Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Premier must come clean on lies: Pallister

Selinger 'part and parcel' of falsehood

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Premier Greg Selinger should say exactly when he found out his former immigration and multiculturalism minister lied about her role in inviting immigrants and immigration groups to a contentious legislative debate last year.

Opposition Leader Brian Pallister made the demand Wednesday, a day after Selinger revealed he dropped Riel MLA Christine Melnick from his cabinet, in part, because of the lie.

Pallister also called for a legislative inquiry into Melnick's and the premier's handling of the affair. And he said Selinger should boot Melnick out of the NDP caucus for misleading MLAs about the April 2012 invitation, which drew hundreds of people to the legislature.

Melnick had said her assistant deputy minister, Ben Rempel, acted on his own initiative in issuing the invite. She later admitted to the provincial ombudsman's office she directed Rempel to do it. The admission was only revealed when the ombudsman released a report into Rempel's conduct last week.

Selinger told the Free Press Tuesday he only learned of the lie after the ombudsman began his investigation. An official with the ombudsman's office said Wednesday the probe began in the "mid-summer" of 2012.

Pallister said he does not buy the premier's explanation, saying he must have known the truth "almost immediately."

"A lie is a lie," Pallister said. "The premier knew 18 months ago that his minister had lied about his government's attempt to involve the civil service in a partisan activity. That means that the premier was part and parcel of perpetuating the lie for a year and a half. That is just not on."

Pallister said Selinger must have wondered why a civil servant would agree to perform a partisan political act, and he should have asked the clerk of the executive council, the province's chief bureaucrat, for an explanation.

"If he did not ask his clerk of the executive council about this issue, that speaks volumes about his willingness to accept partisan behaviour on the part of a senior bureaucrat."

The Tory leader said he failed to understand how Selinger could have known for months about the minister's falsehood without taking action.

"Let's stop the coverup. Let's stop the obfuscation. Let's get the premier to just come clean," the Tory leader said.

Lone Liberal MLA Jon Gerrard, the former Liberal leader, said he was shocked to learn Selinger knew Melnick had instructed a senior civil servant but didn't say anything.

"Christine Melnick and the premier should have been forthright right from the start and the moment that the premier knew, he should have made sure the record was made public," Gerrard said.

The ombudsman's office launched its probe after a member of the public complained Rempel had "crossed the line" of impartiality expected of civil servants. Its report found the civil servant did not breach the Civil Service Act or the Manitoba Civil Service Commission Values and Ethics Guide. But it said the debate over the bureaucrat's action left little doubt "this matter brought the question of civil service neutrality to the forefront."


-- with files from The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 19, 2013 A7

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