Opposition fumes as legislature recesses early

The Manitoba legislature sat Wednesday for only the fifth time since March 19, but no future sessions have been scheduled and opposition MLAs say Premier Brian Pallister seems intent on avoiding accountability for his actions during the pandemic.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/05/2020 (861 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Manitoba legislature sat Wednesday for only the fifth time since March 19, but no future sessions have been scheduled and opposition MLAs say Premier Brian Pallister seems intent on avoiding accountability for his actions during the pandemic.

The NDP and Liberals raised the matter repeatedly in the legislature as negotiations between the parties have so far failed to produce agreement on future sitting days.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the government has tremendous power under the Emergency Measures Act, and MLAs should continue to meet so that it can answer for its decisions.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS NDP Leader Wab Kinew addresses the speaker during question period as a limited number of MLA's were in the legislative chamber Wednesday as part of the measures to deal with the coronavirus continue.

“You’ve got kids potentially going back to school, you’ve got Manitoba Hydro employees waiting on layoff notices. And you’ve got huge sections of the economy all opening back up next week alone. And, Mr. Pallister still seems intent on hiding from question period and avoiding accountability,” Kinew said.

“I don’t think that’s right, and I think Manitobans deserve answers from their leaders,” he said.

In the legislature, Pallister didn’t tip his hand Wednesday on whether he would be prepared to convene the legislature again before fall.

He said other provincial legislatures have sat less frequently than Manitoba’s during the pandemic, and he noted that several committee meetings have been scheduled in the coming weeks.

Regular sittings of the House of Commons have been adjourned for four months.

In a brief interview outside the chamber on Wednesday, government house leader Kelvin Goertzen said the Progressive Conservatives offered the opposition one additional sitting day but it was rejected.

“You’ve got kids potentially going back to school, you’ve got Manitoba Hydro employees waiting on layoff notices. And you’ve got huge sections of the economy all opening back up next week alone. And, Mr. Pallister still seems intent on hiding from question period and avoiding accountability.”
– NDP Leader Wab Kinew

“We did offer an additional sitting day in June. The only stipulation was we’d like to see some bills pass in the afternoon, to do some work,” he said. “They couldn’t agree to that.

“It doesn’t mean the discussions won’t continue to happen. But there was an offer made to have an additional sitting day.”

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said one extra day isn’t good enough.

“That’s unacceptable. We’ve got seven weeks (of lost sitting days) to make up,” he said.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont asks questions of the government during question period in the Legislative Building on Wednesday.

Normally, the legislature sits from early March to the first Monday in June. After that, it doesn’t sit until early October.

However, the normal sitting schedule has been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

With more services and businesses allowed to open up on Monday, the government cannot continue to use the pandemic as an excuse not to continue to operate the legislature, the Opposition parties say.

They say Pallister has the power to recall the House at any time.

While dates have been set for a committee to meet three days in the coming weeks, none of the sessions involves the premier, Lamont noted.

All scheduled committee days deal with the operations of three Crown corporations, namely Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries, Manitoba Public Insurance and Manitoba Hydro.

“That’s unacceptable. We’ve got seven weeks (of lost sitting days) to make up.”
– Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont

In the legislature on Wednesday, the NDP, referencing appalling conditions in Ontario personal care homes, asked whether the Pallister government would follow through on a consultant’s recommendations to reduce funding to that sector.

A 2017 report by KPMG said there was an opportunity for Manitoba to reduce personal care home spending costs, citing Ontario as a potential benchmark.

“That would mean cutting beds. That would mean cutting services. That would mean cutting hours that each patient in long-term care receives from the caregivers,” Kinew said in question period.

Pallister responded by saying that “no government in the history of Manitoba has invested more and more effectively…in the care of seniors than this government.”

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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Updated on Wednesday, May 27, 2020 7:27 PM CDT: Updates photos

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