June 6, 2020

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Pallister seeks to make First Nations gaming lounges smoke-free

Premier says he's 'not proposing to act unilaterally,' hopes to address issue through dialogue

Premier Brian Pallister says he wants to put a stop to smoking in First Nations VLT lounges, but he prefers to do it through consultation rather than legislation.

Pallister said there are close to 30 such facilities in Indigenous communities where smoking is permitted.

"Smoking is bad for you. Being forced to be in a place where you're inhaling somebody else's smoke is bad for you. And we need to stand up and say it's the same for Indigenous Manitobans as it is for everybody else," he said Wednesday.

Pallister issued mandate letters to each of his cabinet ministers this week.

One of the directives he issued to Crown Services Minister Jeff Wharton, who is responsible for Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries, is to prohibit smoking in all gaming facilities.

"I'm not proposing to act unilaterally. I want to be very clear on that," Premier Brian Pallister said Wednesday. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

"I'm not proposing to act unilaterally. I want to be very clear on that," Premier Brian Pallister said Wednesday. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

The premier also tasked Wharton with increasing the annual dividend MLL pays to the province and to continue to look for ways to "modernize our wine, beer and liquor retailing system in a manner that enhances the role of the private sector."

Liquor and Lotteries returned a record $616 million to the province in its last fiscal year. However, Pallister in his letter to Wharton said returns have failed to keep pace with inflation and population growth.

Pallister said he's already raised the smoking issue with regional chiefs in Manitoba.

"I'm not proposing to act unilaterally. I want to be very clear on that," he told reporters.

Asked whether he intended to introduce specific legislation to ban smoking in First Nations VLT facilities, Pallister said he wants to address the issue through dialogue.

"Smoking is bad for you. Being forced to be in a place where you're inhaling somebody else's smoke is bad for you. And we need to stand up and say it's the same for Indigenous Manitobans as it is for everybody else." – Premier Brian Pallister

"I think we're seeing right now what happens when you jump ahead and don't have proper dialogue — with blockades all over the country," he said. "It's unproductive."

He said the fact that smoking is permitted in First Nations gaming lounges is "a carryover from arrangements by the previous government that we need to get away from."

The provincial government has introduced legislation to set the ground rules for the testing of self-driving vehicles in Manitoba.

Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler said the Vehicle Technology Testing Act (Bill 23) would create a framework to enable examination of automated vehicles.

"It is something that industry has asked for, that they be allowed to test on our roads," he said of vehicle manufacturers. "And they would like to have some kind of structure put in place."

Schuler said the province has considering the move for more than two years. He said following passage of the bill, the government would develop regulations and a permitting system in consultation with stakeholders.

"By enabling developers to safely test emerging vehicle technologies on provincial roadways, we are supporting Manitoba's large agricultural, trucking, heavy-vehicle manufacturing and technology development sectors," Schuler said.

Companies would have to obtain special insurance coverage, he said. “We are not going to ask Manitoba ratepayers at MPI to cover off, should something happen."

— Larry Kusch

He said he believes "there's a real readiness," among First Nations leaders to move away from allowing smoking in such facilities.

An official with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs was not available for comment late Wednesday.

A spokesman for the Southern Chiefs' Organization said he could not immediately confirm whether the issue of smoking in VLT lounges has been discussed with the province.

NDP leader Wab Kinew said he agrees that smoking is harmful, but Pallister must respect Indigenous rights in dealing with the issue.

"There's jurisdictional issues there and so they need to be worked on with the approach of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples," he said. "If you want to work with First Nations communities, then you should obtain their consent."

NDP leader Wab Kinew said he agrees that smoking is harmful, but Pallister must respect Indigenous rights in dealing with the issue. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press )

NDP leader Wab Kinew said he agrees that smoking is harmful, but Pallister must respect Indigenous rights in dealing with the issue. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press )

Pallister said he'd like to see more dialogue between Liquor and Lotteries and private retailers on ways to improve service to customers.

Provincial legislation caps the number of private wine stores that can operate in the province and dictates which products can be sold in private beer stores.

The premier said he'd like to see more competition, lower prices and better choices in liquor sales.

Pallister said he'd like to see more competition, lower prices and better choices in liquor sales. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Free Press files)

Pallister said he'd like to see more competition, lower prices and better choices in liquor sales. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Free Press files)

Kinew said he was skeptical about any gains the public might see from increased profits at MLL.

"If they pull a bigger dividend out of that Crown corporation in the future, what are they going to do with it? It doesn't look like it's going to be used to help the social responsibility side or to help health care," he said.

Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries did not respond to a request for comment before deadline.

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.

Read full biography

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