The province introduced 23 pieces of legislation Monday, but Manitobans won’t be able to see most of them until they’re about to be read for a second time in the legislature — a "sneaky" move, says the Opposition NDP.
Government house leader Kelvin Goertzen said it introduced a stack of bills Monday so they don’t get filibustered by opposition MLAs and miss the deadline to go to a vote before the house, as has happened before.
"The rules say that bills need to be distributed one day prior to second reading," the Tory MLA told reporters outside the chamber.
Under new rules negotiated prior to the 2016 election, government would introduce bills primarily in the spring and, if done before a certain date, they would be guaranteed to come to a vote in the fall, he explained.
"The NDP for last three years has been filibustering before that date, ringing the bells, delaying the legislature so government couldn’t get bills introduced for first reading in time to meet that deadline," Goertzen said. "This ensures that those bills will meet the deadline."
Premier Brian Pallister’s majority government was given a mandate to govern by Manitobans, and that’s what it is trying to do, Goertzen said. "It allows us to ensure the mandate gets met."
NDP house leader Nahanni Fontaine said the government is withholding distribution of 19 of the 23 bills introduced Monday to prevent them from being scrutinized by Manitobans already overwhelmed by the COVID-19 crisis.
"That is pretty sneaky, to be honest — that you’re introducing bills to ensure their passage, but we have no ability to see them," Fontaine told reporters.
"We’re in the grips of the biggest crisis our province has faced in many, many years and what is the government doing under the cover of darkness? It’s introducing legislation that nobody will be paying attention to but will have fundamental impacts on their lives and the lives of their children and the way things are going to be operating in Manitoba."
Goertzen said Manitobans, and the Opposition, will have time to review and debate all of the introduced bills later, but the government can and should keep governing during the pandemic.
"These bills aren’t going to be voted upon or passed for months, and in some cases not for a year — but to simply stop the operation of government for a year doesn’t seem like a wise thing," Goertzen said.
Many of the bills will spark much debate.
Bill 63: Petty Trespasses Amendment and Occupiers’ Liability Amendment Act, for instance, aims to "better protect rural Manitobans from trespasser liability laws," the house heard when it was introduced.
Bill 57: Protection of Critical Infrastructure Act is to "protect critical infrastructure" such as highways and railways from blockades that put "public safety and the economy" at risk.
Bill 59: Police Services Amendment Act aims to enhance "transparency and accountability in policing" and strengthen the powers of the police watchdog (Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba).
Bill 40: Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Corporation Amendment Act and Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Control Act would allow a wider range of businesses to sell liquor.
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.
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