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Tidying up house for the holidays

MLAs wrap up pre-Christmas sitting

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Provincial legislators wrapped up a 13-day pre-Christmas sitting on Thursday that saw a new Opposition leader take his place in the assembly and a deficit-conscious government shy away from new spending promises.

After racking up a record $999-million deficit last year, the Selinger government introduced a modest legislative agenda with an emphasis on consumer protection.

Premier Greg Selinger and his government faced daily attacks from the Conservatives in the legislature about being "addicted to spending." Questions were also raised about whether the government could stay within this year's budget, which projects a $460-million deficit.

When a reporter pointed out to Selinger his fall legislative program was done on the cheap, the premier had a ready answer.

"It's good, smart legislation to make lives better for people and keep costs down. It speaks to the issue of managing the budget," he said.

Conservative Leader Brian Pallister, a former Filmon government cabinet minister, looked at home as he took his place in the legislature.

The Conservatives touted raising the basic personal tax exemption to give low-income earners more money and decried long lineups at food banks.

They also questioned whether the government should rethink its timetable for the construction of expensive hydro dams, given a slump in energy prices, and they attacked a policy that requires independent workers to pay union dues when employed on large public contracts.

"I've been proud to see our members advocating very strongly for people I consider who need the government to perform better," Pallister said of his caucus as the sitting ended.

The Phoenix Sinclair inquiry cast a shadow over the brief session, sparking numerous questions in the House. At one point, Family Services and Labour Minister Jennifer Howard said she found it "extremely distressing" CFS caseworker supervisors' notes had gone missing.

Liberal MLA Jon Gerrard on Thursday demanded Premier Greg Selinger remove Howard from the portfolio. Later, he said Howard failed to provide an "adequate explanation for why those notes were missing."

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

 

Session highlights

The Progressive Conservatives' Brian Pallister took his place in the legislature as leader of the official Opposition, returning to the chamber for the first time since April 1997.

Premier Greg Selinger admitted on throne speech day his government may not be able to balance its budget by 2014 as it promised more than two years ago.

The government sent a message to 92 municipalities with populations below 1,000 it expects them to amalgamate with neighbouring jurisdictions in time for the 2014 municipal elections.

The government introduced 18 bills and passed one -- plus the throne speech -- in the three-week sitting. The other bills will be debated in the new year.

Passed and given royal assent Thursday was a bill that would protect the jobs of parents on extended leave because their child is critically ill, has died or has disappeared as a result of crime. MLAs rushed to pass it as new federal benefits for such parents begin in the new year.

Other legislation introduced during the sitting would: allow jails to monitor inmate house calls; better safeguard Manitobans' health information; ensure warranties are in place on new homes; establish speed limits for motorists when passing emergency vehicles; protect car buyers from false advertising; and repeal a law that allows an employer to pay disabled workers less than minimum wage.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 7, 2012 A7

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