU President

Winnipeg (26 July 2018) — A new report shows the proposal to privatize Manitoba Government Air Services (MGAS), which includes Lifeflight Air Ambulance and forest fire suppression, is too risky and will not generate savings without compromising quality and safety.

Privatization will increase costs and put Manitobans at risk

Following government actions indicating they were pursuing privatizing MGAS services, the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union (MGEU/NUPGE) commissioned Breakwater Group, independent research consultants, to study the impacts of potential privatization on service quality and costs.

“This study reinforces what our members, including pilots, nurses and other frontline staff have been telling us: privatizing this essential service will either increase costs or put Manitobans at risk,” said Michelle Gawronsky, MGEU President. “In fact, according to medical staff interviewed in this report, some said they would resign over issues of patient and personal safety if Lifeflight is privatized.” 

Current system has high operational standards and effectiveness 

The report highlights how the current model has many advantages and a strong track record, including:

  • a highly experienced staff with top caliber training who have contributed both nationally and internationally to technological innovations and training
  • a stellar safety record with no serious injuries or fatalities
  • a dedicated fleet of modern, superior waterbombers and Lifeflight jets committed to protecting Manitobans.

“Commercial private delivery has some significant disadvantages to what is currently being delivered. Given the current high operational standards and effectiveness, privatization seems like an unnecessary risk,” said Jesse Hajer, an economist and one of the report’s authors.

Northern communities deserve quality service and protection

The report also suggests that the structure of MGAS and the broader industry characteristics make it difficult for private carriers, particularly when providing emergency services, to outperform public delivery.  Other notable sections of the report include the following points:

  • MGAS is licensed to land its much faster Lifeflight jet in many small communities with shorter runways where private carriers would be required to use a much slower aircraft to transport critically ill patients.
  • The MGAS jet supports successful organ transplants by making it possible to fly an organ across the country without a fuel stop, whereas, private charters often need to stop to refuel, putting the patient at risk and potentially compromising the integrity of the organ.
  • Manitoba Conservation currently receives 165 days of fire suppression coverage from MGAS, longer than typical private contracts, ensuring that spring and fall fires are covered at a fixed cost.

“It is Manitoba’s rural and northern communities that will face lower quality service under this privatization scheme,” said Jennifer Keith, the report’s co-author. 

Simply put, privatizing Lifeflight and fire suppression will reduce the quality and speed of lifesaving emergency services to rural and northern Manitoba. 

“Do the lives of those living in Northern Manitoba mean that much less to this government? Accessing medical services is hard enough for families living in remote locations — why make it even harder for them?” questioned Gawronsky 

MGEU/NUPGE represents approximately 70 workers at MGAS.

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The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE