Manitoba Health, Seniors and Active Living Minister Cameron Friesen speaks during the daily briefing at the Manitoba Legislative Building, in Winnipeg, Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/David Lipnowski)

WINNIPEG — Manitoba’s health minister is facing criticism after questioning a letter written by doctors about the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cameron Friesen told a legislature committee he wonders about the motivation behind the letter, which he says was issued at a time when the doctors knew it would cause chaos.

The letter, signed by 200 medical doctors and scientists, said the pandemic is spiralling out of control in Manitoba because case numbers have been rising and outbreaks have been occurring at long-term care homes.

The letter also said Manitoba is in “grave peril,” based on international modelling that forecasts how high case numbers could rise.

Friesen said he knows that doctors want the best for their patients, but Manitobans need to know that people in charge of the health system are on top of the issue.

The Opposition New Democrats said Friesen’s comments are disrespectful and one of the doctors who signed the letter called Friesen’s words disgraceful.

“Minister Friesen’s assertion that … physicians and PhDs are conspiring to sow chaos during a public health crisis tells us that this minister has totally missed the bigger picture,” Dr. Jillian Horton wrote in an email.

“That the minister of Health would question the motivations of Manitoba doctors — who put their lives on the line every day — is more than disrespectful,” NDP Leader Wab Kinew said in a written statement.

“It’s an attempt to undermine confidence in our front line health workers and it is yet another comment from this minister that disregards public health science.”

Friesen made the comments Tuesday while appearing before a legislature committee that is examining the provincial Health department’s budget.

“I have to wonder about the motivation of those doctors who signed that letter,” Friesen said.

“And I know many of them and I will talk to many of them. And I get it, they’re scared and they want the best for their patients and I absolutely agree. But I wonder at the motivation to produce that letter, to generate it at a time when they knew it would have maximum effect in causing chaos in the system, when Manitobans need most to understand that the people in charge have got this.”

Manitoba’s Health Minister says of the 200+ Doctors who signed an open letter to him & the Premier:
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“I have to wonder about the motivation of those Doctors.”
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As far as I know those doctors are motivated by the desire to care for MBs.
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The Minister should say what he means. pic.twitter.com/GLLQ5RGMlW