NDP campaign to save ERs hits snag after someone hijacks site

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First Winnipeg ER shutdown to come this October

A campaign to save Winnipeg ERs spearheaded by Manitoba New Democrats has left the party name off signs and social media pages.

But it hit a snare Saturday after someone took over a campaign website, which now links to a story about a government scandal the NDP had while in power. 

For weeks, party members have been spearheading efforts against the Pallister government's sweeping changes that will shut down three of Winnipeg's six ERs.

Party members and former NDP staffers have held rallies and made at least two Facebookpages to save emergency rooms, but have left out mentioning any affiliations to the NDP.

On Saturday, Elmwood MLA Jim Maloway and four party members rallied outside the Victoria General Hospital holding bright yellow signs directing drivers to keepvictoriaeropen.com. 

But the website wasn't about ER closures — it relinks to a 2016 CBC article relating to the NDP Tiger Dam scandal.

"It seems a little bit amateurish to be advertising a website that you actually haven't bought the domain name for," said Royce Koop, a political studies professor at the University of Manitoba.

Maloway said he had no idea about the website. Instead, the NDP MLA said he's only involved in a campaign to save the Concordia ER and simply stopped by to support the rally.

The ER at Concordia is closing completely while the Victoria emergency room is being converted to an urgent care centre that will only handle patients with non-life-threatening illnesses and injuries. 

Arthur Schafer, an ethics professor at the University of Manitoba, said whoever took over the site made a "shady" and "ethically dubious" move. 

"It's the sort of politics of Richard Nixon," he said. 

Maloway said he's disappointed about recent headlines that have highlighted small turnouts at NDP rallies. "You have to understand that this is a long campaign," he said.

"When you're out there for an hour, an hour and a half, there's a lot of prep work."

Maloway said signs he has made for protesters who want to save the Concordia emergency room in his riding won't have any NDP affiliation listed.

Instead, the signs will have neutral colours so members of all political parties can weigh in.

"That's the beauty of having colours that don't alienate people," he said.

"Everyone's seen my signs and they're very attractive, so it makes sense to duplicate them."

Maloway and a party spokesperson said more rallies are planned in the coming weeks.

The MLA was back protesting in front of a Kildonan seniors' complex Sunday afternoon.