On any given day, critics of Manitoba’s NDP government and its actions hardly ever lack for material with which to whack ministers and the premier over the head.
From the poor fiscal decision to raise the PST last year, to the seemingly Quixotic fixation by the NDP to build Bipole III down the western side of the province, the NDP has been rightfully castigated by the Opposition Progressive Conservatives and this paper for these and many other reasons.
But by suggesting the NDP government is flouting elections law in celebrating the anniversary of women’s suffrage in Manitoba, the Tories are in danger of turning right criticism into a wrong-headed witch hunt.
On Thursday, as reported by the Winnipeg Free Press, Tory deputy leader Heather Stefanson cried foul over a ceremony planned by the provincial women’s advisory council that is slated for Jan. 28 at the legislature. The event is to mark the 98th anniversary of when Manitoba women became the first in Canada to win the right to vote.
It also marks the 100th anniversary of the day women’s suffragist Nellie McClung and others staged what has become known as the Women’s Parliament in which participants mocked the views held by then-premier Rodmon Roblin — who opposed women receiving the vote — and his government.
On the same day of this scheduled event, residents of two Manitoba constituencies — Arthur-Virden and Morris — will go to the polls in provincial byelections. As a result, Stefanson said the event at the legislature may violate the Election Financing Act, which forbids most government advertising and announcements during election campaigns.
“We don’t know what they’re planning to do there, are they planning to make an announcement?” Stefanson said. “It seems that their concern is more with a photo op in the middle of a byelection — something that they’ll put out there that looks positive for them.”
That’s a pretty big stretch on Stefanson’s part.
Even if a majority of voters in these two constituencies somehow manage to go online or tune in to a TV newscast that day and see an image of some NDP minister at a podium talking about Nellie McClung, it shouldn’t affect the outcome of a vote.
True enough, the NDP has been caught twice in the past few years staging political events during byelection 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.
So there is good reason for Tory truculence in this regard.
But we also note that the provincial government, in an attempt to avoid even the appearance of bending or breaking the elections law, has decided not to set up department booths during the annual Manitoba Ag Days event here in Brandon, which begins this week.
Agriculture Minister Ron Kostyshyn is slated to attend the opening day of Ag Days and address attendees — we assume he will be watching what he says, lest he, too, is accused of breaking elections laws.
Unless Stefanson has some proof that a government minister or Premier Greg Selinger himself plans to make a funding or programming announcement, or toss off a list of government accomplishments, Stefanson’s stated concerns sound rather petty. What’s wrong with a government marking an anniversary, especially one that affected, in no small way, half of our population? What if the byelections had been held in November? Would the government be expected to avoid honouring fallen veterans during Remembrance Day?
These kinds of anniversaries are not partisan in nature, and should remain that way.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 20, 2014