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Manitoba legislators get back to business

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The Manitoba legislature can be a full house for the first time since the pandemic required physical distancing and most members to participate virtually.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 01/03/2022 (336 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Manitoba legislature can be a full house for the first time since the pandemic required physical distancing and most members to participate virtually.

“It is much more effective to be in the assembly itself,” Progressive Conservative government house leader Kelvin Goertzen said Tuesday.

He credited the legislature’s clerks and the Speaker’s office for the online set up that has allowed members to participate virtually, but said it can’t replace in-person interaction

CP The Manitoba legislature chamber will be full when the new session begins on Wednesday. (Steve Lambert / The Canadian Press files)

“It’s not the same as being there — both in terms of interacting with your colleagues and being able to express the concerns of your constituents,” said Goertzen.

“I think it does have an impact on individual members’ ability to represent their constituents — to be able to come to the assembly, look face to face at ministers, their critics and colleagues and express that in person,” said the member for Steinbach who was interim premier after Brian Pallister resigned in August. (A byelection to fill Pallister’s Fort Whyte seat will be held March 22.)

NDP Leader Wab Kinew said his party’s MLAs have been eager to return to the chamber, but virtual participation should continue in the event an MLA has to stay home to take care of young children or sick loved ones. Such an accommodation could reduce barriers and increase representation among MLAs, he said.

The spring session officially resumes Wednesday. On Tuesday, members returned to the chamber for condolence motions to pay tribute to Thompson MLA Danielle Adams who was killed in a highway collision Dec. 9. (A Thompson byelection must be held by June 9).

Goertzen said that on Wednesday, the house will debate the “unjust and unjustifiable” war in Ukraine.

Before it rises for the summer on June 1, it has a lot of legislation to deal with, said Goertzen, who is also justice minister. He says he alone has 14 to 16 bills before the house, including some from his previous role as legislative and public affairs minister.

Electoral reform, making independent officers of the legislature more independent and reforming the police services act “to make it more reflective of today’s world” are some of the bills the government plans to deal with, he said.

The government will also have to answer for its spring budget during the estimates process, Goertzen said.

This year’s budget, expected next month, will likely have a deficit, by including more help for people and businesses affected by the pandemic, Premier Heather Stefanson said.

Her government aims to balance Manitoba’s books by 2028. It’s proceeding cautiously in light of the pandemic and potential economic fallout from the war in Ukraine, she said.

Progressive Conservative government house leader Kelvin Goertzen says he is looking forward to seeing his colleagues in person. (David Lipnowski / The Canadian Press files)

Kinew said his party will focus on health care, education and the cost of living.

“We’ll also be putting forward our plans to help ensure that there’s a strong economic recovery in Manitoba,” he said.

And, on a day when the province allowed all MLAs to sit in the chamber and lifted the proof of vaccination requirement to access restaurants and other indoor venues, Kinew called for the government to lift pandemic restrictions that have limited media access to news conferences. The government’s COVID-19 rules have regulated and restricted media questions and all but suspended the free and open scrums that are the “hallmark of legislative accountability,” Kinew said.

“If the government’s getting rid of those restrictions when it comes to health-care facilities, and indoor public places, I hope they also get rid of all the restrictions… on the media in Manitoba, because at the end of the day, the media are how you hear what your government is up to.”

— with files from Danielle DaSilva, Dylan Robertson and The Canadian Press

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

History

Updated on Wednesday, March 2, 2022 6:25 AM CST: Fixes cutline

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