“The government should make sure they are above board when they are making announcements. There have been too many times that the NDP has played fast and loose with the rules.”
— Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister
During a stop in Brandon earlier this week, Mr. Pallister announced the creation of a new scholarship for female athletes at Brandon University through a $10,000 gift from the BU alumnus.
His private donation is being matched by the university through the Manitoba Scholarship and Bursary Initiative, making the Pallister Women’s Athletic Scholarship worth about $900 per year, starting in 2015.
It’s a good news story for the university and a welcome additional scholarship for the institution’s female athletes.
Pallister, who played basketball for the BU Bobcats when he was a student at the university and has fond memories of his experience here, has previously provided financial support for dozens of high school graduates who may not have had the ability to participate in sport otherwise. The Winnipeg Free Press recently pegged those donations at about $100,000 thus far.
However, while the announcement and accompanying photo op was meant to draw some philanthropic praise for the Tory leader, his decision to make the announcement through his political party’s media channels and with official party stationary — not as a private citizen — has raised a few eyebrows.
That’s because his timing smacks of opportunism.
As per the Manitoba Election Financing Act, governments are not allowed to advertise during an election, as making a funding or program announcement could potentially give the party in power a political leg up in the ballot box.
The NDP has been caught twice in the past few years staging these kinds of political events during election campaigns. The first breach was made by former agriculture minister Rosann Wowchuk who, during a byelection in 2009 announced a $50,000 contribution to help repair Brandon’s agricultural Trade Fair building.
The second occurred when the Winnipeg Free Press and CTV accepted an invitation by the government to tour a soon-to-be-opened birthing facility in Winnipeg prior to the 2011 provincial election, an event that included former education minister Nancy Allan and then-health minister Theresa Oswald.
As such, the Tories have rightfully attempted to keep the NDP’s feet to the fire to avoid a repeat situation. But that eagerness can sometimes be taken too far.
Earlier this week, this paper criticized the Tories for the party’s suggestion that the NDP is flouting the elections law by celebrating the anniversary of women’s suffrage in Manitoba on Jan. 28 — the same day that voters in Arthur-Virden and Morris go to the polls in provincial byelections.
Though denounced as a petty political move, Pallister nonetheless defended his party’s position, and vowed to make an official complaint to the elections commissioner over the government celebration.
There is nothing in the act that suggests members of Her Majesty’s Official Opposition are barred from making political announcements during a byelection. But in our opinion it’s hypocritical for the Tory leader to denounce the government for breaching the act by celebrating women’s suffrage when he himself has violated its spirit.
After all, actions speak louder than words, especially for a man who would be premier.