Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

NDP accuses Tory leader of slur

Allegation levelled as session grows bitter

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Question period at the Manitoba Legislature assembly Legislative Chamber Thursday afternoon.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Question period at the Manitoba Legislature assembly Legislative Chamber Thursday afternoon. Photo Store

The NDP claims Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister showed his true colours Thursday when he appeared to call an unknown NDP MLA a "retard" during a vote to adjourn debate on PC MLA Kelvin Goertzen's cyberbullying bill.

Outside the house, Pallister denied he said the word and pointed the finger at the NDP for smearing him with another "false allegation."

"It's all false. It never stops," he said.

But NDP house leader Jennifer Howard said she heard Pallister say the derogatory word and expects him to apologize.

The two sit almost opposite one another in the house and during the vote called him on it for most MLAs to hear. The Free Press did not hear what Pallister said, but heard Howard.

"Did you just call someone a retard?" an angry Howard asked. "I heard the word."

Pallister replied to Howard, but his answer was unintelligible from the media gallery above the Speaker's chair.

"You haven't changed a bit, have you?" Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton said to Pallister. "We heard what you said."

Pallister replied the NDP have "zero credibility."

"Wow, you're a tough guy," Ashton said.

None of the back-and-forth banter was captured by Hansard, the official record of the legislature, as the Speaker had the floor.

During question period about two hours later, Howard said Pallister should apologize for his use of a "very unfortunate word."

"When I heard what I heard and I asked him if he said it, he did not deny it," she told MLAs. "He said I didn't know what I was referring to, which suggests to me that he believes there is a context in which the word he used is acceptable. There is no context in which that word is acceptable."

Pallister declined to apologize.

Howard explained later outside the house why she objected to Pallister's choice of words.

"I feel like it's my responsibilty, not only as minister responsible for persons with disabilities, as this is my workplace. If I hear somebody -- if it's one of my own colleagues or one of the opposition -- use a word that I know is derogatory, I feel like it's my responsibility to say, 'Hey, what's up?'

"To use that word is derogatory to everybody who has an intellectual disability, to their families, to the people who work with them and to all of us."

Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard also said Pallister should apologize. Gerrard said he did not hear what Pallister said. "I think the sensible thing to say is, 'Look, I didn't do it. If you heard this, if you think I did, then it's not appropriate.' "

What happened on the floor of the legislature is one sign tempers are growing shorter as the extended sitting heads into next week and appears to have no end in sight.

The sitting began June 17 after the Tories used a series of house procedural rules to delay the NDP's legislative and budget agenda during the regular sitting that began in April.

The focus of the Tory attack has been Bill 20, which raises the provincial sales tax one point to eight per cent without a public referendum. The requirement a referendum be held for a tax increase was brought in by a previous Tory government.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 12, 2013 A3

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Updated on Friday, July 12, 2013 at 6:13 AM CDT: replaces photos

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