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Ousted Manitoba cabinet minister says premier hanging her out to dry

Christine Melnick is pictured in 2005. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marianne Helm

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Christine Melnick is pictured in 2005. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marianne Helm

WINNIPEG - An ousted cabinet minister says she was told she would have to protect Manitoba's premier by taking the blame for a controversial immigration debate.

Christine Melnick, one of three ministers sent to the backbenches in a cabinet shuffle last fall, said Premier Greg Selinger was wrong when he recently told The Canadian Press that she acted without his staff's knowledge in setting up the debate in April 2012.

"I'm very disappointed in Greg Selinger. I have been loyal. I believe I have been a hard-working minister and MLA and have been part of the team," the former immigration minister said in an interview Monday.

"To be treated like this is reprehensible and just not acceptable."

Melnick said she was acting on orders from the premier's advisers when she asked bureaucrats to email invitations to immigrant support agencies to attend the debate.

The NDP government was criticized at the time by the Opposition Progressive Conservatives for stacking the gallery.

Melnick said when the emails were questioned by the ombudsman last fall, she was told by Selinger's press secretary, Matt Williamson, that she would be taking the fall.

"I was told that it did not matter what I had to say. The decision had been made to hang me out in order to protect the premier."

The premier's office responded quickly Monday.

"Christine Melnick's claim that she did not direct the civil service to email the invite has proven false. Her accusations today are also false," Williamson, who is now also director of cabinet communications, wrote in an email to The Canadian Press.

"Her previous explanation for making false statements was undiagnosed diabetes," he wrote. "Today she is blaming staff."

On April 19, 2012, Melnick introduced a resolution in the legislature criticizing the federal government’s plan to take over some immigration programs run by the province.

The previous day, her assistant deputy minister, Ben Rempel, and other bureaucrats issued an email to government-funded immigrant service agencies telling them about the debate and saying that employees should feel free to come — even if it meant taking the afternoon off. More than 400 people packed the public gallery and an overflow room.

The Opposition accused the government of politicizing the civil service and of rounding up immigrants to orchestrate a show of support. It also said government-funded agencies and immigrants would feel pressure to obey the request to attend.

Melnick told a legislature committee that no one had directed Rempel to send the invitations.

Nineteen months later, ombudsman Mel Holley revealed in a report that Melnick had in fact directed Rempel. Holley said the way the invitations were sent out "clearly gave rise to the perception of partisanship" in the civil service.

Melnick said she had forgotten she'd given the order because she had undiagnosed diabetes. She apologized for her misleading statement.

The former minister, who had kept a low profile until Monday, said she came forward because of the premier's statement that she had acted alone. On the contrary, Melnick said, top advisers had directed her from the start.

Melnick made the following detailed accusations, all of which were denied by Williamson:

— Anna Rothney, head of the NDP cabinet's priorities and planning committee, instructed that the email invitations be sent.

— Liam Martin, the premier's chief of staff, told her not to do any more media interviews after the ombudsman's report, when she blamed diabetes for her memory loss.

— Williamson, acting as the premier's press secretary, told her she would bear the blame so as to protect the premier.

"The strategy had been ... to deliberately cut me out of the process of response in order to protect (Selinger)," Melnick said.

"And I'm very concerned about that. I'm very concerned about ... who might be next."

Melnick, who remains in the NDP caucus, said she fully intends to run for re-election in 2016 in her south Winnipeg constituency of Riel.

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Sort by: Newest to Oldest | Oldest to Newest | Most Popular 3 Commentscomment icon

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Gov. Chris Christie appears to have done the SAME thing within the U.S.

It is my prayer that ALL of these abuses of power, of authority, of position, ALL cover ups will be brought to light and EXPOSED in the coming days and weeks ahead.

This has probably been going on FOREVER within politics and within other institutions but it is only NOW that some of these revelations are FINALLY coming to light.

Who will be next?

Come, revelations, come!

ALL citizens DESERVE to hear the truth and have the truth made KNOWN to them.

We will probably be aghast with the amount and the extent of the CORRUPTION that exists within some of these institutions of power across our lands.

MANY of these institutions need a WAKE UP and a SHAKE UP of monumental proportions and perhaps it is TIME that, we the people, the electorate, give it to them like they have earned it.

Come, truth, come!

There WILL be a NEW Premier in the Province of Manitoba after the next provincial election.

It's ALL about those at the top looking GOOD NO MATTER WHAT, at ALL COSTS!

It's ALL about protecting THEIR image, their perception within the public eye.

It's about someone ELSE taking the fall/blame so that those at the top can look good and squeaky clean from any scandals or controversy; like Teflon men and women.

It's about looking for and finding a SCAPEGOAT!

It's about NOT taking ownership or responsibility for your OWN actions.

It's about repeatedly BLAMING them on someone else.

ALL of this nonsense needs to STOP immediately!

There is NO loyalty, NO honor anymore; EVERYONE is expendable for the sake of the image and perception of those at the top.

It's a sick, fake culture of fraud, deception, deceit, untruth.

There is NO transparency, openness, etc.

I empathize with former Immigration Minister Christine Melnick, former Chief of Staff to the PM, Nigel Wright & all of those before who have been publicly humiliated and forced to take the fall and blame for something that was ordered by their boss and NOT themselves.

Well, no one is deceived now.

Sadly, this happens all too often/frequently, within and across all sorts of occupations and professions.

This is a sham and a shame, for sure.

For shame, for shame!

IF those at the top keep thinking they can GET AWAY with these types of behaviors and activities and if we repeatedly ALLOW them to, then these types of activities will NEVER cease.

I have experienced these types of activities personally myself as well

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