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All quiet on the governing front

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If you think there’s not much coming out the provincial government these days, you’re right.

But it’s not because the Selingerites are hiding. It’s because they’ve told to keep their yaps shut—until March 2 Concordia provincial by-election is over.

The Elections Finances Act forbids any government department or Crown agency from publishing or advertising information about its programs or activities, unless absolutely necessary, during an election campaign.

That means no monkey business. It means no funding announcements and no "good news" newsers with grinning cabinet ministers.

It’s also because the NDP do not want a repeat of what happened last year.

In December Finance Minister Rosann Wowchuk got a slap on the wrist for handing out a $50,000 cheque during last March's provincial by-elections in Elmwood and The Pas.

Manitoba' Commissioner of Elections Michael Green ruled Wowchuk, then agriculture minister, violated section 56(1.1) of the Election Finances Act.

The law also says a person who is guilty of an offence under The Elections Finances Act is liable on summary conviction to a fine, but Green did not refer the matter to court.

Still, it was embarrassing for Wowchuk.

Her crime was presenting a cheque in Brandon to the Provincial Exhibition of Manitoba towards the restoration of the aging Trade Fair building on the Keystone Centre grounds.

Wowchuk said she thought she was acting within the election rules as the funding had been announced before the two by-elections were called. The government did not issue a press release about the cheque presentation.

Who complained? The Progressive Conservatives. They were running candidates in The Pas and Elmwood, which were later won by NDP candidates Frank Whitehead in The Pas and Bill Blaikie in Elmwood.

With the Concordia campaign now in full swing, the NDP doesn’t want to give the Tories any chance to cry foul and grab a headline.

So there’s a self-imposed gag order on now on pretty much everything.

Bets are the dam busts open March 3.

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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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