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NDP to devise rules on partisanship for bureaucrats

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THE provincial government will follow the recommendations of Manitoba's ombudsman to come up with guidelines so civil servants avoid falling into the trap of political partisanship.

"We will do the appropriate measures," Selinger said in response to a report that found the actions of an assistant deputy minister created a perception of partisanship in relation to an NDP-inspired event at the legislature in April 2012.

Selinger announces $110-million upgrade to Trans-Canada Highway to Ontario

PREMIER Greg Selinger used the annual speech to announce another road-improvement project -- fixing up the Trans-Canada east of Winnipeg to Ontario.

Selinger said the $110-million project includes renaming the highway in memory of activist Terry Fox, who died from cancer in 1981.

It's the latest in $1 billion worth of highway projects outlined in the past month, including Highway 75, the Perimeter Highway and Highway 6 to Thompson.

The projects are part of the five-year plan announced in last month's throne speech, which the government says will see all of the new revenue from the one-cent-on-the-dollar increase in the provincial sales tax devoted to infrastructure.

Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister said Selinger's highway announcement was another example of a government that believes it can justify the PST hike by telling Manitobans it will only use the money on infrastructure.

"The province is giving back a nickel on the dollar they take from Manitobans and trying to get credit for it," Pallister said. "Manitobans are ahead of them. They understand that."

The province said the project includes intersection improvements at Provincial Highway 206 and 207 (Deacon's Corner); 32 kilometres of grade widening on the eastbound lanes from Brokenhead River to the Greater Winnipeg Water District Railway; 32 km of paving on the eastbound lanes from Brokenhead River to Highway 11; 30 km of paving from 0.5 km west of highway 12 to Provincial Road 302; and 21.3 km of paving on the westbound lanes from Highway 11 to Provincial Road 308.

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"We will take a careful look at the report and make sure that things are done properly," Selinger said following his Thursday address at a Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

The report by acting ombudsman Mel Holley found then-immigration and multiculturalism minister Christine Melnick instructed her assistant deputy minister, Ben Rempel, to invite immigration service agencies to the legislature for what turned out to be a confrontation between NDP MLAs and federal Conservative MPs over Ottawa's plan to seize control of the delivery of immigrant services.

It wasn't revealed until later that Rempel's email helped mobilize 400 immigrants and immigration workers to attend the event. Melnick defended her deputy's actions but denied she was behind it -- until the ombudsman's office investigated the matter after a private citizen complained.

"The report, in my view, has said the civil servant did not do anything unprofessional, but there would be benefit by some additional guidelines on the interface between civil servants and elected people," Selinger said. "We will take that advice seriously."

Holley's probe focused on Rempel's email and not on whether other NDP MLAs or political staff were involved in organizing the event. His office attempted to find out who was responsible for allocating passes to the legislative building's public gallery, but was unsuccessful.

In his report, Holley wrote elected officials rely on the neutrality of civil servants for the effective operation of government.

Selinger spent most of his half-hour speech extolling the record of his government -- it was his fifth annual address -- and explaining the reason for the one-point increase to the PST. Beside spending on roads and highways, the NDP plan includes more skills training and meeting the demands of an aging population on the health-care system.

"We will be accountable for how the money is spent and show results," he told reporters. "I'm hoping that people will understand that if they give us that trust, we will get results for them."

Selinger also repeated his government's push to build new hydro generating stations in the north to meet growing domestic demand and to sell more power to the United States and Saskatchewan.

"We've only built about half of the hydro resources in this province," he said. "We have the chance to take it to another level."

He also said the province and Ottawa are close to finding new homes for several hundred residents of the Lake St. Martin First Nation who were displaced by flooding in 2011.

Selinger said new land has been identified for the flood-prone community to relocate. An agreement in principle with the federal government could be finalized soon, he said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 13, 2013 A14

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