The Opposition New Democrats continued to employ procedural tactics Monday to stall the Manitoba government's legislative agenda, including introduction of the provincial budget.
NDP MLAs rose on points of privilege throughout the day, preventing the legislative assembly from dealing with routine business, such as the introduction bills and question period. The stalling tactics prevented, for a third-consecutive sitting day, the introduction of the 2020 Manitoba budget, which was originally scheduled to be tabled March 11.
An hour before MLAs convened in the chamber, two Progressive Conservative cabinet ministers called a news conference, where they urged the NDP to put aside partisan differences and allow the legislature to function normally.
"At times like this, we as legislators need to rise to a different level and to show Manitobans that we are there working for their best interests," said Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen, referring to the COVID-19 emergency.
The NDP is objecting to the fact the Tory government had lined up more than 20 bills to be introduced on budget day, some of which, they contend, would hurt workers, students, schools and families.
The party has repeatedly offered to allow the government to introduce its budget, saying its goal is only to delay the rapid-fire introduction of bills. It argues Manitobans would have little opportunity to debate them.
"The delay of (Premier Brian) Pallister's legislation has absolutely no bearing on the province's response to COVID-19, and we were pleased to work collaboratively with the government last week to approve emergency funding for health-care supplies," NDP house leader Nahanni Fontaine said Monday in a statement.
The government says the NDP ought to adhere to the rules of the legislature, which allow for the orderly introduction of bills, provide opportunities for cabinet ministers to update MLAs on the coronavirus emergency and permit the Opposition to ask questions.
Asked whether the government was prepared to compromise with the Opposition by offering to introduce fewer bills, allowing for its budget to be introduced, Goertzen, who also serves as government house leader, said such accommodation is already built into the rules.
He noted the rules of the legislature permit the Opposition to designate five bills to be held over until fall. However, the government must also introduce bills by March 18 to assure they are passed by June 1, when the house rises for the summer.
Finance Minister Scott Fielding urged the NDP to "stop the political brinkmanship" in the legislature. He said the Opposition "can't cherry-pick which rules they want to follow."
Paul Thomas, professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Manitoba, said the rules of the legislature have become "weapons" to gain political advantage for both the government and opposition parties.
While the government could technically introduce its budget, it doesn't want to yield to what it sees as the "hostage-taking tactics" of the NDP, he said.
The NDP runs the risk its strategy will backfire, Thomas said, noting the content of the bills the government wishes to introduce is unknown.
"I think the NDP has more to answer for here than the government," he said of the legislative standoff. "The public already thinks that politicians are too self-interested and opportunistic. And they think the NDP is preventing the government from dealing with the COVID-19 crisis and the economic downturn that's coming."
Meanwhile, the government, NDP and Liberals did agree on one thing Monday before the stalling tactics began.
The parties passed a motion giving them the flexibility — by agreement — to vary the sitting hours, days and location of the legislature to deal with "emergency public measures" during the coronavirus outbreak.
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.