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Pallister's 'made up' letter enrages NDP officials

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Selinger government officials are outraged over a "letter to editor" penned by Opposition Tory Leader Brian Pallister that raises the spectre of an unspecified NDP MLA using their political position to jump to the front of the line to get medical treatment for their mother.

The Progressive Conservatives respond that Pallister's scenario is imaginary and the NDP should have bigger problems to worry about.

Health Minister Erin Selby said when the government first heard of the letter late last week it contacted the PCs to find out if Pallister's accusation was legitimate.

"It didn't take them long to tell us it was made up," she said Tuesday. "It's quite shocking, actually."

The letter has run unchallenged in two rural newspapers since being released last Friday. The NDP say they're compelled to respond not only because the allegation is false, but that it impugns that health care workers would allow such a situation to unfold.

"It's clearly an attack on the integrity of government MLAs, but it's also an attack on those people who are working every day, nurses, doctors, the people in administration. I think he should be completely ashamed," Selby said. "It was meant to scare people. He didn't have a real issue so he made up one."

Pallister is out of the country and was unavailable Thursday.

An aide said the letter and other letters to the editor released by the Tories during the past year are intended to run in rural newspapers to convey issues in the legislature and the PC's positions on them. Each Tory MLA is to provide letters on a regular basis to staff, which may or may not be edited before release. The communications strategy includes targeting rural papers in NDP-held ridings; Interlake, Dauphin and Swan River. The Tories refer to the three constituencies as the "north-west angle."

Pallister's letter begins with the medical-treatment scenario and shifts to the legitimate political issue of former cabinet minister Christine Melnick lying to a legislative committee. Melnick said she didn't direct an assistant deputy minister to invite community groups to a highly partisan legislative debate in the spring of 2012 on federal immigration changes. Melnick has since said she was suffering from undiagnosed diabetes at the time.

"The Progressive Conservative Party is calling for an investigation into this important issue," Pallister said in the letter, repeating his position on the matter in statements he made before Christmas. "This is only the latest in a series of blatant falsehoods put forward by NDP politicians, including the premier himself, who claimed it was 'nonsense' he would raise the PST, and then did."

Selby said regardless, to accuse NDP MLAs of medical-queue jumping is "appalling."

"I've never heard of anything like this," the Southdale MLA, first elected in 2007, said. "I've chatted with some of my colleagues who've been around here a lot longer than I have. They've never, ever experienced behaviour like this from anyone in opposition, never mind a guy who wants to be premier."

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 10, 2014 A4

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