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Lie contributed to Melnick being removed from cabinet

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Winnipeg NDP MLA Christine Melnick was removed from cabinet in part because she lied about her involvement in a decision to invite immigrants and immigrant service groups to a debate in the legislature last year, Premier Greg Selinger said Tuesday.

In a year end interview with the Free Press, Selinger said he did not know of Melnick’s deception until after the provincial Ombudsman launched an investigation into a senior bureaucrat’s handling of the affair.

Assistant deputy minister Ben Rempel sent out hundreds of invitations to attend a legislative debate on April 19, 2012, concerning Ottawa’s plans to wrest control from the province of immigrant support services the federal government funds.

Melnick (Riel) denied directing Rempel to issue the invite, when asked about it by Opposition MLAs. But she later admitted to it to the Ombudsman, who issued his report on the matter last week.

Selinger said Tuesday he learned only during the Ombudsman’s investigation that "there may have been an issue where (Melnick) may have misrepresented some of what happened in her statements to the public."

He denied that this was the main reason Melnick was punted from cabinet during an October shuffle, but admitted it was a factor.

"The primary focus of the cabinet shuffle... was to focus our agenda on jobs and the economy and to give some new ministers a chance to perform and a chance to grow into the job," the premier said. "Many factors go into a decision on who stays in or out of cabinet. And that is one of the many factors that may have been considered as part of this decision."

Selinger said he did not clear the air on the matter earlier because he was awaiting the provincial Ombudsman’s report.

"I found out there may be an issue there, and we encouraged the minister to be fully open and responsive to that, which she was," he said.

Selinger said he did not speak with Melnick directly on the matter, only through officials.

"My officials, my senior staff talked to the minister and encouraged her to fully respond to the Ombudsman’s request for information and to be fully open with what happened and she did that," he said.

The Ombudsman’s office launched the probe after a member of the public filed a complaint that Rempel had "crossed the line" of impartiality expected of civil servants. The report ultimately found the civil servant had not breached the Civil Service Act or the Manitoba Civil Service Commission Values and Ethics Guide, but said the debate surrounding the emailed invitation left little doubt that "this matter brought the question of civil service neutrality to the forefront."

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

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