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Province criticized for using civil servants to praise Scheer

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer (Justin Tang / The Canadian Press files)

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer (Justin Tang / The Canadian Press files)

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 5/6/2019 (433 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Pallister government is under fire for using tax money to promote Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer in the run-up to the October federal election.

On Wednesday, the government issued a press release lauding Scheer's pledge to work with provinces to reduce interprovincial trade barriers.

The news release quoted deputy Premier Heather Stefanson welcoming "this strong commitment of federal engagement" on an issue that has been near and dear to Premier Brian Pallister.

But Opposition leaders cried foul and a longtime observer of the Manitoba political scene couldn't recall another instance in which a government news release applauded an opposition party leader in Ottawa.

"It's totally inappropriate," said Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont, noting that provincial civil servants would have been involved in preparing and distributing the release.

"This is just propping up the federal Conservatives," he said.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the Progressive Conservatives were using a forum that is supposed to be non-partisan as a "megaphone" to support their federal cousins.

"On the lighter side, I'm waiting to see if they're going to put out a press release supporting (federal NDP Leader) Jagmeet Singh's climate action plan," he said.

Paul Thomas, professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Manitoba, said he can't recall a similar instance in which the Manitoba government issued a news release to trumpet a federal Opposition leader.

"It struck me as unusual when I first saw it," he said Wednesday.

The timing of the release is interesting, Thomas said, given the proximity of the national election, slated for Oct. 21, and a looming provincial election, likely in September.

On Tuesday, Pallister said his government would impose a voluntary blackout on advertising and government announcements in the coming days to help level the political playing field heading into a provincial election.

"A day after you say you're voluntarily going to impose regulations on yourself not to engage in partisan propaganda in the run-up to the election...you suddenly turn around and issue an ad where you're endorsing the national official Opposition party," Thomas noted.

He said it would have been "more appropriate" for the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba, not the government, to have issued the press release.

Embarrassingly, the government misspelled Scheer's surname twice (writing "Sheer") before correcting it.

While in Opposition, Pallister complained about partisan ads purchased by the NDP to promote various features of the 2015-2016 budget. "Running a branding campaign on funds borrowed from our children and grandchildren is wasteful," he said at the time.

Asked for comment Wednesday, Stefanson, pinch hitting for the premier who is in France for the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of D-Day, issued a statement that did not address the central question posed to government as to whether the news release violated any rules.

"Our government is committed to taking meaningful action to address trade barriers within our control, and a signal of support for that goal—regardless of the supportive party— is worth highlighting," the statement read in part.

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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History

Updated on Thursday, June 6, 2019 at 10:10 AM CDT: adds photo

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