Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Opposition pounds NDP as session ends

Tories, Liberals try to make hay over 1999 campaign

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Manitoba's opposition parties ended the spring sitting of the legislature Thursday hammering the Doer government and Elections Manitoba over the NDP's 1999 campaign returns.

The Tories and Liberals hope the much-publicized issue has traction--they're also hosting a public meeting on it June 16 at the legislature -- into the fall and beyond. But the New Democrats say the opposition is beating a dead horse.

The latest gambit by the opposition to keep the so-called scheme in the public eye is to accuse Elections Manitoba of cosying up to the NDP at the expense of defeated Progressive Conservative candidates, including Vic Toews who is now federal Treasury Board president but who was fined as an MLA for election overspending in 1999.

"It appears that you have abused your prosecutorial discretion and failed to meet your statutory and ethical obligations to the legislature and to the public," 21 Tory and Liberal MLAs said in a letter hand-delivered to chief electoral officer Richard Balasko earlier this week.

"We hope you will attend next week's public meeting with information and explanations that will satisfy Manitobans that you have conducted yourself legally, ethically and independently."

The shot against Elections Manitoba highlighted a noisy day in the House with plenty of grandstanding by all party leaders. MLAs resume sitting Sept. 14.

Tory Leader Hugh McFadyen said the only way Doer can put 1999 behind him is to order an independent inquiry.

"They only way to get at it is to take the lid off of it," McFadyen said.

A Manitoba Elections spokesperson said Balasko is preparing a response to the opposition's letter. By law, Balasko reports to the legislature as a whole by appearing at a committee, not via the demands of individual MLAs. For the last three weeks, the Doer government has been on the hot-seat over how it maxed out its rebates in the 1999 election by counting free union workers as expenses instead of donations in kind. After a three-year investigation by Elections Manitoba, the party agreed to repay $76,000 in public subsidies.

No charges were laid and the details of the investigation remain under wraps. At a legislative committee meeting late last month, Balasko said repeatedly that the rules bar him from commenting on the investigation.

Premier Gary Doer said Balasko did answer questions about the matter at committee meeting last July and two weeks ago.

"He has answered the questions and the opposition has misquoted what he says," Doer said. "All of these questions were answered."

Doer also said the entire issue has been well-canvassed since 2003 when it was first released in an Elections Manitoba annual report.

The NDP also says it considered taking the matter to court years ago instead of paying back the money, because the party believed it had done nothing wrong. But in the end, Doer said the party decided against that move as it would conflict with its legislation subsequently passed that banned union and corporate donations.

The 1999 campaign returns and the use of photo radar in construction zones dominated the spring sitting.

Doer made no apologies for how the NDP responded to both issues

"I hate to tell you guys this, but one of the reasons why we do well in elections as opposed to necessarily the columnists is because we actually listen to people," Doer told reporters. "When we listen to people we make the right decisions and take the right action.

"You can write whatever you want. You can comment on whatever you want. But I've learned a long time ago, don't get distracted by this legislative chamber. Be accountable every day here, but don't get distracted by the pitchfork issue of the day."

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

 

Some of the key bills passed

TWENTY-SEVEN of 35 bills introduced in this session were passed.

Among the key bills passed:

The Highway Traffic Amendment Act which bans smoking in cars while children under the age of 16 are present and bans the use of handheld phone and text messaging devices while driving. The changes will both kick in after a one-year education period.

The Forest Amendment Act that bans logging in 79 out of 80 provincial parks and all future parks.

The Budget Implementation and Tax Statutes Amendment Act suspends for two years transfers of $110.4 million to debt retirement.

The Food Safety and Related Amendments Act protects the health of Manitoba's food system.

The East Side Traditional Lands Planning and Special Protected Areas Act gives 16 First Nations on the east side of the province the option to provide interim and permanent legal protection of traditional lands.

The Highway Traffic Amendment and MPIC Amendment Act adds four new federal impaired-driving offences regarding drunk driving causing bodily harm or death. It also reduces financial benefits for claimants who suffer an injury as a result of an collision and are convicted of a Criminal Code offence related to driving.

The Consumer Protection Amendment Act permits the government to set maximum payday loan lending rates.

The Victim's Bill of Rights Amendment Act allows the parents and children of a deceased victim to give their views on matters relating to the prosecution of charges.

The Gaming Control Amendment Act improves oversight of lottery ticket retailers to prevent fraud.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 12, 2009 A8

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