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NDP bids goodbye to Melnick

Booted from caucus over accusations; will now sit as an independent

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger announced Tuesday that Christine Melnick would be removed from caucus.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger announced Tuesday that Christine Melnick would be removed from caucus.

MLA Christine Melnick stands by her words, but Premier Greg Selinger says he's lost confidence in her.

Christine Melnick

Enlarge Image

Christine Melnick (MELISSA TAIT / WINNIPEG FREE PRE)

As a result, Melnick has become the first female politician in Manitoba history to be booted from a legislative caucus.

Selinger took the unprecedented step Tuesday of ousting the Riel NDP MLA -- and former immigration minister -- over accusations she levelled against his senior staff the previous day.

Following an emergency caucus meeting that lasted more than 90 minutes, Selinger told reporters he had removed Melnick from the government benches because she could no longer be trusted. She will now sit as an independent.

"It was my decision," Selinger said. "We had a very thorough discussion about it, and I had the support of caucus in proceeding. It was a consensus decision of caucus."

Melnick did not attend Tuesday morning's caucus meeting. The premier said he telephoned her to inform her of his decision just prior to making it public.

Selinger said there was "very strong caucus support" for Melnick's removal, although he refused to say whether it was unanimous.

He said he took the action because Melnick had lost his confidence and that of caucus by blaming his senior staff for her own failings. That included her lying to the legislature about her involvement in telling her assistant deputy minister to invite government-funded immigration agencies to the legislature in April 2012.

"My expectation as leader of the government and this party is when you make a mistake you take responsibility for it and make it right," the premier said. "Ms. Melnick has been given many opportunities to do that, but has not so far done so."

Selinger categorically denied statements by Melnick Monday that his senior political staff had directed her and her department to issue invitations to immigrant groups to attend the 2012 legislative debate. The government had introduced a motion opposing Ottawa's decision to take over the administration of certain services to immigrants in Manitoba.

"It was her decision to direct the civil servant, the ADM in question, to invite people, and it was her decision to say she did not play a role in doing that, to mislead the public on that," Selinger said. "It was entirely her process. My staff did not involve themselves in that decision. That was her decision."

Melnick, an MLA since 2007, originally stated assistant deputy minister Ben Rempel had acted on his own in inviting new Canadians and immigrant groups to the legislature. She later admitted to the provincial ombudsman she had directed Rempel to issue the invite. Melnick would later say she had forgotten about directing Rempel to send the invitation, blaming the memory loss at the time on undiagnosed diabetes.

It's rare for a caucus member to be expelled from a political party in Manitoba. The last MLA to suffer that fate was Progressive Conservative Denis Rocan, who was removed in 2007 for voting in favour of the NDP's budget.

Reached for comment Tuesday, Melnick said she knew when she spoke out Monday she could face expulsion from caucus.

"I went into this with my eyes wide open, knowing that it would be a possibility," she said. "The premier has made a decision to remove me from caucus and that's his decision."

As for Selinger's renunciation his staff had directed her and her department to send invitations to immigrant groups to an event at the legislature, Melnick said: "I stand by what I said (Monday). I documented what happened. I can't answer for the premier."

Selinger made the announcement surrounded by several caucus members, including Justice Minister and Government House Leader Andrew Swan, Jobs Minister Theresa Oswald and Finance Minister Jennifer Howard.

Swan said after Melnick's accusations on Monday, it is clear she is not taking responsibility for her actions.

"First (Melnick) said she didn't do something, then she said she didn't remember doing something and now she's trying to say she knew all along that she had done something but that someone else told her to do it," Swan said.

The NDP had said Melnick would apologize to the house when the assembly resumes sitting March 6.

Deputy Opposition Leader Heather Stefanson said Selinger should do more than boot Melnick out of the government benches.

The Progressive Conservatives are demanding the government call a special committee of the Manitoba legislature, with the power to subpoena witnesses, to get to the bottom of the situation. The committee would have equal representation from the Tories and NDP and include Liberal MLA Jon Gerrard. All testimony would be under oath.

"This is the best way to get to the bottom of seeing how deep and how wide this crisis of integrity goes within the NDP government," she said.

Political scientist Paul Thomas said it's rare for a sitting government to kick an MLA out of caucus.

"It hasn't happened much in Manitoba," Thomas said, noting it comes as the Selinger government is still under fire for raising the PST last year.

Thomas said the matter may never be adequately addressed -- what Melnick was or was not told to do -- because the inner machinations of government are shrouded in secrecy.

"It's almost impossible to discern whether Melnick was directed to do this or whether she went away from a meeting thinking she had implicit and maybe not explicit instructions. Whether somebody said, 'Now, this is what the premier wants, go do this,' I don't know whether we'll even know that."

He said what's allowed the issue to drag on so long has been the inability of the NDP to deal with the criticisms, even before the ombudsman launched his investigation.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

 

What led up to Tuesday's events

  • April 19, 2012: The visitor's gallery and an overflow room in the Manitoba Legislative Building is jammed with immigrants and representatives of immigrant organizations to witness debate of a resolution in the legislature. The motion opposes a proposed move by Ottawa to take over administration of settlement services. It's soon known many of them had received an emailed invitation from assistant deputy minister for immigration and multi-culturalism Ben Rempel.
  • Late April 2012: Then-immigration and multiculturalism minister Christine Melnick initially dodges questions in the legislature as to whether she told Rempel to send out the invitations. She tells The Canadian Press she did not tell Rempel what to do.
  • May 30, 2012: Melnick tells a legislature committee no one had directed Rempel to send the invitation.
  • Spring/summer 2012: A complaint is made to the provincial ombudsman's office over Rempel's allegedly partisan action in issuing the invitation.
  • Summer/early fall 2012: Premier Greg Selinger learns Melnick has misled the House on her role in the affair. He directs his staff to ensure Melnick co-operates with the ombudsman's probe. Melnick writes to the ombudsman, explaining she directed Rempel to issue the invite.
  • Oct. 18, 2013: Selinger shuffles his cabinet. Melnick is one of three MLAs dumped from cabinet.
  • Dec. 11, 2013: Manitoba's ombudsman releases his report into the incident.
  • Dec. 12, 2013: Selinger says his government will follow the report's recommendations to address the appearance of partisanship among civil servants.
  • Dec. 13, 2013: Opposition Leader Brian Pallister calls for a legislative standing committee to investigate Melnick. Melnick issues a written apology.
  • Dec. 20, 2013: Melnick tells CBC she feels terrible she misled the legislature, and said she forgot she had ordered Rempel to invite civil servants and immigrants to the debate because she was suffering at the time from an undiagnosed case of diabetes.
  • Feb. 2, 2103: Selinger tells The Canadian Press he and his staff were not involved in the decision to invite government-funded immigrant service agencies to the legislature debate.
  • Feb. 3, 2013: Melnick invites reporters from the Free Press and The Canadian Press to respond to the premier's comments the day before; she says senior officials connected to his office were intimately involved.

Tories call for special meeting to deal with Melnick controversy wfpvideo:3152191824001:wfpvideo

Melnick calls out Selinger, says she acted with staffers wfpvideo:3147721059001:wfpvideo

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