Not surprisingly, the Opposition Progressive Conservatives have essentially told the NDP to "Go fish."
That’s the sum of the Tory’s response to an offer made Tuesday by NDP House Leader Jennifer Howard to speed up the proceedings of the Manitoba legislature, which remain at a standstill due to PCs use of procedural delays to block NDP bills.
That delay continued today with each Tory MLA presenting a petition, some speaking as slowly as permissible.
Opposition House leader Kelvin Goertzen said today in a written response the PCs don’t think much of the NDP’s "olive branch".
Goertzen said the Tories will accept nothing less than a fair, structured process for public meetings on NDP bills.
"We propose that 25 presenters a night be identified for committee," Goertzen said in the response. "They can be notified by the clerk’s office in advance. As well, we are prepared to sit Saturday for each Bill 18 and 20 from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. under the assurance that presenters will be notified if they will be presenting in the morning, afternoon or evening."
Goertzen also said the NDP’s game plan will not assure that presenters they will not be forced to sit through the night in committee and it "creates a two-tiered system where some presenters are under a midnight cap for committee and others may be presenting at 5 a.m."
The Tories also say they are prepared to proceed with the hiring of the province’s next ombudsman, and blame the NDP for delaying the process.
"I would suggest house leaders discuss that issue privately," he said in the response.
Goertzen also said the PCs are prepared to move the departmental estimates process ahead by sitting hours beyond the normal 5 p.m. quitting time.
"The reason estimates have been delayed is because your government has prioritized a PST tax increase (Bill 20) at the expense of the rest of the legislative agenda," Goertzen said.
He also said the Tories also want an earlier start to the spring session. The NDP have in part timed the start of the spring session after the federal government hands down its budget for the coming fiscal year.
Goertzen said the PCs want the session to start in February — the NDP can deliver its budget anytime during that session—so "that Manitobans can be made aware of and participate in the discussion of legislation that impacts them."
The NDP extended an olive branch in a letter dated Tuesday from government house leader Howard to Tory house leader Goertzen and Liberal leader Jon Gerrard.
The letters outlines the NDP’s plan to get the process moving again and to give the public the appropriate amount of time to comment on contentious NDP bills.
The letter was mentioned in Question Period by Premier Greg Selinger on Tuesday and obtained by the Free Press.
Howard said for Bill 18, the NDP’s anti-bullying legislation and Bill 20, the bill to hike the provincial sales tax one point to eight per cent July 1, the NDP are willing to agree that public hearings at standing committees will not sit past midnight for two additional evening meetings.
Under normal rules, for the first two evening meetings, unanimous consent is needed to sit past midnight. At midnight on the third and any subsequent evening meeting, the committee chair may determine that the committee shall sit past midnight.
The NDP are also willing for public hearings on the two bills to begin at 10 a.m. on a Saturday to accommodate speakers who cannot attend an evening meeting.
Approximately 500 people have registered with the clerk’s office to speak on Bill 18 and Bill 20 and Bill 33, the bill that would see smaller municipalities merge with their bigger neighbours.
The NDP also say they want to move ahead with the hiring of a chief electoral officer and use a non-partisan panel to fill the ombudsman and auditor-general positions.
Howard also said in the letter the NDP "would very much like to see" the departmental estimates process, including consideration of the concurrence motion and passage of the Loan Act and Appropriations Act, finished in June so that the government can meet a number of funding commitments to programs and organizations.
She said in the letter the NDP is will to extend normal sitting hours to 7 p.m. from 5 p.m.
Because of Tory delays, mostly focused on the PST increase without a public referendum, only about one-quarter of the required 100 hours of the estimates has been completed.