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Whistle blown on free tickets

No more seat giveaways for ministers, says NDP

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The Selinger government is about to stop cabinet ministers and senior bureaucrats from attending Winnipeg Jets games on someone else's dime.

Finance Minister Stan Struthers confirmed late Monday a new directive will soon prohibit cabinet ministers and board members of Crown corporations from getting into games with free tickets.

"We're looking at a policy where cabinet members pay their own tickets, they wouldn't accept tickets from Crown corporations or other organizations that we do government business with," Struthers said.

"Cabinet is very determined to put in place a framework that is fair. The Jets ticket is the hottest ticket in town and we want this to be fair."

Free tickets are made available through Crown corporations, such as the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission, who advertise with the Jets.

Roman Zubach, president of the commission, recently told a legislature committee the MLCC pays $250,000 per year to advertise inside the MTS Centre, home of the Winnipeg Jets. In exchange it gets 10 season tickets to use for promotions or other purposes.

Free tickets have also been made available to cabinet ministers through private companies -- that will also stop.

Two cabinet ministers, Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton and Justice Minister Andrew Swan, who got into games last season for free, have since paid for their tickets.

"It's pretty widely accepted that Crown corporations through sponsorships and advertising, they're going to spend some money to make sure that their presence is there at Jets games," Struthers said. "What we won't have happen is cabinet ministers or boards of Crown corporations being seen to benefit from that unfairly."

It's not know how many tickets are made available through Crown corporations other than the MLCC. A draft policy from the Manitoba Crown Corporations Council has been circulating for several days for input.

Struthers said the new policy is not connected to questions Progressive Conservative Ron Schuler has recently been asking, most recently in Monday's question period. Schuler first demanded six weeks ago at a committee meeting a list to see who got to go to Jets games using the 10 season tickets the MLCC secured through advertising with the NHL club.

Healthy Living Minister Jim Rondeau, the minister responsible for the MLCC, said in the house the information is still being put together.

"Out of those tickets did political staff, board members or MLAs use any of them?" Schuler asked. "This isn't an overwhelming request. Where's the list?"

Struthers said the new directive will only cover Jets games, not tickets for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the new Investors Group Field stadium or Winnipeg Goldeyes games or tickets to the arts, such as the theatre, ballet or symphony.

"The Jets being a hot commodity in town have really caused people to be scrambling for tickets," Struthers said. "We don't want to have ministers and board members seen to have an advantage over regular, everyday Manitobans. That's what's driving the discussion over this policy."

Struthers also said there was no complaint or event that caused cabinet to bring in a no-free-Jets-ticket policy.

"I thinks it's a government acting prudently to make sure that things are done fairly," he said.

Struthers said he would like to see community groups, such as minor hockey teams or school patrols, use the tickets.

"Crown corporations can buy advertising at the arena for Jets games. They can continue to give the patrol groups tickets to encourage them and have them go to the games. They just won't be able to give them to cabinet ministers and board members of Crown corporations."

So who scored?

NOT the goal -- the tickets.

That's a question Opposition Tory MLA Ron Schuler (St. Paul) is asking the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission.

Schuler first asked the MLCC at a legislative committee meeting more than six weeks ago and again during Monday's question period.

Schuler said the Crown corporation, through what it spends on advertising at the MTS Centre, got 10 Winnipeg Jets season tickets that were given out to individual games.

"We just want to know if there were any MLAs, board members and family and political staff," Schuler said. "It's a simple request.

"At the average price of a season ticket, my hope is that they have some tracking mechanism. There should be some record where the tickets went. It's a pretty valuable commodity right now."

Healthy Living Minister Jim Rondeau said in the house the MLCC is still gathering the information to give to Schuler.

"We will provide the information in due course," Rondeau said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 8, 2012 A3

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