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'Howling coyotes' hound Lemieux

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LAST month, he took heat for characterizing municipal leaders critical of the Selinger government's municipal amalgamation plans as insolent children.

Now, Local Government Minister Ron Lemieux is once again on the hot seat for something he's said -- this time for referring to presenters at PST hearings this week as "howling coyotes."

Lemieux, a 14-year MLA and longtime cabinet minister, made the derogatory remark in a raucous question period at the Manitoba legislature Thursday.

As late as the noon hour Friday, the Dawson Trail MLA denied he was referring to members of the public who sounded off about the tax increase. He insisted he had directed his remark to a cluster of boisterous Tory MLAs who heckled him as he rose to respond to a question in the house. "As I was trying to answer a question, there was a lot of howling going on on the backbenches," Lemieux said Friday.

He said he meant "no disrespect" to any of the presenters at the public hearings into Bill 20. More than 200 members of the public have signed up to speak on the bill, which enables the NDP to raise the PST without a public referendum.

"People are entitled to their opinions in a democratic country," Lemieux said Friday.

However, later in the day with the publication of Hansard -- the official record of what is said in the legislature -- it's apparent Lemieux was referring to presenters at Wednesday evening's public hearings on the PST, and not to his political opponents in the legislature, when spoke about "howling coyotes."

In response to a question Thursday by Conservative MLA Stuart Briese (Agassiz), Lemieux noted he had attended the previous evening's hearings. According to Hansard, Lemieux described the "well-spoken, articulate individuals" at the event who appeared to understand the government's position.

He said their comments were heard over the "din of howling coyotes that we heard all night. And members opposite were there clapping to some of the comments that were made that were really disrespectful."

Immediately after Lemieux made the comment in the legislature Thursday, Conservative MLA Bonnie Mitchelson (River East) rose to demand he apologize. However, House Speaker Daryl Reid said he did not hear the remark, adding he may have missed it due to the noise level in the chamber.

Conservative house leader Kelvin Goertzen said Lemieux's comment -- along with another remark he made to the Free Press in June about municipal leaders -- is a sign the Selinger government is arrogant and out of touch with the public.

He said it's one thing to bash Opposition members, but it's another for a minister of the Crown to take a swipe at members of the public who endured a stiflingly hot committee room in July to present their views on a government bill.

"I don't know if I've heard anything as disrespectful in the legislature," Goertzen said Friday.

Now that Hansard has shown the true target of Lemieux's remarks, the cabinet minister should make amends, Goertzen said: "His words were clear. His intention was clear. What he needs to do is simply apologize."

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 6, 2013 A4

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