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Closure and Bill 20 — who’ll blink first?

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One of the more clever moves Opposition Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister has made is making Steinbach Tory MLA Kevin Goertzen his party’s house leader.

Goertzen, a lawyer by trade, has proved extremely adept at using procedural rules to gum things up for the ruling NDP.

Pallister’s Tories, under Goertzen’s hand, have now threatened to extend the current sitting beyond June 13 and into the summer. They say they'd do that to stymie Premier Greg Selinger’s New Democrats and their plan to pass Bill 20 in time to hike the provincial sales tax to eight per cent by July 1.

That delay, if it happens, raises the question of whether the NDP would invoke closure. Such a move would cut off debate and put Bill 20 to an immediate vote in the house. The NDP, with its sizeable majority of 37 seats out of 57, would pass Bill 20 handily and we'd all head to the beach.

But would they?

Closure is used rarely in Manitoba.

The last time was in January 1984 when the NDP under then- Premier Howard Pawley used it to end debate on Bill 115 to extend French language services.

You have to go back to February 1929 when then-Premier John Bracken invoked closure to bring about a vote in his government’s throne speech. One problem for the opposition at that time was Bracken’s plans to start construction of the first stage of the Seven Sisters hydro generating station on the Winnipeg River.

Given that history of the use of closure in Manitoba, giving Francophones the same language services as those who spoke English and bringing hydro-electric power to Winnipeg, how likely is it the NDP will invoke closure to raise taxes? And without a referendum?

The NDP have already bungled their selling job of the need for the tax hike—show me the bridge or sewer falling apart or the dike you plan to build with the extra money; don’t re-announce something you promised in the 2011 election campaign or throne speech.

So the idea of invoking closure to put a cork in Goerzten won’t sit well and only give their critics more ammunition.

Even though the next election is about three years away, the NDP need to convince us they have the stamina to keep driving the bus.

To limit debate would make it look like they’re driving the hearse.

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About Larry Kusch and Bruce Owen

Larry Kusch has been a journalist for 30 years, the last 20 with the Winnipeg Free Press. His is one of the newspaper's two legislative bureau reporters.

Raised on a Saskatchewan farm, he received an honours journalism degree from Carleton University in 1975.

At the Free Press, Larry has also worked as a general assignment reporter, business reporter, copy editor and assistant city editor.

Bruce Owen joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1990 after four years working in other media.

He's worked in a number of positions at the Freep, including pet columnist, assistant city editor and police reporter. Right now he takes up space at the Manitoba legislature.

Bruce is one of five reporters who won a National Newspaper Award for the paper’s coverage of the 1997 Flood of the Century. He's also the recipient of the 1996 Volunteer Centre of Winnipeg Media Golden Hand Award and the 1995 Canadian Federation of Humane Societies Media Commendation Award.

In a past life Bruce worked at YMCA-YWCA Camp Stephens. He has a blog where he and others write about camp and the people who worked and played there.

You can also find Bruce on Twitter where he posts and retweets all sorts of stuff.

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