Manitoba’s Tories accused the ruling NDP today of snubbing the province’s elections law by holding a "political" event on Jan. 28 to celebrate suffragist and temperance advocate Nellie McLung — the same day as two provincial byelections.
In a release today, the Opposition Progressive Conservatives say the media event is not supposed to happen during an election campaign and accused the NDP of playing "fast and loose" with Elections Act.
Byelections are being held in the constituencies of Morris and Arthur-Virden in advance of the March 6 resumption of the legislative assembly.
In a statement, a government spokeswoman said the celebration of McClung was organized by the Manitoba Women’s Advisory Council in mid-December, prior to the government calling the two byelections.
"The non-partisan event is open to all Manitobans who want to honour Nellie McClung and celebrate the 98th anniversary of women getting the vote in Manitoba," she said.
"At the request of the independent legislative building’s protocol officer, Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross sent a memo to all MLAs of all parties reminding them of the event.
Manitoba’s election law is designed to prevent the government from announcing new initiatives during an election, including byelections. Women in Manitoba already know they have the right to vote.
The Tories also said the NDP is politicizing McClung’s contributions. The event is to highlight the accomplishments of McClung who helped win the right to vote for Manitoba women.
"The NDP has no respect for the laws of our province," PC Deputy Leader Heather Stefanson said in a statement. "If the NDP was so concerned about supporting Nellie McClung and women's right to vote, why didn't they support our private member’s bill (210) to mark the centennial of McClung’s efforts."
The invitation to the noon-hour event at the legislative building was sent to all MLAs on Wednesday by Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross, who is minister responsible for the status of women.
"On behalf of Manitoba Status of Women (Manitoba Women’s Advisory Council), I would like to invite you to celebrate the 98th anniversary of women’s suffrage in Manitoba. Manitoba was the first province in Canada to give some women the right to vote in provincial elections on Jan. 28, 1916, with other provinces following suit shortly after," the initiation says.
The event also marks the 100th anniversary of the day McLung and others staged what has come to be known as the Women's Parliament (Mock Parliament). McLung played the role of Premier Rodmond Roblin, who opposed women receiving the vote. The women also discussed whether to give men the vote and allow them equal guardianship over children.
The NDP have been caught twice over the past few years staging political events during election campaigns.
Manitoba's commissioner of elections, Bill Bowles, after a complaint by the Tories, said in May 2012 that the NDP broke the law when it invited two local media outlets for a tour of a new birthing centre in the days leading up to the Oct. 4, 2011 election.
On Aug. 31, the Free Press and CTV accepted an invitation by the government to tour the soon-to-be-opened birthing facility at 603 St. Mary's Rd. Then Health Minister Theresa Oswald and Education Minister Nancy Allan were part of the tour hosted by the executive director of the Women's Health Clinic.
Former NDP cabinet minister Rosann Wowchuk, during a byelection in 2009, also breached the same law. As agriculture minister, Wowchuk announced the province would make a $50,000 contribution to help repair of an agricultural trade fair building in Brandon.
The NDP have quietly complained that the Manitoba’s election laws, as interpreted, are too restrictive and essentially handcuff the government in doing its job during campaign periods.