May 28, 2020

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House expected to reopen soon

The last regular session of the house adjourned March 17, but sat on April 15 for a one-day emergency session, with just one-third of MLAs present to allow for social distancing. (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)

The last regular session of the house adjourned March 17, but sat on April 15 for a one-day emergency session, with just one-third of MLAs present to allow for social distancing. (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)

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While Manitobans can expect to see the plan for reopening the economy on Wednesday, the premier said he also expects there will be a plan soon for reopening the house.

"That's what we're trying to negotiate — that's what I expect will happen in the next few days," Premier Brian Pallister said at a press conference Tuesday to announce every symptomatic Manitoban can get tested for COVID-19.

The last regular session of the house adjourned March 19 due to the coronavirus, with the political parties agreeing to reconvene the legislature as needed. It last sat on April 15 for a one-day emergency session, with just one third of the 57 MLAs present to allow for social distancing.

"The house leaders have to negotiate a return," said Pallister, who has the authority to order MLAs back to the legislature but says he won't do that.

"I don't do things for show. I'm about results," he said. "I have no desire to disrespect the house leaders of the Liberal party or the NDP for that matter. I won't be dictating to them despite a desire to do so."

The Opposition NDP says it is worried about public sector job cuts and is raring to reconvene, having sent a letter April 20 to Speaker Myrna Driedger and PC and Liberal House leaders asking them to return.

"We stand ready to offer any assistance in determining the safe and responsible way in which the house may resume and are prepared to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of all staff and MLAs, as well as to ensure the proper participation of all representatives from each part of the province," NDP house leader Nahanni Fontaine said in the letter.

Government house leader Kelvin Goertzen said like most provinces and Canada's parliament, the regular sitting of Manitoba's legislature has been interrupted but it won't be for long.

"We would expect there to be some scheduled sitting days and committees soon," Goertzen said in an email late Monday.

NDP leader Wab Kinew said Tuesday that the Pallister government cuts have left more than 5,000 Manitobans out of work in the last two months and worries more cuts are to come without scrutiny from the opposition. A Treasury Board document released earlier this month calls on provincially-funded departments and Crown corporations to find non-essential workforce reductions from 10 to 30 per cent during the pandemic.

"Our concern is the government is trying to escape accountability," Kinew said.

Pallister has been the leader of the opposition and in opposition federally and provincially for years, and says he knows it has a job to do.

"I am absolutely cognizant of the need for the opposition to do its role," said the premier. He said he doesn't expect workforce reductions to be anywhere as deep as 30 per cent.

"I don't expect it to be anywhere near 10 per cent impact," he said. "The fact of the matter is, it'll be less than that and it will vary by department."

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.

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Updated on Tuesday, April 28, 2020 at 9:16 PM CDT: Fixes wrong date.

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