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NDP’s photo op broke law

Minister contrite, Tories skeptical

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The governing NDP broke the law when it invited two local media outlets for a tour of a new birthing centre in the days leading up to last fall's election.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/05/2012 (3870 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The governing NDP broke the law when it invited two local media outlets for a tour of a new birthing centre in the days leading up to last fall’s election.

Manitoba’s commissioner of elections, Bill Bowles, made the ruling after a complaint by the Tories.

Manitoba law forbids government advertising — except under an emergency — in the 90 days leading up to election day, which was held Oct. 4 under the province’s fixed-election-date rules.

Wayne Glowacki / Winnipeg Free Press archives From left: Ministers Oswald, Allan

On Aug. 31, the Free Press and CTV accepted an invitation by the government to tour the soon-to-be-opened birthing facility at 603 St. Mary’s Rd.

Health Minister Theresa Oswald and Education Minister Nancy Allan were part of the tour hosted by the executive director of the Women’s Health Clinic.

The Free Press asked Oswald that day whether the tour contravened the Election Finance Act. The health minister denied the tour ran afoul of the law.

However, in a ruling this week, Bowles disagreed.

“The other parties running candidates in the election did not have access to government staffers to arrange their media events, nor did they have the ability to use the birth centre to stage a media event,” he wrote. “Those uses of government resources are, in my view, what section 56 (of the act) was intended to prevent.”

Bowles went on to say he had “no reason to think” the government ministers or the health clinic breached the law intentionally — a statement Premier Greg Selinger clung to as he answered Conservative questions about the report in the legislature on Wednesday.

“We accept the judgment of the commissioner,” Selinger said.

“We do note that the commissioner stated clearly that he did not believe that the breach of the act was intentional.”

Oswald told reporters the ruling took her by surprise, but she accepts it.

She said she believed she had not overstepped the law since the creation of the birthing centre had already been announced.

“Without a doubt I made a mistake for which, by the way, I humbly apologize,” the minister said. “I didn’t understand it to be a breach of the act, of course, when it happened. But the commissioner has ruled otherwise and I accept that ruling.”

Opposition Leader Hugh McFadyen refused to accept the incident was simply a misunderstanding on the NDP’s part.

He said there have been several other incidents over the years in which the party has flouted election laws, including a breach of the same section by former NDP cabinet minister Rosann Wowchuk during a byelection in 2009. As agriculture minister, Wowchuk announced the province would make a $50,000 contribution to help repair of an agricultural trade fair building in Brandon.

“It’s not an isolated incident and it’s not just a matter of being able to say, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to break the law,’ ” McFadyen said Wednesday.

“The reality is they knew what the law was and they went ahead and did the event in any case. It’s a demonstration, I think, of an arrogance that’s crept into the NDP and a contempt for the rules that everybody else is required to live by.”

There is no penalty for breaching the section of the act the NDP contravened.

Bowles said in an interview he will forward his report to Elections Manitoba, which will note his ruling in a forthcoming annual report.

In the absence of legal consequences, McFadyen said it’s the responsibility of the premier to send a message to his ministers and his party that such violations are not acceptable. He did not specify how Selinger should do that.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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