Manitoba's new Jets ticket policy unveiled

The Manitoba government has finally produced a written policy that prevents cabinet ministers and Crown corporation board members from getting free Winnipeg Jets tickets.
A Winnipeg Jets fan holds up tickets to a home game against the Carolina Hurricanes early in the 2011-12 season. Jets tickets were generally hard to get during the team's inaugural year in the city, with games sold out throughout the season. (CBC)

The Manitoba government has finally produced a written policy that prevents cabinet ministers and Crown corporation board members from getting free Winnipeg Jets tickets.

Finance Minister Stan Struthers outlined the new policy in a memo to MLAs on Thursday, following several days of controversy over free Jets and Blue Bombers tickets going to cabinet members and top officials from provincial Crown corporations.

Three cabinet members had accepted free tickets to Jets games — which were sold out throughout the team's inaugural season — from Crown corporations that received the tickets through advertising agreements with the NHL franchise.

The ministers have since reimbursed the corporations that gave them the tickets, Struthers said earlier this week.

"Ministers, MLAs and government officials shall not accept complimentary tickets to professional sports event," the new policy states in part.

"Crown corporations will accept similar policies with respect to their appointed board members," it says, adding that the Crown Corporations Council will draft a common policy.

Cabinet ministers, Crown corporation board directors and government officials can still accept complimentary tickets to cultural, artistic and community events as long as they are acting in an official capacity, according to the policy.

'No wiggle room,' says Struthers

Crown corporations that receive Jets or Bombers tickets through a sponsorship agreement are encouraged to donate them to charities or community groups, or given them to employees as part of a "fairly-administered employee recognition policy."

"It's very direct for every minister. It's direct for MLAs," Struthers told reporters on Thursday.

"We will be making it clear for Crown corporations that this is what we expect of them, so there's no wiggle room on this."

Struthers did not answer questions from reporters on whether Crown corporation executives should be included in the policy.

A short time later, a cabinet spokesman said Struthers had misspoken. Crown corporation executives should not get free tickets, the spokesman stressed.

That is in contrast to Manitoba Hydro's policy on how to distribute Jets tickets that it received though a sponsorship agreement.

"Tickets should be accessed in the following order: Executive, Division Managers, Managers and Supervisors," states an internal memo about the policy, dated Feb. 22.

Hydro tickets used for 'business purposes'

A Manitoba Hydro spokesman defended the policy, stating in an email to CBC News that the tickets were being used for "business purposes."

"We believed it was entirely appropriate to expect our senior managers to make use of the tickets for this purpose — that is, to build relationships with customers and suppliers through access to sport events," the spokesman said.

The public power utility gave none of its 176 Jets tickets to charities or children's sports teams during the 2011-12 season, according to provincial government numbers released late Thursday.

Most of Manitoba Hydro's Jets tickets — 119 — went to executive members, but the government figures noted that 108 of those tickets were "distributed to customers and community groups."

However, a list of those 108 recipients does not exist, according to the province.

One recipient of Hydro's free Jets tickets was Victor Schroeder, its former board chairman, the minister responsible for the utility has admitted this week.

On Thursday, Progressive Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen asked Premier Greg Selinger how he could justify the province's latest budget, with "the most punitive tax increase in 25 years — the most punitive increase since Vic Schroeder was in government — at the same time as Vic Schroeder is getting free tickets to Jets games."

Schroeder, who served as a cabinet minister in Howard Pawley's NDP government in the 1980s, was Manitoba Hydro's board chairman until he retired in February.

Schroeder could not be reached for comment. Manitoba Hydro executives and board members also did not answer calls by CBC News seeking comment on the issue.

Not getting whole truth, says Tory critic

Progressive Conservative MLA Ron Schuler, who first raised the issue of cabinet ministers nabbing free Jets tickets, said MLAs have not been getting the whole truth on the issue to date.

"We have to go into committees and believe that we are getting the truth," Schuler said.

"You know what? There's been 'close to the truth,' 'almost to the truth' and, I think, some 'very close to white lies.'"

The acting president of the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission, another Crown corporation, revealed in March that it spends $250,000 a year to advertise at Jets games, including signs, posters and pamphlets.

As part of the deal, the Crown corporation receives 10 season tickets.

Liquor commission president Roman Zubach told a provincial committee that the tickets were used for promotional purposes — "in other words, for our customers" — and are tracked.

But Schuler, the Tories' liquor commission critic, pressed the minister responsible for the MLCC, Jim Rondeau, for a list of any politicians or political staff who may have received tickets as well.

With files from The Canadian Press