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A late summer break

Vote marks end of Manitoba MLAs' marathon session

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Summer finally came for Manitoba's MLAs late Friday afternoon shortly after the NDP's contentious anti-bullying legislation was passed in the legislature.

The vote ended 86 days of debate that started April 16 with a government budget that called for a one-point increase to the provincial sales tax and legislation that ordered smaller municipalities to merge with their larger neighbours.

Opposition to the tax hike to eight per cent -- without a public referendum -- touched off an extended sitting of the house that went beyond what was supposed to be the June 13 cutoff date. Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister's Tories launched a series of procedural delays, and almost incessant ringing of the division bells, to delay the Selinger government's legislative and fiscal agenda.

"It's been a lot of work but I think democratic institutions require work -- democracy requires work," Pallister said Friday. "Freedom requires work and we're prepared to do that work."

'It's been a lot of work but I think democratic institutions require work -- democracy requires work'

-- Tory Leader Brian Pallister

An agreement between the parties struck last week will see MLAs come back for a brief sitting in November before breaking again and then coming back in March, about a month earlier than they have in past.

"It's been one of the longest sessions in Manitoba history and I think much has been accomplished," Pallister added, saying just because the legislative assembly is taking a break, the Tories are not abandoning their fight against the PST.

The Tories also submitted about a dozen amendments to Bill 18, the bill that requires publicly funded schools to allow gay-straight alliance groups or similar clubs if students wish to establish them. The NDP, with its 18-seat majority, defeated each Tory amendment.

"The government that's old and is tired sometimes forgets how to listen and this is one of those governments," Pallister said.

NDP house leader Jennifer Howard said the challenge now for the government, which has seen a drop in popularity over its PST increase, is to show Manitobans where the money is going.

"What I hear mostly from people is that they might not love the fact the PST is going up -- I don't think anybody loves that -- but what they tell me is 'We agree we need those investments... and we want you to show us you're making those investments,' " she said. "That's the job ahead of us."

Friday also marked the last day in the house for River Heights MLA Jon Gerrard as leader of the provincial Liberals. Gerrard has been leader for 15 years. The leadership convention will be held Oct. 26 at Fort Garry Place. Longtime Liberal communications specialist and author Dougald Lamont and Winnipeg lawyer Rana Bokhari are the only candidates so far.

"It's a sad day in one respect to be the last day as leader, but I think I can reflect back on some positive contributions," Gerrard said, shortly after MLAs gave him a standing ovation in the assembly.

'What I hear mostly from people is that they might not love the fact the PST is going up... but what they tell me is "We agree we need those investments..." '

-- NDP house leader Jennifer Howard

"I have done my best to do what I can to help children and families in this province."

Gerrard indicated he may run for re-election in 2016 in River Heights, but ruled out running federally. He was a secretary of state in the former federal government of Jean Chr©tien.

"I'm looking forward to having a leader I can work closely with and continue to work on behalf of the province as I stay on as the MLA for River Heights," he said.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 14, 2013 A3

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