Former NDP minister breaks silence over lie to legislature

A former NDP cabinet minister who was kicked out of cabinet partly because she lied to the legislature has broken her silence.

Christine Melnick says she was suffering from undiagnosed diabetes

Christine Melnick said she had forgotten she ordered a senior bureaucrat to invite civil servants to a debate, contrary to what she told the legislature. 6:32

A former NDP cabinet minister who was kicked out of cabinet partly because she lied to the legislature has broken her silence.

Christine Melnick told CBC News Friday she had forgotten she gave the order to a senior bureaucrat to invite civil servants and government-funded immigrant groups to attend a heated debate at the legislature over immigration changes, and that's why she told a legislative committee she hadn't.

Melnick said she didn't realize it at the time, but she was sick and "running on empty."

She found out later it was because she has diabetes.

"And so in the midst of trying to get through the day and whatnot, I made a mistake" she said. "I made a mistake and I own that mistake. I'm not blaming any one else. And I want Manitobans to know that".

Melnick said it was a couple of months later, early last summer, she remembered she gave the order.

"When I did remember I was just shocked," she said. "I remember saying to myself, 'how could I have forgotten that?' It was just a shocking moment for me."

Excerpt from Hansard, from May 30, 2012, before Melnick realized she had, in fact, given the order to a bureaucrat to invite civil servants and others to the debate. 

Mrs. Taillieu: On April 18th, Ben Rempel sent an email entitled: invitation to witness resolution of federal cancellation on settlement services Thursday, April 19th at 2 p.m., Manitoba Legislature. And it says, I would like service agencies, especially, to feel free to release staff and clients to attend tomorrow's session in the gallery of the Legislature if they choose.

      Did Ben Rempel send this email on his own initiative, yes or no?

Ms. Melnick: Well, this gets back to my previous answer in that the department was fielding many calls from service providers, and they were receiving many calls from service providers, and that email was sent out to clarify what was happening.

      So, again, this is the continuum of communication. This is a response to the level of anxiety that the unilateral withdrawal of the-the unilateral cancellation of the settlement services annex under the Canada-Manitoba Immigration Agreement was made. People were not sure what was going to be happening. They knew that there was going to be a resolution tabled in the House, and this was a point of clarification and a point of communication.

Mrs. Taillieu: Can the minister indicate if Ben Rempel sent this email on his own initiative, yes or no?

Ms. Melnick: He sent it in response to service providers calling in to the department and asking what was going on, what was going to be happening; there was a lot of anxiety, there was a lot of concern. So he sent it to respond to service providers who were worried about their jobs, who were worried about providing service to the newcomers who had come into Manitoba, and to clarify just exactly what was happening.

She wrote the ombudsman a couple of months after that as he was investigating, telling him it was on her order that the contentious email was sent.

She said she did not offer to resign, because she wanted to respect the process that was in place, and allow the ombudsman to complete his investigation.

Melnick said at no time did she discuss the matter with Premier Greg Selinger.

"I feel very bad about what happened," she said. "And I've thought about this a lot. And the thing that sticks out for me is how my health was deteriorating."

She said she started feeling fatigued in February of 2012. She was constantly thirsty and hungry and wasn't sleeping well. She was finally diagnosed with diabetes Dec. 24, 2012.

"You don't realize how bad you were feeling, until you start feeling better," she said.

She said she feels very bad about her mistake, but Manitobans will draw their own conclusions about it.

"There was a health issue. It's not an excuse," she said. "I'm not trying to get away from what was my responsibility as the minister. But that was a pretty important factor there. And it's something that I just want to be very open and honest about."

Melnick defends, however, the motivation behind the invitation.

"It was right, perhaps the type of invitation was not right, but to be inviting people whose lives were affected by the federal changes to immigration was the right thing to do," she said. "I stand by that."

Melnick said she has not spoken until now because she wanted to see how things would play out after the ombudsman's report.

She said CBC's call to her constituency office late this week came when she was "ready" to talk.

Melnick said now that she has been properly diagnosed, she is eating properly and feeling much better. She said one of her messages to Manitobans is, take care of yourself.