December 15, 2019

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Pallister bids farewell to departing MLAs, but no election call on last day of spring legislature sitting

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This article was published 3/6/2019 (195 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

On the last scheduled spring sitting day of the Manitoba legislature, Premier Brian Pallister thanked several departing MLAs for their service but held his tongue on the timing of a rumoured summer election.

MLAs were expected to sit well into the evening Monday for passage and royal assent of a string of government bills, the approval of which is assured, according to the rules of the legislature.

Premier Brian Pallister held his tongue on a pending election, but his opponent, NDP Leader Wab Kinew, said he's been told government will voluntarily stop advertising June 14, which would coincide with a 90-day blackout period for government advertising.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Premier Brian Pallister held his tongue on a pending election, but his opponent, NDP Leader Wab Kinew, said he's been told government will voluntarily stop advertising June 14, which would coincide with a 90-day blackout period for government advertising.

Included are bills that would lower the provincial sales tax to seven per cent from eight per cent effective July 1, allow peace officers to suspend a driver's licence on the spot based on a blood-alcohol reading, and create a pilot project to test a new dispute-resolution model that will allow families to sort out property, custody and child-support issues outside the courts.

Pallister has scheduled a press conference Tuesday morning to discuss the spring sitting. Presumably he'll have more to say about the timing of the election. He has already hinted strongly that it will be held this year, rather than Oct. 6, 2020, the date set under the province's fixed election law.

The premier refused to answer questions about the timing of the election as he strode from the chamber to his office, surrounded by reporters and photographers, following question period Monday.

Legislative highlights:

Bill 2: Amends the Municipal Act to require a code of conduct for members of municipal councils. Code of conduct training is required within the first six months of a member being elected or re-elected.

Bill 5: Amends the Mental Health Act and the Personal Health Information Act to allow health workers to alert contacts of at-risk patients to lower the risk of patients harming themselves or others.

Bill 7: Amends the Highway Traffic Act to allow peace officers to immediately suspend a driver's licence and impound a vehicle, based on the driver's blood-alcohol content.

Bill 2: Amends the Municipal Act to require a code of conduct for members of municipal councils. Code of conduct training is required within the first six months of a member being elected or re-elected.

Bill 5: Amends the Mental Health Act and the Personal Health Information Act to allow health workers to alert contacts of at-risk patients to lower the risk of patients harming themselves or others.

Bill 7: Amends the Highway Traffic Act to allow peace officers to immediately suspend a driver's licence and impound a vehicle, based on the driver's blood-alcohol content.

Bill 9: Creates the Family Law Modernization Act, a three-year pilot project in Winnipeg to test a new family dispute resolution model in which resolution officers work with families to sort out property, custody and child-support issues.

Bill 11: Amends the Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Control Act to allow all retail beer vendors to sell cider and coolers.

Bill 15: Amends the Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Control Act to prohibit the possession of more than 30 grams of cannabis in a public place.

Bill 16: The Budget Implementation and Tax Statutes Amendment Act, 2019 (BITSA) reduces the PST to seven per cent from eight per cent. BITSA also changes the rules regarding taxpayer rebates to parties and candidates for election campaign expenses. Under the amendments, parties and candidates are able to receive rebates of 25 per cent of allowable expenses if they receive five per cent of ballots cast. Previously, they received 50 per cent of campaign expenses back if they garnered 10 per cent of the vote.

Bill 19: Amends the Residential Tenancies Act to allow a tenant to end a rental agreement early if they experience sexual violence. This expands upon the provision allowing for ending a tenancy early due to domestic violence or stalking.

Bill 21: Creates the Legislative Building Centennial Restoration and Preservation Act, establishing a process to guide the restoration, preservation and maintenance of the Legislative Building. Annual funding of $10 million is provided for 15 years to restore, preserve and update the building and associated infrastructure.

Bill 31: Amends the Tobacco Tax Act to increase tax rates on tobacco products to ensure tobacco prices aren't reduced when the PST is lowered.

In the legislature, he thanked several MLAs who have indicated they will not seek re-election for their service, including former interim NDP leader Flor Marcelino (Logan), NDP MLAs James Allum (Fort Garry-Riverview), Rob Altemeyer (Wolseley) and Andrew Swan (Minto) and independent MLA Cliff Graydon (Emerson).

Several of the departing MLAs gave farewell speeches in the legislature.

Barring an election, MLAs are scheduled to return to the legislature Oct. 2 and sit for 19 days, bringing the fourth session of the 41st Manitoba legislature to a close on Nov. 7. But it's likely that Monday marked the final sitting day of the session.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew said he has heard from "numerous independent sources," who he would not name, that Pallister has decreed that all government advertising will voluntarily cease on June 14. That would roughly conform to the 90-day blackout that exists under the province's fixed election date legislation, pointing to an election date in mid-September.

In the legislature, Kinew speculated that the closure of the Concordia Hospital emergency room had been timed so that necessary advertising would be in place in advance of the government's self-imposed blackout.

The fact the premier bid farewell to several MLAs Monday indicates that it was the final day of the session, Kinew said.

"It does tell me that starting tomorrow (Tuesday), we're heading into campaign season," he added.

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont laughed when asked whether he thought a provincial election would happen before the legislature reconvenes.

"You know, frankly it’s just really frustrating because it’s a bunch of game-playing. And this isn’t poker," Lamont said. "We have a fixed-date election law and we have it to avoid all this sort of nonsense so that we can actually get organized and have fair elections."

Like Kinew, Lamont said the signs are pointing to a September election.

Independent MLA Steven Fletcher did not attend question period Monday. He has announced he will be the People's Party of Canada's candidate for Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia in the Oct. 21 federal election. Fletcher has sat as an independent since June 2017, when he was kicked out of the Progressive Conservative caucus for taking public stances critical of the government.

Neither was embattled Kildonan PC MLA Nic Curry in the legislature. Curry has been a no-show since April 9, when the Free Press published a story, citing government and party sources, alleging the first-term MLA was embroiled in a controversy involving inappropriate behaviour with female staff.

About four weeks ago, Curry posted a message on his personal Facebook page saying he had informed the Speaker of the legislature that he was away on personal business and would return to the House on a "soon but unspecified date."

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

jessica.botelho@freepress.mb.ca

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski
Legislature reporter

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.

Read full biography

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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