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New Democrat MLA James Allum accused the Tory government Tuesday of trying to hide public information on the internet by dropping the publication of official notices in newspapers.
Among "wildly strange pieces of legislation... this one is quite something," Allum told the legislature. "This one takes essential information away from Manitobans and hides it online among billions of pieces of information."
Bill 8 will make the Manitoba Gazette (the provincial government’s official weekly publication of legal notices) free online when it passes, and will amend 24 statutes to end the long-standing requirement to publish official notices in local newspapers. Cabinet ministers would still have the discretion to advertise in individual notices.
Allum said Manitobans need to see notices in print about matters affecting the environment, education, and health.
During the 2016 provincial election, Allum asked, did the Conservatives promise that ending this practice would be a priority?
Did Tory candidates say, "I’m going to fight to make sure no legal notices (are published) in local newspapers across Manitoba — I don’t believe they did that."
Allum, who once edited two small papers in eastern Ontario, said the loss of revenue will hurt community papers. "Local newspapers rely on that advertising to make ends meet."
Liberal MLA Judy Klassen argued many First Nations and other communities in the north have no access to the internet.
"It provides a source of income for local newspapers," and especially French-language papers whose readers need government information in their first language, added New Democrat Greg Selinger.
Sports, Culture and Heritage Minister Cathy Cox said her bill will end the $100 charge to subscribe to the Manitoba Gazette, made under the former NDP government.
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"This bill is about providing more information to more Manitobans, in one location. All of us have moved to a digital era."
Manitoba is the last government in Canada to put its gazette online for free, she said.
It was not clear Tuesday whether any other region has axed the requirement to publish some government information in newspapers. Individual acts vary when it comes to requiring specific government actions to be published in a newspaper, an official with Saskatchewan’s ministry of justice said.
"In some situations, that will still be a requirement" but at a minister’s discretion, Cox said. "This bill is absolutely about improving access," she said.
KPMG advised the province in its value-for-money audit to chop as much as possible from its $28.5-million annual communications budget, which the consulting firm said includes $5 million for newspaper advertising.
Growth, Enterprise and Trade Minister Blaine Pedersen continued Tuesday to defend the provincial government’s plan to slash membership on advisory bodies.
Bill 10 will affect 25 of the 183 agencies, boards and commissions in Manitoba, capping membership at nine people through attrition, and cutting 12 such groups next summer.
NDP Leader Wab Kinew told the legislature eliminating the workplace advisory committee on health will hurt workers.
“Why not have their advice on an ongoing basis? The government is eliminating the forum through which workers can have their voices heard,” Kinew said.
Pedersen responded that committee was duplicated by other bodies, including the Workers Compensation Board of Manitoba, adding another group on the chopping block -- technical safety advisory committee -- was established by the NDP, but has never met.
“We’re always open to any employee who has safety concerns,” Pedersen said.
New Democrat MLA Matt Wiebe argued the advanced education advisory council (also slated to disappear) is an invaluable source.
If so, Education Minister Ian Wishart countered, why had the former NDP government not convened it?
“It’s one his colleagues, who’ve left, put in place and never used,” Wishart said, adding he meets often with the institutions, their employees and students.
New Democrat Flor Marcelino was aghast the provincial healthy child advisory committee was included on the list of cuts.
Said Pedersen: “For starters, the member could read the bill. It moves the council from 12 members to nine, it does not get rid of them.”