Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

NDP serves itself

  • Print

The report of the Manitoba ombudsman into the alleged partisan action of a senior civil servant speaks to the grey areas and blurred lines that make it difficult to offer precise guidelines for appropriate relations between elected officials and administrators.

It does not, however, say a word about the deceit and deception that characterized the conduct of several ministers who dodged, ducked and evaded every question in the legislature about the affair.

Then-immigration minister Christine Melnick was at the centre of the storm because it was her assistant deputy minister, Ben Rempel, who invited civil servants and others to the legislature last year to back a government motion on immigration. She said the invitation was not her idea, a falsehood that raised questions about the integrity and political neutrality of her deputy, who was merely following Melnick's orders.

The NDP was in a dispute with the federal government at the time over Ottawa's plan to take control of certain immigration functions it funded.

On at least two separate days in the legislature, according to Hansard, Ms. Melnick was peppered with questions about her role in the issue.

"I ask again," Tory MLA Mavis Taillieu said. "Why has an assistant deputy minister... been doing the NDP's political work?"

Ms. Melnick didn't respond, but instead offered bromides about Manitoba's rosy future. The question was asked again and again, but each time the minister found a way to avoid a frank answer.

Premier Greg Selinger was asked how he could justify "this abuse of an impartial civil servant's position for political purposes," but he, too, ducked and dodged.

Jennifer Howard, house leader at the time, came closest to a direct answer by saying Mr. Rempel's actions were directed at encouraging people "to come and witness democracy in this chamber."

In other words, it was all a harmless exercise in citizenship and no one had done anything wrong.

The ombudsman did not examine this aspect of the story, partly because it was outside his jurisdiction, but also because it would not have offered insight into whether Mr. Rempel had acted in a partisan way.

The distribution of the email was not "intentionally a partisan act," the ombudsman said, although the civil servant failed to consider how his actions might be perceived by the public, as required by the province's values and ethics guide.

The ombudsman found the perception of political partisanship was the result of an unfortunate set of circumstances, but he recommended elected officials and civil servants take a refresher course on the importance of maintaining the public's confidence in the neutrality of the civil service.

Meanwhile, it is shameful that three ministers of the Crown found it convenient to evade the truth in a vain attempt to avoid responsibility. In the process, a defenceless senior civil servant was hung out to dry.

Like all governments that get long in the tooth, the NDP has grown comfortable with the use and abuse of power, but it needs to respect the impartiality of the civil service to ensure Manitobans are properly served by any political party.

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 13, 2013 A12

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Lawless in the Morning: Former NHLer Jeff O'Neill, Montreal Canadiens and help for the Jets

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • MIKE.DEAL@FREEPRESS.MB.CA 110621 - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 -  Doug Chorney, president Keystone Agricultural Producers flight over South Western Manitoba to check on the condition of farming fields. MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
  • A young gosling prepares to eat dandelions on King Edward St Thursday morning-See Bryksa 30 Day goose challenge- Day 17- bonus - May 24, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos


Should NDP MLAs sign the "pledge of solidarity"?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google