Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Byelection delays are political

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As the extended legislative session winds to an end, the NDP government has yet to wrap up a pressing item. Its PST rate hike will be passed by Thursday, along with 30-plus bills outstanding from the spring sitting. And an important change to speed limits in construction zones will be passed, after a late compromise between the NDP and Tories to add it to the agenda.

But this is all cold comfort to the people of the Morris constituency, vacated in February when Tory Mavis Taillieu resigned. The NDP has yet to drop the byelection writ, despite repeated calls by the Tories.

The government has excused its foot-dragging, blaming a hectic spring session, and a tradition of not holding byelections while the House is sitting. In November, Premier Greg Selinger added a new rationalization -- now that Arthur-Virden will also need a byelection, holding them coincidentally would save taxpayers money.

Mr. Selinger's real interests are purely political.

The byelection could have been called at any time, and should have been when it became evident that the spring sitting was extended. And there is no saving to holding byelections coincidentally, as Elections Manitoba has said. Further, the Morris byelection could have been held in October, after the House broke mid-September.

But all of the evidently possible paled in comparison to the obvious problem before the NDP, which was to battle blistering press and falling popularity sparked by the PST hike. Since the spring budget, the government has been pumping out announcements and holding public press conferences to present cheques for an uninterrupted stream of "infrastructure spending" projects.

That would have been tripped up for weeks with a byelection -- the Election Financing Act demands that government advertising be suspended during a writ. That this was foremost in the NDP's agenda this summer and fall was underscored in November when Mr. Selinger delayed again, to hold two simultaneous byelections and thus avoid the suspension of infrastructure announcements twice, for at least 32 days each time.

The extended session was extraordinary, requiring compromise and innovative solutions from the Tories and the NDP. This was evident in the deal struck to rise in September, delaying passage of the PST implementation while priority legislation on bullying and municipal amalgamations went ahead.

And Thursday, another deal was struck to pass an important amendment to the Highway Traffic Act. Amendments will require motorists to reduce speed on roads and highways where construction is taking place, whether workers are present or not. Fines will rise dramatically for those who ignore the law.

The passage is made possible because the Tories offered to put Bill 2 on the sessional order, substituting it in for another bill that will be put off to the next session.

Amid all the compromise, the people of Morris have been ignored. There is little benefit to the NDP in filling the seat in a true-blue riding in a timely manner. Now the constituents of the riding will be called to the polls in the dead of winter -- by Feb. 12 at the latest. Arthur-Virden must go to the polls by next October, but similarly deserves timely representation. A byelection there should be held before the legislature returns March 6.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 3, 2013 A8

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