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Manitoba politician booted from NDP caucus wants office, right to questions

WINNIPEG - A Manitoba politician who was booted from the government caucus and now sits as an Independent is waiting to hear whether she'll get office space in the legislature and be allotted time to question her former colleagues.

Christine Melnick is also waiting for word on whether she will be able to sit on committees and have other privileges she used to enjoy.

The spring legislature sitting starts March 6 with introduction of the provincial budget.

"All of this is under discussion. There haven't been any final decisions made yet," Melnick said Tuesday.

Melnick, who spent a decade in the NDP cabinet, was removed from caucus by Premier Greg Selinger earlier this month after contradicting him about who was behind a controversial immigration event.

Melnick initially denied ordering civil servants to invite government-funded immigrant service agency workers to watch a legislature debate in April 2012, even if it meant taking the afternoon off work.

Two months ago, the provincial ombudsman revealed Melnick was indeed behind the plan. Selinger said he and his staff were not involved.

Melnick broke ranks earlier this month and said Selinger's staff were involved from the start and had told her she would have to take the blame to protect the premier. She was turfed from caucus the following day.

Since then, she has been conducting business from her constituency office in south Winnipeg. Her legislature office was among those of all New Democrats in a large area along the west side of the building.

Melnick's website and Facebook page have been taken down, because they were administered through the NDP caucus, she said. Some constituents are under the impression she is no longer the area's representative.

"People are a little confused as to my status ... and so I really want to encourage people to give me a call or drop by the (constituency) office."

A spokesman for Premier Greg Selinger said no decisions have been made regarding Melnick's office space and privileges.

Kelvin Goertzen, house leader for the Opposition Progressive Conservatives, said he expects some accommodation will be made.

"While this is a fairly rare situation in Manitoba, Independent members are generally provided some limited ability to participate in the different elements of the legislature and debate," Goertzen wrote in an email.

"What level that will be at will have to be discussed with other parties and the Speaker and Ms. Melnick herself. But those discussions have not taken place at this point."

Melnick may look to Liberal Jon Gerrard as an example of what she can expect. Gerrard is the only Liberal in the legislature and, since four members are required for official party status, he is treated much like an Independent.

Gerrard is offered one set of queries each day in Question Period, after several rounds of Tory questions. He can sit in on various legislature committees that examine legislation, but doesn't have a vote.

On Parliament Hill, Elizabeth May was granted one set of questions per week when she was elected as a lone Green Party representative in 2011.

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