THE task of finding a new provincial chief electoral officer--the person who makes sure elections are on the up-and-up--got sidetracked last night when opposition MLAs stormed out of the first all-party meeting to start the hiring process.
The five opposition MLAs say they won't participate in the process until the Selinger government launches an independent review into how Elections Manitoba handled NDP rebates following the 1999 election. The NDP used union volunteers to finangle extra, taxpayer-funded rebates.
Elections Manitoba eventually forced the party to repay $76,000 in improper rebates several years later, but it never pursued charges under election finance laws and did not comb through returns from previous elections.
Steinbach MLA Kelvin Goertzen said that cloud over Elections Manitoba must be removed before any thought can be given to replacing Richard Balasko, who retires in April. And that can only happen by the government calling an independent inquiry, which is unlikely.
What happened last night also won't delay a byelection being called in Concordia, likely in a matter of weeks, but it could impact the public's confidence in the next general election in October 2011, Goertzen said.
"It's not just elected members of the legislature," Goertzen said. "It's anybody who's considering running, for any political party, to ensure that they know that the chief referee of elections is going to referee in an appropriate way."
Government House Leader Bill Blaikie said the walkout by the opposition won't affect the hiring process.
"That process cannot be held hostage to an ongoing political debate between the opposition and the government about things that have happened in the past," he said. "We have a responsibility to the future here."
Rules allow the committee to carry on without the opposition's involvement. The six remaining NDP MLAs agreed to strike a subcommittee to start looking for Balasko's replacement.
Blaikie said the committee does not yet have a short list of potential candidates.