Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

McClung rally breaks election rules: Tories

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THE NDP is flouting the province's elections law by staging a "political" event on Jan. 28 to celebrate suffragist Nellie McClung -- the same day as two provincial byelections, Manitoba's Tories charged Thursday.

The NDP responded that there's nothing political about the noon-hour event at the legislative building, as women have had the right to vote for almost 100 years.

The Opposition Progressive Conservatives argue the media event isn't supposed to take place during the blackout period of an election campaign and accused the NDP of playing "fast and loose" with the Elections Act.

"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?"

Byelections are being held in the constituencies of Morris and Arthur-Virden in advance of the March 6 resumption of the legislative assembly.

Manitoba law forbids government advertising, except under an emergency, in the 90 days leading up to election day.

Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross said the public event was organized by the Manitoba Women's Advisory Council in mid-December, prior to the government calling the two byelections.

"I'm surprised by the action they're taking," Irvin-Ross said of the Tories. "It's always been non-partisan. There's no exchange of money happening at this event. There's no announcement happening. It's marking a historical event."

The event also marks the 100th anniversary of the day McClung and others staged what has come to be known as the Women's Parliament (mock Parliament). McClung 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 has 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 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 the repair of an agricultural trade fair building in Brandon.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 17, 2014 A6

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