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Manitoba has a new health minister who, like his predecessor, won’t be the government’s spokesman on women’s reproductive health or reproductive rights.

Cameron Friesen, who was appointed to the new position Wednesday after being finance minister since 2016, said Rochelle Squires, the minister responsible for the status of women, will continue to represent the government on those files.

“In my conversations thus far with the premier, I believe that we will continue in the same approach that we’ve done thus far with those issues entrusted to the minister responsible for women’s issues,” Friesen said.

“I don’t think that there’s any Manitoban who is disputing the fact that health is big. So I believe I will have plenty to occupy my time with. That minister (Squires) has already some expertise with her time on that file.”

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Manitoba has a new health minister who, like his predecessor, won’t be the government’s spokesman on women’s reproductive health or reproductive rights.

Cameron Friesen, who was appointed to the new position Wednesday after being finance minister since 2016, said Rochelle Squires, the minister responsible for the status of women, will continue to represent the government on those files.

"In my conversations thus far with the premier, I believe that we will continue in the same approach that we’ve done thus far with those issues entrusted to the minister responsible for women’s issues," Friesen said.

"I don’t think that there’s any Manitoban who is disputing the fact that health is big. So I believe I will have plenty to occupy my time with. That minister (Squires) has already some expertise with her time on that file."

The NDP repeatedly criticized former health minister Kelvin Goertzen for deflecting questions about abortions and the pregnancy-termination medication Mifegymiso to Squires.

Rochelle Squires: remains spokeswoman</p></p>

Rochelle Squires: remains spokeswoman

NDP health critic Andrew Swan went on the offensive again Wednesday.

"It’s weird to have another male health minister who is not allowed to talk about female parts. Look: women’s reproductive health is very important — not just to 50 per cent of the population, but to most of the population," Swan said.

"And to have a health minister... to have a new male minister who’s not going to talk about things like the abortion pill, who’s not going to talk about providing reproductive services is a big mistake and it’s not fair to Manitoba women."

In an interview, Squires said she is proud to advance women’s issues and is "always passionate about all things pertaining to women and equality in the province of Manitoba." She talked about teamwork among cabinet ministers and said Premier Brian Pallister has empowered all members to work together.

"It’s an honour to be the minister responsible for the status of women and I will continue to do that. I will also be hosting my first gender-based violence committee of cabinet very soon. It is something that we had announced awhile ago because it’s reflective of women’s issues, they transcend all cabinet portfolios and all government departments. So it’s really bringing all ministers together so that we can ensure that we’re advancing women’s issues at an appropriate pace," she said.

Nadine Sookermany, executive director of the Women’s Health Clinic in Winnipeg, was critical of the government.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS </p><p>Women’s Health Clinic boss Nadine Sookermany says the approach is unfair to women.</p></p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Women’s Health Clinic boss Nadine Sookermany says the approach is unfair to women.

"In (Wednesday’s) cabinet shuffle, the government... had an opportunity to respond to the concerns raised by Manitobans about not including abortion under the health portfolio and they chose not to respond. Continuing to exclude reproductive and sexual health from the health portfolio, while continuing to place it under the status of women, dismisses it from being a health issue," she wrote in an email.

"An abortion is one of the most common medical procedures Canadians receive. While we appreciate Minister Squires’ work on access to abortion, in order to further promote access for northern and rural areas, this health service needs to be provided within the framework of an equitable health care policy and not simply women’s rights. Health care is health care."

On Thursday, the Free Press asked spokespeople from all provincial and territorial health offices whether their health ministers were responsible for discussing women’s health issues, or if they relegated the duty to another minister. Seven of 13 responded.

Representatives from British Columbia, Alberta, Yukon, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador said their health ministers are in charge of women’s health duties. A spokesperson from Nova Scotia said their health department provides leadership and will consult with other authorities, like a status of women council, as needed.

In Saskatchewan, some health-care issues "have wide implications for all of government and therefore require ministers from different portfolios to collaborate," a government spokesperson said in an email, noting these decisions are "made on a case-by-case basis."

jessica.botelho@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @_jessbu

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski
Legislature reporter

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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