Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Go oboes Go! Jets tickets out, symphony OK

Province's new rules on freebies ban pro sports events, but encourage taking arts tickets

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WANT to go to a Jets game? Stand in line and pay up like the rest of us.

That's the gist of the Selinger government's new policy stopping cabinet ministers, MLAs and government officials from going to a Winnipeg Jets game on the taxpayer's tab. It will also include all board members and executives of the province's Crown corporations.

"It's very clear that ministers, MLAs, Crown corporations, directors, cannot take tickets," Finance Minister Stan Struthers said, shortly after the complimentary-ticket policy was handed out to reporters following Thursday's question period at the legislature. The Free Press first asked for a copy of the policy on Monday.

"We want to have a policy in place that makes it so that Manitobans have every opportunity to get those tickets without ministers and directors of corporations getting in front," he said.

The new policy prohibits ministers, MLAs and government officials from accepting complimentary tickets to professional sports events, which includes Winnipeg Blue Bombers football and Winnipeg Goldeyes baseball games.

The Jets ticket affair has dogged the government since Monday, with the opposition demanding the lists of names of people who got free tickets made public. The province's Crown corporations obtained dozens of free Jets season tickets in exchange for their advertising and sponsorship support at the MTS Centre.

It took on greater urgency for the government to put the ticket affair behind them when they admitted three cabinet ministers and the former board chairman of Manitoba Hydro, Vic Schroeder, an NDP MLA in former premier Howard Pawley's government, obtained free tickets through the Crown corporation each represented.

Justice Minister Andrew Swan, Conservation Minister Gord Mackintosh and Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton have since paid the Crowns for the tickets.

Tory MLA Ron Schuler said the policy is long overdue. He first raised the issue in March during a routine committee meeting when he asked acting president Roman Zubach how the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission (MLCC) distributed its 10 tickets.

Zubach told the committee the tickets were used for promotional purposes, "in other words, for our customers."

It's since been revealed 188 tickets went to the corporation's head office staff, another 62 went to executives and 66 went to board members.

"Clearly, common sense didn't prevail," Schuler said. "If the policy states that from here on in, Crown corporation tickets are off-limits to cabinet ministers, MLAs and political appointments, that's a good start. But my goodness, where was the common sense?"

Schuler said those at the MLCC who used the tickets should pay for them now, just like Swan, Mackintosh and Ashton did.

Struthers has said the new policy was needed because of the high demand for Jets tickets. The team sold out every game of its inaugural NHL season, and there's a waiting list of about 8,000 people for season tickets.

Struthers also said the government is preparing a full list of the number of season tickets each Crown agency has received and how the tickets have been distributed. Besides the MLCC, Manitoba Lotteries got 32 season tickets, Manitoba Public Insurance got eight season tickets and Manitoba Hydro got two, although it purchased an additional two season tickets.

Struthers said under the new policy more charities and community groups will get use of the tickets.

The policy still allows cabinet ministers, MLAs, board members and government officials to accept complimentary tickets to the ballet, the symphony or Folklorama.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 11, 2012 A5

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