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Melnick email new twist in controversy

Ex-minister explains its intent

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Christine Melnick

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An email from ousted NDP MLA Christine Melnick to her former assistant deputy minister sheds new light on an invitation to immigration service workers to watch a legislative debate two years ago.

The email, obtained through a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) request, shows Melnick was worried about the potential fallout from the April 18, 2012 emailed invitation from Ben Rempel to immigration service workers.

Melnick said Tuesday the intent of her April 21, 2012 email to Rempel was to tell him the immigration community was more concerned about pending federal changes to the immigration system than the invitation, which by then had been criticized by the opposition for politicizing the civil service and orchestrating a show of support for the government.

"I was saying, 'Look, a lot of people came. No one was mentioning (Rempel's) email. People were saying it was good to talk about immigration,'" she said. "I think it indicates that people are focused on changes to immigration."

The controversy dates back to April 19, 2012, when Melnick, then the province's immigration minister, introduced a resolution criticizing the federal government's plan to take over some immigration programs run by the province.

The previous day, Rempel sent an email to government-funded immigrant service agencies telling them of the event and saying staff should feel free to come even if it meant taking the afternoon off. More than 400 people jammed the public gallery and an overflow committee room.

Melnick has admitted she unintentionally misled the legislature by denying at a May 20, 2012 committee meeting she had directed Rempel to send the email. She said it was because of memory loss due to undiagnosed diabetes and apologized for her misleading statement. Her involvement was revealed in a provincial ombudsman's report that looked into the matter after a citizen complained about partisanship in the civil service.

Premier Greg Selinger dropped Melnick from cabinet in October before the report's release. He has said he punted Melnick from cabinet, in part because she lied about her involvement in inviting immigrant service groups to the legislature.

She was booted from the NDP caucus Feb. 4 after accusing Selinger of making her a scapegoat in the controversy. She claimed it was Selinger's senior political advisers who were behind Rempel's invitation. Selinger has said he and his staff were not involved.

The Free Press, through FIPPA, requested emails from those advisers but was told in a response no specific records existed.

Melnick, who now sits as an Independent, said that's because all communications she had with those advisers were in person or on the phone.

"That's just the way we were dealing with it," she said. She said that before her diagnosis, she believed she was suffering early-onset Alzheimer's disease.

"It's such an unfortunate and kind of weird set of circumstances," she said. "I understand that completely, but this is where we are, so you get up every day and carry on."

Opposition Leader Brian Pallister said what's still unresolved is when Selinger knew Melnick had misled the legislature.

"The larger issue here is that the premier has refused on 20 occasions-plus to answer when he first knew," Pallister said. "He knew that a senior civil servant was under investigation by the ombudsman's office and he knew he had information in his possession that the gentleman was wrongly accused, and yet he did nothing about it."

Selinger has said he only found out Melnick was behind the email in the fall of 2012 through staff, who had learned of the ombudsman's investigation. He said he did not go public because he wanted to let the ombudsman finish his probe.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 19, 2014 0

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Updated on Wednesday, March 19, 2014 at 11:44 AM CDT: Adds video

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