February 25, 2020

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Winnipeg Free Press

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Old business up first in new session of legislature

Tory MLA Driedger re-elected Speaker

The Pallister government kicked-off a new session of the Manitoba legislature with an abbreviated throne speech Monday, as it seeks to clear up some unfinished pre-election business — namely, passing the spring budget.

In an unusual start, the government largely delayed setting out its legislative agenda.

Manitoba assembly offers 'more voices to be heard'

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15 new faces made their first appearance on opening day of of the new session at the Manitoba Legislature in Winnipeg, Monday.
15 new faces made their first appearance on opening day of of the new session at the Manitoba Legislature in Winnipeg, Monday.

Posted: 30/09/2019 6:57 PM

The Manitoba legislative session began anew Monday with 15 fresh faces, who are among the most diverse to set foot in the chamber.

Among them are the province's first three black MLAs: Audrey Gordon of the Progressive Conservatives, and Uzoma Asagwara and Jamie Moses of the NDP.

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In a five-minute speech, delivered by Manitoba Chief Justice Richard Chartier, on behalf of Lt.-Gov. Janice Filmon, the government mainly stuck to business initiated before the Sept. 10 election.

(Filmon's absence was not explained until late in the day, when her office issued a news release to say she had undergone surgery for breast cancer Monday. She was said to be resting comfortably post-surgery.)

MLAs are scheduled to sit for just two weeks as they continue to scrutinize a budget introduced March 7. When Premier Brian Pallister called the election — more than a year earlier than demanded under the province's fixed-date election law — the budget had yet to be passed by the legislative assembly.

"It was a refreshingly succinct and focused throne speech," Pallister quipped afterwards.

He noted the government will set out its legislative program for the next year in a new throne speech in November.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister and leader of the official opposition, NDP Leader Wab Kinew, walk Myrna Driedger to see the clerk of the house, Patricia Chaychuk.  (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister and leader of the official opposition, NDP Leader Wab Kinew, walk Myrna Driedger to see the clerk of the house, Patricia Chaychuk. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

In Monday's speech, the government said it would continue to work to make Manitoba more economically competitive by reducing regulatory red tape and encouraging innovation. It also signalled its intention to address addictions and public safety issues, but set out no new initiatives.

Speaking to reporters, Pallister said the government is committed to continuing to clean up the province's finances — even as the province's auditor general said last week the province had balanced its books in 2018-19.

The government issued a report Thursday saying it incurred a $163-million deficit last fiscal year, but the auditor general took issue with the government's accounting. It cited two areas of disagreement: one concerning the Workers Compensation Board and another relating to two newly-created trusts at the Manitoba Agricultural Credit Corp. If the government had used accepted accounting practices, it would have shown a surplus of $9 million last year, the AG said.

Driedger with clerk Patricia Chaychuk after she was voted in as the new speaker of the house in the chamber Monday. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

Driedger with clerk Patricia Chaychuk after she was voted in as the new speaker of the house in the chamber Monday. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

Commenting on the provincial auditor's rebuke, Pallister said Monday the government was not going "to take undue credit for money that is not ours."

"The money in the workers compensation fund and the money at crop insurance belong to workers and farmers," he said. "They don't belong to the government of Manitoba."

Pallister also announced the government had engaged a consultant, Robert Murray, to assist the Winnipeg metropolitan region in improving the permitting and inspection processes. He said he hoped to view Murray's report in the next two months.

Reacting to the short throne speech, NDP Leader Wab Kinew said he was disappointed it made no mention of climate change. He said this suggests the Tories were not prepared to take any real action to address the global problem.

"It was a refreshingly succinct and focused throne speech," Pallister quipped afterwards. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

"It was a refreshingly succinct and focused throne speech," Pallister quipped afterwards. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

As for the hiring of a consultant to improve city's permitting system, Kinew said he is concerned the province's involvement in the issue will simply create more bureaucracy, leading to even greater delays in getting projects done.

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont was also skeptical about the government's penchant for hiring outside consultants to inform policy decisions. He said the practice diminishes the role of MLAs.

"Why would you go to all the trouble of running for MLA when you can just become a consultant and tell the government what to do?" he said.

Meanwhile, MLAs re-elected Progressive Conservative Myrna Driedger (Roblin) as the legislature's Speaker.

Driedger defeated Liberal MLA Cindy Lamoureux (Tyndall Park) and New Democrat Bernadette Smith (Point Douglas) in a secret-ballot vote.

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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History

Updated on Monday, September 30, 2019 at 1:25 PM CDT: Edited.

6:15 PM: Writethru

7:17 PM: Related story added.

8:01 PM: Fixes typo.

October 1, 2019 at 9:57 AM: Updates headline

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