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Brian Pallister denies he violated a self-imposed blackout on government advertising by participating in a ribbon-cutting for the soon-to-be-opened Waverley underpass on Tuesday.

The NDP and the Liberals accused the premier Wednesday of breaking the rules in attending the event, with the latter announcing their intent to file a complaint with Elections Manitoba.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister speaks at a press conference during the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the opening of the Waverley underpass Tuesday.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister speaks at a press conference during the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the opening of the Waverley underpass Tuesday.

Pallister said he didn't break any rules because he didn't praise his own government at the event.

"I simply joined with our colleagues in the City of Winnipeg and the federal government, at their invitation, to share in the celebration of opening a project that we worked on together for some time...." he said, noting that it was finished ahead of schedule and under budget.

Asked if that wasn't praising the project, Pallister replied: "No, that's praising my partners, which is exactly what I did yesterday."

The premier said before he attended the event he consulted with the province's chief bureaucrat, Fred Meier, who has been tasked with setting out the rules for the blackout.

In a statement to the Free Press, Meier said that he, along with provincial legal services personnel and other civil servants, reviewed the request to attend the event through the lens of the government's advertising restrictions policy and found it to be permissible.

"I simply joined with our colleagues in the City of Winnipeg and the federal government, at their invitation, to share in the celebration of opening a project that we worked on together for some time...." — Progressive Conservative party leader, Premier Brian Pallister

"The event was a City of Winnipeg/federal government event, not a provincial event; no provincial government resources were used to organize the event," Meier said.

The province did not contribute to a news release, nor was it quoted in the news release," he said. "Comments provided at the event were not promotional in nature, but rather focused on bringing greetings and congratulating partners involved in the project," he added.

Former cabinet minister Erin Selby, speaking on behalf of the NDP's election campaign, accused Pallister of violating the spirit, if not the letter, of the law.

Waverley underpass opening Aug. 19

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RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS						</p>																	<p>Waverley Underpass announcement Landscaping and construction crews work to do final preparations to open the Waverley underpass by Aug 19th which was officially announced at a news conference by Mayor Brian Bowman and other government officials Today. News conference location was inside the Waverley Underpass construction zone on northbound Waverley Street, just south of the new underpass on the new roadway.						</p>
RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Waverley Underpass announcement Landscaping and construction crews work to do final preparations to open the Waverley underpass by Aug 19th which was officially announced at a news conference by Mayor Brian Bowman and other government officials Today. News conference location was inside the Waverley Underpass construction zone on northbound Waverley Street, just south of the new underpass on the new roadway.

Posted: 06/08/2019 5:15 PM

Ahead of schedule and under budget, the Waverley Underpass will open to traffic Aug. 19, officials from the three levels of government announced Tuesday.

Originally projected to open in October and cost $156 million, the long-awaited relief for motorists frequently stopped at the at-grade railway crossing will instead carry a price of $98 million.

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The Election Financing Act sets out restrictions on government advertising 90 days prior to a fixed-date election. However, that provision doesn't apply in this election because the Progressive Conservatives have set the election nearly 13 months ahead of the fixed election date of Oct. 6, 2020.

Pallister said he would honour the spirit of the legislation by having Meier, the clerk of the executive council, draw up and enforce similar rules, which took effect in June.

But the opposition parties are crying foul.

"It seems absolutely clear to me that this is a violation of the blackout," Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said of Pallister's attendance at the ribbon cutting. "He's going out of his way to campaign on the public dime."

In June, the provincial NDP wrote a letter to chief electoral officer Shipra Verma and the province's commissioner of elections, Bill Bowles, calling for a clear, impartial and enforceable mechanism to ensure a level playing field between the governing party and other political parties in the lead-up to the election, set for Sept. 10.

The NDP argued that once Pallister set the election date it no longer made sense that Meier would continue to exercise his discretion over government advertising as the election neared. They noted that the clerk reports to the premier and is hired and fired at the government's pleasure.

However, the two officials said in their response in early July that they do not have the power to vet government communications, only to investigate complaints about government advertising during the election period. They said when elections are set outside of the fixed-election date the election period (and restrictions on advertising) begins when the election is formally called.

Under the law, Pallister can drop the writ as late as Tuesday for a Sept. 10 election. The earliest he could have done so was Wednesday (Aug. 7).

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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