We’re living in rough times to say the least, and as much as things seem to be changing around us, some things continue on as they have before. One of those things (for better or worse, depending on where you sit) is political polling. While our minds are on Ukraine, or inflation, or COVID, political life is still going on and our pollsters are out there tracking peoples’ opinions. While it may not thrill many, I take it as a healthy thing for our democracy to see.

This week we saw the regular Angus Reid reporting on the popularity of provincial premiers, something that is of increased interest to certain provinces facing elections this year, like Ontario and Quebec. Others like Alberta and Manitoba will be facing the voters in 2023, and leadership machinations and politics are surely there. So it’s with interest to see results like these:

Not a lot of shocking numbers there, especially for premiers like Houston, Ford and Kenney. Quebec’s François Legault’s personal popularity seems to be coming back to earth a bit, but facing a spectacularly divided opposition, he seems to be cruising to a massive sweep in the Fall. But the number that really jumped out at me was the -29% of Manitoba’s new Premier Heather Stefanson.

She’s not been in the job that long, after replacing the extremely unpopular Brian Pallister. The hope was that putting a new face on this government that’s more than a little long in the tooth could help resuscitate their fortunes. With numbers like those, it appears that isn’t happening. It makes you wonder what exactly is driving that, as the further you get away from the leadership of the former Premier, the more the results fall on the shoulders of the new one.

With that in mind, a story came across my social media feed around the same time as those polling numbers. The story was about Krystal Mousseau, who died in May 2021 after a failed attempt to airlift her to an Ottawa hospital. A member of Ebb and Flow First Nation, Mousseau suffered “what the province described as “serious and undesired” unintended consequences as she was being transferred from a ground ambulance to an airplane at the Brandon airport during the height of the third wave of COVID-19.” She died a day later after the incident. She was 31 years old.

Since then the Manitoba NDP of Wab Kinew have been calling for an inquiry into what happened here, how this came to be and how this could be avoided in the future. The Manitoba government has been criticized for their COVID response, and it was one of the big factors that took down Pallister. Even after the change in leadership at the top of the Manitoba Conservatives, the response to these things hasn’t changed, as CBC Manitoba’s Bartley Kives aptly pointed out a few days ago:

“Would, coulda, shoulda”. That sounds pretty cold to hear it when you’re talking about peoples lives and loved ones dying. Like it or not, that has been part of the context in which the questions about the death of Krystal Mousseau are being asked, looking for the Stefanson government to act accordingly. Kinew asked Stefanson again about this issue in the Manitoba Legislature on Tuesday, and her response left my jaw on the floor:

Look folks, when I heard about this exchange on Twitter, I hadn’t first seen the video, so my natural inclination was to believe that Stefanson couldn’t have possible been so tone deaf in the moment. But then I saw the video above, and it confirmed just how bloody tone deaf she was. Seriously, who in their right mind takes a serious question about the death of a young woman and instead of answering it fulsomely and thoughtfully, answers instead with congrats to their kid’s hockey team. Seriously, in what bloody university is that acceptable in any way, shape or form? It was the very first question that she got that day, and if she wanted to throw an attaboy in there at some point about her son’s hockey team, surely as Premier she was going to have ample opportunity to do it. She didn’t need to do that there.

What makes it worse is, as Kinew pointed out, is that Mousseau had children of her own too. Mousseau’s children aren’t going to get to experience being on the receiving end of “proud mum moments” because the healthcare system failed their mother to her lethal detriment. Maybe instead of remembering “that we need to take time to celebrate our kids”, Premier Stefanson should have remembered the Mousseau’s children, who are mourning their biggest loss in life and will never have the chance to have their mother celebrate their achievements again.

As Kinew rightly pointed out in a calm and respectful tone, “Krystal Mousseau’s children will not be able to have their mother at the important moments of their lives, and that’s why we are bringing these questions forward.” You know, the questions that Stefanson chose not to answer right away in that exchange in a manner that left me shaking my head. I know that not every politician has great judgement, but what does it say about where your head is at as a leader when you find yourself mistakes like that on such important matters.

When you see episodes like that, terrible leadership polling like we saw at the start of this piece makes more sense. It also makes more sense when you change the voice at the top, but apparently change little else about how you speak, act or govern. The fact remains the Mousseau’s family, children and community deserve proper answers to why their beloved Krystal was taken from far too soon. They deserve a government and a Premier who delivers that, and does so with empathy. That’s not what they got on Tuesday, which says a lot more about the state of Manitoba’s Conservatives than they’d like it to. And it shows that those low approval numbers are not an aberration, but increasingly earned by the current occupant of the Premiers office.