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Tory leader calls on premier to 'come clean'

Manitoba Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister is calling for a legislative committee to look into a former immigration minister's lies.

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Manitoba Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister is calling for a legislative committee to look into a former immigration minister's lies. (MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES)

Premier Greg Selinger should state specifically when he learned that former immigration and multiculturalism minister Christine Melnick lied about her role in inviting immigrants and immigration groups to attend a contentious legislative debate last year, Opposition Leader Brian Pallister said Wednesday.

Pallister also called upon Selinger to boot Melnick (Riel) out of the NDP caucus for misleading MLAs over the April 2012 invitation.

Melnick had contended her assistant deputy minister, Ben Rempel, acted on his own initiative in issuing the invite. She later admitted to the provincial Ombudsman’s office that she directed Rempel to do it. The admission was only revealed when the Ombudsman released a report into the civil servant’s conduct last week.

Pallister said knowing when Selinger knew of the lie is important because the premier, wittingly or unwittingly, repeated the falsehood that Rempel had acted on his own.

Selinger told the Free Press on Tuesday that he was only informed of the lie by his own officials after the Ombudsman’s office had begun its investigation. He said the falsehood was part of the reason he dumped Melnick from cabinet in October.

But Pallister said Wednesday he does not buy the premier’s explanation, saying he must have known the truth "almost immediately."

The Conservative leader said Selinger must have wondered why a civil servant would agree to perform a partisan political act, and he should have asked the clerk of the executive council, the province’s chief bureaucrat, about it.

"If he did not ask his clerk of the executive council about this issue that speaks volumes about his willingness to accept partisan behaviour on the part of a senior bureaucrat," Pallister said.

The Tory leader said he failed to understand how Selinger could have sat on the fact that he knew about the minister’s falsehood for many months without taking action. The premier’s stated reason that he was awaiting the Ombudsman’s report defies belief, he said.

"Let’s stop the cover up. Let’s stop the obfuscation. Let’s get the premier to just come clean," the Tory leader said.

Pallister said a legislative committee should be struck to look into the affair.

The ombudsman launched its probe after a member of the public filed a complaint that Rempel had "crossed the line" of impartiality expected of civil servants. The report found the civil servant did not breach the Civil Service Act or the Manitoba Civil Service Commission Values and Ethics Guide. But it said the debate over the bureaucrat’s action left little doubt that "this matter brought the question of civil service neutrality to the forefront."

An official with the provincial Ombudsman’s office said Wednesday that it did not begin its investigation into Rempel’s actions until "mid-summer" of 2012.

 larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

 

 

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