Free Jets tickets for Manitoba cabinet ministers questioned

Manitoba's NDP government is laying down the law with its cabinet ministers, who are no longer allowed to accept free Winnipeg Jets tickets from Crown corporations.

NDP government promises new rules on freebies from Crown corporations

Justice Minister Andrew Swan, right, watches the Winnipeg Jets play from rinkside seats during a game in March. He had his own ticket to that game, but he admitted that he accepted four tickets from Manitoba Public Insurance to a match in February. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

Manitoba's NDP government is laying down the law with its cabinet ministers, who are no longer allowed to accept free Winnipeg Jets tickets from provincial Crown corporations.

Finance Minister Stan Struthers admitted on Tuesday that three cabinet members — Justice Minister Andrew Swan, Conservation Minister Gord Mackintosh and Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton — accepted free Jets tickets, but they have since paid for them.

Mackintosh received four tickets from the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission, Swan got four tickets from Manitoba Public Insurance, and Ashton received one ticket from Manitoba Lotteries.

On Monday, Struthers said a policy is in the works that will prohibit cabinet ministers from getting freebies — like Jets tickets, which were hard to get during the team's inaugural season back in Winnipeg — from Crown corporations.

Those rules will also apply to senior bureaucrats, board members and managers at Crown corporations, he added.

"Regular Manitobans who want to go cheer on the Jets won't be bumped out of line by a cabinet minister receiving a ticket from a Crown corporation," Struthers told CBC News.

"They're the hottest tickets in town, and we don't want cabinet ministers and directors from Crown corporations having an advantage in getting a hold of tickets."

Justice minister got 4 tickets

Swan said on Tuesday that he received four tickets to a Feb. 20 game from Manitoba Public Insurance, the province's government-run auto insurance agency for which Swan is responsible, but he later paid the agency $400 for the tickets.

"I wrote a cheque Feb. 21 then I sent it to MPI a couple of weeks after," Swan said.

Winnipeg Jets tickets were hard to come by in the team's inaugural season as fans packed the MTS Centre from the first pre-season home game to the last one of the regular season. (Nico Wlock/CBC)

Swan said although he owns part of a Jets season pass, he did use the free tickets to take his nephew, who is from Ottawa, to a home game at the MTS Centre.

"I wanted to show him how much louder Jets fans are than Senators fans. He agreed," Swan said, adding that he also took his daughter and a long-time friend to the game.

The province's new rules come amid questions by the opposition Progressive Conservatives about who received more than 400 Jets tickets from the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission (MLCC).

In March, the acting president of the liquor commission revealed 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.

Tories pressed NDP for ticket list

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 Ron 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.

Documents obtained by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) through the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) reveal that four tickets went to the office of the minister responsible for MLCC.

However, Struthers said he believes those tickets went to Mackintosh, who was the minister at the time.

"My understanding is that those, the four tickets, were pegged for Minister Mackintosh," Struthers said.

"Minister Mackintosh attended the game and paid for those tickets."

Of the remaining 440 Jets tickets received by the MLCC, 66 went to the board, 188 went to head office staff, 108 to store managers, 62 to MLCC executives, eight to the MLCC social club, and just four to charity, according to the FIPPA documents.

People are angry, says taxpayers federation

Colin Craig, the taxpayers federation's Prairies director, said it's wrong that just four of the liquor commission's tickets went to charity.

"I think the public is especially angry about this because the Jets are the hottest ticket in town right now," he said.

"A lot of people want to get tickets and they can't. So when they hear that the government is getting them, and some politicians are getting access to them, rightfully so, a lot of people in the public are upset."

Craig said he was surprised to hear Rondeau say during a debate Monday in the legislature that his staff was still trying to pull the details together about where all the tickets went, as his group received the details from the MLCC five weeks ago.

"It's unclear why the MLCC has to advertise at the MTS Centre in the first place," he added.

"They have a monopoly on liquor sales in the province. But if the government stubbornly insists on wasting public dollars on advertising, it's good to hear they're at least going to start giving the tickets they receive to community groups."

Struthers said the government's new policy has nothing to do with the Tories' recent questions, but is a result of the Jets' return to Winnipeg.

"Well, we've got experience with the first year of the Jets in town. That's under our belt now," he said.

"We're very happy that there's a lot of people very excited about the Jets. We just know that we have to put a policy in place that ensures fairness for all Manitobans."

With files from The Canadian Press