immigration

Protesters crammed the Manitoba Legislature in April 2012 in response to government invitations to immigrants and groups about changes the federal government was making. (CBC)

It's another chapter in the continuing saga over a former cabinet minister's role in a tussle between the province and the federal government over changes to the immigration program, a battle Manitoba eventually lost.

Manitoba's opposition Progressive Conservatives are accusing the governing NDP of hiding information from requests made under Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy legislation. 

The Tories said in 2012, they requested information about then-cabinet minister Christine Melnick and whether she played a role in inviting immigrants and groups involved with immigrant issues to a debate at the Manitoba Legislature about changes the federal government was making that might affect them. 

At the time, the Tory request came to nothing. 

But the party repeated it this year, and were stunned with what it received: an email from a government staffer referring to a draft of the invitation and an outline of how it would be dispersed to encourage people to "attend and support" the provincial government's efforts to protest Ottawa's changes. 

Steinbach MLA Kelvin Goertzen said the government is bending the rules to protect its ministers.

"Had that been included two years before, we might not have had the ombudsman do an investigation, [and] the questions would have been different," he said. "You shouldn't have two of the same requests going out, and having two different answers." 

Melnick was later dropped from cabinet, then booted out of the NDP caucus over the affair.

Goertzen said the email's release now poses a number of questions, including whether the government is interfering politically with the Freedom of Information process.

"This is simply about following the rules that currently exist," he said. "There is nothing in the rules that say you can withhold an email that is damaging or damning to a minister at the time a debate is happening, then release it two years later."

Goertzen said if the email had been released the first time his party requested it, events might have unfolded differently. 

"That email was a direct link to the Minister," he said. "Now of course we found out later the Minister was directly involved, but we would have known that in 2012. The public would have known and the ombudsman would have known early on, if that email had been released."

The Manitoba government responded Friday afternoon with a statement from Jeff Parr, the deputy minister of labour and immigration.

Parr said, "The email in question should have been included in the 2012 response but was missed in the original search. There was no political direction to hold the email -- it was simply missed at the department level. The Ombudsman requested the department take another look in June 2012 to see if anything was missed. The email was discovered in the course of that second search and provided to the Ombudsman in June of 2012."​

The email in question is below.