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Melnick's citing of illness doubted

Critics counter diabetes claim for lying

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A former Manitoba cabinet minister's decision to blame undiagnosed diabetes for a lie she told to MLAs in 2012 isn't passing the political sniff test of her critics.

Christine Melnick claimed she was suffering "real fatigue" and other debilitating symptoms as immigration and multiculturalism minister when she lied in the spring of that year over whether she directed assistant deputy minister Ben Rempel to invite community groups to a highly partisan legislative debate.

"I don't think there is a medical excuse that could justify 18 months of not coming forward and telling the truth," Progressive Conservative house leader Kelvin Goertzen said Monday.

"Manitobans will judge for themselves whether this passes the sniff test, and I suspect the vast majority are going to say no."

SSLqThere was a health issue. It's not an excuse. I'm not trying to get away from what was my responsibility as minister'

-- Christine Melnick

Dr. Jon Gerrard, Liberal MLA for River Heights, said while he sympathizes with Melnick's illness, he doesn't feel she adequately explained her actions.

"I certainly have sympathy for her but on the other hand I think when you're minister you have to be ready to answer questions, whether you're feeling perfect or whether you're not," he said.

Melnick was stripped of her cabinet duties in a shuffle two months ago. Premier Greg Selinger acknowledged in a Dec. 17 interview the lie was one of the reasons he took the action.

A week earlier, the Manitoba ombudsman's office had revealed the falsehood in a report prompted by a public complaint into the alleged partisan nature of the civil servant's actions. Melnick, after indicating to a legislative committee in 2012 she had not directed Rempel to issue the email, recanted and assumed responsibility for it to the ombudsman.

Through a constituency assistant on Monday, Melnick refused an interview request by the Free Press.

But Melnick did say during a CBC interview she was suffering from undiagnosed diabetes at the time.

"I've never had chronic illness before. I've never had disease before. So I kept waiting to feel better. So in the midst of trying to get through the day and whatnot, I made a mistake," she told the CBC.

"There was a health issue. It's not an excuse. I'm not trying to get away from what was my responsibility as minister. But that was a pretty important factor there. And it's something that I just want to be very open and honest about."

She said she didn't realize she had lied until "a couple of months later." During that time, the Opposition Conservatives repeatedly questioned the government about the invitation in the house. The truth, however, wouldn't come out until 18 months later.

She told the CBC she was not diagnosed with diabetes until last Dec. 24. She said she had begun to feel ill in early February 2012. She said she's feeling much better now.

She said she forgot about her involvement in inviting immigrants and immigrant groups to the legislature until "a couple of months" after the event. Like the premier, she said the government did not immediately correct the record because the matter was by then under investigation by the ombudsman's office. "There was a process in place and I respected that process," she said.

Christopher Adams, a political scientist at St. Paul's College at the University of Manitoba, said the revelation Melnick lied to MLAs and her explanation for it are an ongoing "distraction" for a government that's seeking to repair its battered image in light of the sales-tax hike.

Asked for comment, the Canadian Diabetes Association issued a statement Monday that said, in part: "There are times when people with diabetes may experience high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) or low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Symptoms of high blood sugar include thirst, frequent urination and feeling tired. Some symptoms of low blood sugar include confusion, weakness, nervousness, hunger or increased heart rate. Symptoms of depression are also common in people living with diabetes compared with the general population."

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 24, 2013 A5

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