A number of prominent Manitobans from across the political spectrum, along with a grassroots organization, are calling on the Pallister government to reveal the text of 19 bills heading to the legislature, saying that keeping them under wraps this long is undemocratic.
The group — which includes former Liberal MP and MLA Lloyd Axworthy, former Conservative MP Shelly Glover, and former NDP MP and MLA Bill Blaikie — wrote an open letter encouraging the premier and leaders of the opposition to stop bickering and work together, as Manitoba’s politicians gather at the legislature Wednesday for the first time since December.
The 19 bills in question have received first reading in the legislature, but their contents have yet to be made public.
“Regrettably, procedural disputes during the last session and now in this current one have seriously disrupted the legislative process,” the letter said.
“These disputes have most recently escalated to the government’s tabling and the passage through first reading of 19 bills with titles alone and no accompanying text that describes the purposes and content of proposed legislation.
“The texts for these bills, many that look to be broad in their scope and consequential in their impacts within society, are still not publicly available now, four months later.”
Paul Thomas, professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Manitoba and one of the letter’s signatories, told 680 CJOB it’s a result of conflicts taking place in a highly polarized legislature — and that the mystery bills are ‘payback’ to the NDP for using delay tactics to prevent the PC government from moving legislation forward.
“The party shouldn’t play these political games at the expense of an open legislative process,” he said.
“We didn’t try to point fingers in the open letter… it would take too long to go about trying to calculate and attribute more blame or credit to one side or the other. We’re actually more interested in a constructive resolution to the stalemate.”
Thomas said Manitoba is known for its tradition of having bills go before an open public hearing after second reading, which is a great opportunity for the public to register their concerns, but that can’t happen in any kind of meaningful way if information about the bills — some of which focus on important topics like education, child care, and the regulatory process — are held back.
“When the bill’s on the eve of being passed on second reading, that’s far too late, it just doesn’t give people time to organize themselves and educate themselves,” he said.
Thomas said Manitoba politicians of all stripes need to stop thinking of the other side as their ‘enemy,’ and rather as people with a different perspective, but the same ultimate goal of helping Manitobans.
“Our politics in the legislature have become personalized. We know the premier to be a very competitive, combative at times, highly aggressive person, and when he fires salvos at Mr. (NDP leader Wab) Kinew, Mr. Kinew tries to maintain his cool … but at times he (also) escalates the exchanges, and we need civility and respect.”
Others who signed the open letter include former NDP MP and MLA Judy Wasylycia-Leis and former court justice Charles Huband.
Grassroots organization Communities Not Cuts Manitoba (CNC) has launched a campaign encouraging Manitobans to speak out on the issue.
CNC spokesperson Mike Moroz said in a statement Tuesday that the secretive bills were “unprecedented” and “undemocratic.”
“They’ve created a real and unnecessary fear amongst community stakeholders, who will be directly impacted by this ‘mystery’ legislation,” said Moroz.
“Manitobans have a right to be able to see, and comment on, the work of their government. How can we possibly trust a government that hides its agenda in this way?”
Government House Leader Kelvin Goertzen told Global News the aim of returning to the legislature Wednesday — something that was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic — is to get a lot of legislation passed.
“I’m looking forward to a good, productive session together with all of the other parties. This is a democratic institution that is always going to be partisan — that’s the nature of this — but we want to be able to see it function in a way that respects the wills of all Manitobans,” he said.
Goertzen attributed opposition delay tactics for the reason why the bills could not be introduced earlier.