Four-year-old twins Grace and Ella Dalton play on a cattle oiler as Manitoba Ag Days kicked off at the Keystone Centre on Tuesday. (TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN)
Visitors look over the show floor, which is now minus three government organizations that have pulled out while an advertising ban is in effect during the Morris and Arthur-Virden byelections. (TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN)
It could be a long time before several government organizations are setting up booths at Manitoba Ag Days in Brandon again due to regulations set out under provincial byelections.
While two groups, Manitoba Wildlife and Conservation and Water Stewardship, backed out less than three weeks ago, a third group, Manitoba Motor Carrier Enforcement, backed out yesterday on the first day of the three-day show.
The groups are not allowed to "advertise" during an election, potentially giving the party in power a political leg up.
Ag Days general manager Christine Roskos said it could be years before the groups get a spot back at the prestigious show.
"Any group that is here this year is guaranteed the same amount of space next year if they want to come back," Roskos said.
It would be unfair, according to Roskos, for any group to fill the government vacancies this year only to be kicked out next year when they are able to return.
However, the show’s organizing committee will examine whether special considerations should be made for the groups next year.
Currently, there are about 70 names on the show’s waiting list, and if the government groups are not granted special considerations they will go to the bottom of the list, meaning it could take years before they are back in Brandon.
Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister, who toured Ag Days yesterday, said he doesn’t have a problem with the government groups not being at the show, as it provides a level playing field for all parties.
Typically in the past, the minister of agriculture made program and funding announcements at the show, something that won’t take place this year.
"The government should make sure they are above board when they are making announcements," he said. "There have been too many times that the NDP has played fast and loose with the rules."
Had the NDP not taken a historically long time to call the first byelection in Morris and not called it during the dead of winter in the province, the whole thing could have been avoided, he said.
Pallister has already taken issue with the NDP staging an event on Jan. 28 — the day voters go to the polls in both Morris and Arthur-Virden — to celebrate Nellie McClung, who fought for women’s rights in the early 1900s.
The opposition leader said he supports McClung and the celebrations, but the decision to host the event on the final day of the byelection is just another example of how the NDP continue to break provincial rules.
Last year, his party proposed a motion to honour McClung and the NDP rejected it.
Pallister said Manitobans are tired of being told one thing by their government while it does another.
"Regardless of political stripe, Manitobans are feeling like they are being taken for granted," Pallister said, "whether it’s taxes or not addressing priority issues that they feel are important."
Often byelections provide a preview for where the political battleground will take place during a general election. However, there is a sense that because the two seats up for grabs are such Tory strongholds, none of the parties are willing to tip their hand.
Pallister said he’s visited a number of communities in both constituencies, using the byelections as a test-drive prior to the provincial election.
"People should have choices and we are a real alternative," he said. "It’s the 4-H model, learn to do by doing."
Pallister, who graduated with bachelor of arts and education degrees from Brandon University, also made a significant contribution to his alma mater during his stop.
He made a personal donation of $10,000 to the university to set up a scholarship program for female athletes.
"I know for a lot of athletes it’s a real challenge," Pallister said, adding that he had to get a job while he attended BU — where he played basketball — to balance his chequebook.
"The time to work as an athlete is limited because you’re working out, training and going to school."
The money is in addition to other scholarship funds he has created across the province. He estimates nearly 100 students have received funding from the scholarships.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 22, 2014