Province to use tobacco company settlement funds to pay for new CancerCare building

Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew announced during his speech at the NDP party convention gala dinner Saturday funds set to be injected into the province from a settlement with tobacco companies will be used to fight cancer.  (Jeff Stapleton/CBC - image credit)
Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew announced during his speech at the NDP party convention gala dinner Saturday funds set to be injected into the province from a settlement with tobacco companies will be used to fight cancer. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC - image credit)

Money the province is getting from a settlement with tobacco companies will go toward building a new CancerCare Manitoba headquarters and other prevention measures, Premier Wab Kinew announced Saturday.

Kinew said the initial payment could be anywhere from hundreds of millions to even half a billion dollars. The timeline of when those funds will be injected into the province isn't fully clear yet, but Kinew said he's expecting the first payment to arrive later this year or early 2025.

"It's with the federal government right now, but we expect that it will be a series of payments over time, but the first initial one will be in that order of magnitude," said Kinew following his speech at the gala dinner as part of the ongoing NDP convention.

The NDP learned about the possibility of a settlement shortly after taking office and are waiting on more details, but Kinew said the full arrangement could potentially be worth billions. The number of payments after the initial one and how long it will take to receive the entire settlement sum also isn't known yet.

"Those are details that will come out when the settlement gets concluded, that's with the federal government right now," said Kinew.

Manitoba sued major tobacco companies to recover the costs of providing health-care services for tobacco-related illness under the then NDP government in 2012. Lawsuits by all 10 provinces named Imperial Tobacco, Rothmans, Benson & Hedges and JTI-Macdonald.

The cases were stalled by a range of court battles, but in March 2019 a group of people in Quebec received $13.5 billion in damages in a class-action lawsuit against the companies. This forced the companies to seek creditor protection, putting a freeze on all other lawsuits against them.

So, the provinces were pushed into the creditor process. Six provinces — New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia — are working together with the same legal team.

"These lawsuits have been in the works for many, many years and it just so happens that we now expect a settlement to be reached later this year, perhaps next year," said Kinew.

The money will help the NDP fulfil its election promise to build a new CancerCare headquarters. The party said building capital would cost around $350 million while on the campaign trail.

A total of $635 million is also earmarked in the province's 2024 budget for health-sector capital projects, including starting the process of building the new headquarters and acting on other election promises of opening a new Victoria ER, along with an emergency room in the Interlake community of Eriksdale.

Kinew said the government would've found a way to pay for its CancerCare promise, but the settlement allows the NDP to make "forward-thinking decisions" with organizations in the sector.

"I would expect that we would use a good chunk of that for the new CancerCare facility," said Kinew. "But we'll also have resources there for prevention, for clinical research and the other priorities that will allow us to build towards that goal of having the best cancer treatment in the world for Manitobans here in our province."

Emergency resolution slated for debate Sunday

The gala dinner at the RBC Convention Centre was the highlight of the NDP's annual convention, running this weekend at the Fairmont Hotel in Winnipeg.

In addition to speeches from federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and a conversation between Kinew and fellow NDP Premier David Eby of B.C., party members endorsed a range of uncontroversial resolutions essentially affirming the government's existing policy positions, such as calling for more mental health workers and early childhood educators.

One emergency resolution, slated for debate Sunday, asks the government to develop legislation that would prevent the rich and powerful from using lawsuits to silence their critics. It's commonly referred to as anti-SLAPP legislation — short for "strategic lawsuits against public participation."

The text of the anti-SLAPP resolution, submitted a few days ago, states the NDP "supports victims when they speak truth to power as we have seen in recent days in the Peter Nygard case" — a reference to a recent CBC News story about a defamation lawsuit Nygard has launched against one of his accusers.

Kinew said Saturday he's keeping an open mind, but also wants to understand if there are "complicating factors factors that might have to be taken into account."

"I do think that what's happening with Peter Nygard appearing to try to intimidate witnesses with legal action is wrong," said Kinew. "And if we can step in with a public policy choice here to alleviate that situation, I'm very open to hearing that."

The NDP government itself is not required to act on resolutions put forth at convention by party members, but sometimes it does: members called for a ban on replacement workers last year, and the NDP, now in government, is planning to introduce legislation to that effect.

Anti-SLAPP legislation has already passed in Ontario and B.C.

In 2023, the Manitoba Liberals introduced a private member's bill to implement anti-SLAPP legislation. The bill didn't pass before the election.

Last July, Nygard, the convicted sex offender and disgraced fashion mogul, was charged with sexually assaulting April Telek. A month later, Nygard sued her for defamation, in response to comments she made in a CBC story in 2023.

Legal experts have said Nygard's actions are part of a growing trend of witness intimidation intended to have a chilling effect that might prevent other victims from coming forward with their own allegations.

Jeff Stapleton/CBC
Jeff Stapleton/CBC

The NDP's convention also included numerous references to upcoming provincial and federal byelections happening at unspecified dates.

River Heights MLA Mike Moroz told the audience the historically safe provincial Tory constituency of Tuxedo is within the NDP's grasp. Former PC premier Heather Stefanson is resigning as MLA on Monday.

Moroz himself stole a stronghold Liberal seat from veteran MLA Jon Gerrard in last year's election.

"Don't ever let them tell you it can't be done," he said. "River Heights is proof that it can."

Ian Froese/CBC
Ian Froese/CBC

Meanwhile, federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh asked the audience for help in retaining his party's Elmwood-Transcona seat.

Singh met Friday with the party's two nominees, Leila Dance, executive director of the Transcona Business Improvement Zone, and Leilani Esteban, executive director of the Chalmers Neighbourhood Renewal Corporation. Party members will select their candidate on May 22.