A contrite Premier Greg Selinger tried to shoulder the blame for the Jets ticket affair Friday, even as he admitted two of his biggest cabinet stars had let his NDP team down.
Clearly stung by the way the freebie ticket controversy has spread, Selinger unveiled the latest page in his political playbook -- an order forbidding all NDP MLAs from accepting tickets to sporting events.
Selinger then took it one step further, calling for the province's ethics commissioner to craft guidelines that extend to opposition MLAs as well.
"Clearly, we didn't get it right here, and I accept responsibility for that," Selinger told reporters.
"And if I can be pointed here, I believe that MLAs from neither side of the legislature can say that they did."
Selinger made it clear his MLAs will no longer be able to accept tickets -- even if they pay for them -- from Crown corporations, businesses and unions.
"They shouldn't take them and anything where there might be a perceived conflict of interest. I think they have to very careful about that."
The NDP also released what it now says is the full list of MLAs who accepted free Jets tickets.
The list was made public after it was disclosed Thursday five more cabinet ministers, including Energy and Mines Minister Dave Chomiak and Finance Minister Stan Struthers, had accepted free tickets when earlier in the week they had both danced around the question.
Selinger said he expects his MLAs to pay for the tickets -- at least three have already done that -- or make a charitable contribution in kind.
The revelation more cabinet ministers attended free hockey games than the NDP had previously disclosed not only raised questions about the government's integrity but also what happened to its ability to stickhandle out of political trouble.
"Selinger has not been very sure-footed on this," Progressive Conservative MLA Ron Schuler said. "He should've right away... tried to find out what the scope of it was."
Selinger admitted two of his most trusted lieutenants, Struthers and Chomiak, had let him down by not being entirely forthright.
"They are people that I believe are ethical people, and I think they will apologize as required," Selinger said.
The Tories said Struthers, who had been the lead minister on crafting the NDP's new complimentary ticket policy, misled the Opposition in a budget estimates meeting on Wednesday when he did not admit he got a free ticket from Red River College to the Dec. 23 game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"I went to three games," Struthers initially said under Tory questioning. "I went to three games because I'm a, I guess, a small player in a consortium of season-ticket holders. So I managed to get drawn for three games.
"I attended against the Washington Capitals before Christmas. I attended New Year's with my son (to a game) against the Toronto Maple Leafs, my former team. I want to make it very clear that would be my former team, the Leafs, and we cheered for the Winnipeg Jets. And then we went to the game later on in the season in which the Jets, still in the playoff hunt, picked off the Florida Panthers, seven to nothing, and my son high-fived with everybody up in our section, up in the upper section there."
Chomiak appears to have hastily filed two disclosure declarations on Tuesday when the Jets ticket story first broke, indicating he had gone to two hockey games on tickets supplied by MTS and Tundra Oil and Gas.
Why he and the rest of the Selinger government were caught flatfooted on the story remains a mystery.
Schuler first asked questions about the use of Jets season tickets in a March 21 committee meeting dealing with Crown corporations. Schuler wanted to know how the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission distributed its 10 season tickets, obtained through its advertising with the Jets and MTS Centre.
Acting president Roman Zubach told the committee the tickets were used for promotional purposes, "in other words, for our customers."
It has since been revealed 188 tickets went to the corporation's head-office staff, another 62 went to executives and 66 went to board members.
The government announced earlier this week Justice Minister Andrew Swan, Conservation Minister Gord Mackintosh and Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton, who attended free games on tickets supplied by Crown corporations that advertise with the Jets, have since paid the Crowns for the tickets.
However, provincial disclosure documents show four other cabinet ministers attended free games on tickets supplied by semi-private organizations they have direct contact with in their cabinet duties.
Advanced Education Minister Erin Selby went to an Oct. 24 game on a single ticket supplied by Red River College president Stephanie Forsyth.
RRC spokesman Colin Fast said in an email Struthers and Swan attended a Dec. 23 game, also on tickets supplied by the college. Neither Swan or Struthers filed a disclosure while Selby did.
"The regulations are very clear that you're supposed to declare gifts," Schuler said. "I think common sense would tell you that chances are that that was a gift you should have registered."
Healthy Living Minister Jim Rondeau attended two games, the first being Feb. 23 on a ticket provided by Joshua Kuhl, senior executive vice-president of operations of All Seniors Care Living Centres. Rondeau also attended a March 26 game as a guest of Labatt's.
Schuler said the most surprising revelation is the college gave tickets to cabinet ministers.
"I would have to go so far as to say I think that's really poor taste, especially with students struggling and the debate about tuition and the cost of post-secondary education that minister would take tickets on the back of students and go and enjoy themselves at a Jets game; you've got to start questioning some of the people's judgment."
Selinger said it would be worthwhile to find out how many publicly funded organizations have Jets season tickets, but the priority is getting a firm policy for all MLAs.