Manitoba

Lawyer retained to study province's contentious election blackout law

The Manitoba government has retained a lawyer to review how the controversial ban on certain government communications during byelections is interpreted.

Michael Green, a former commissioner of elections for Elections Manitoba, will make recommendations

A lawyer has been tasked with recommending changes to the province's law restricting government communications during byelections. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

The Manitoba government has retained a lawyer to review how the controversial ban on certain government communications during byelections is interpreted.

The province cited a number of instances when the blackout provisions "unfairly prevented information from being conveyed to the public," said a statement attributed to deputy premier Heather Stefanson on Tuesday.

The government retained Winnipeg lawyer Michael Green, a former commissioner of elections for Elections Manitoba, to review the blackout law and make recommendations on potential changes.

Green has extensive experience in elections law, the province said.

On Tuesday, the province claimed it could not tell the public about heavy metal contamination in an area of St. Boniface because of the blackout. 

Affected residents learned of the unsafe soil in letters they received last week, CBC News reported. 

From June 19 until polls closed on Tuesday, culminating in the election of Dougald Lamont, government officials told CBC their ability to communicate was limited because of the law. 

While Elections Manitoba maintains the ban is only on government advertising to ensure fairness with other parties, even factual questions like the opening of a splash pad have been left unanswered.

Section 92 of the Election Financing Act states a government department or Crown agency "must not advertise or publish any information about its programs or activities."

Elections Manitoba acknowledged the law can be hard to decipher and recommended new wording at the standing committee of legislative affairs in December 2016

Green will consult with various organizations, including Elections Manitoba, the commissioner of elections, the auditor general and political parties, to devise a plan. He expect to make some recommendations to update the legislation, which he considers to be confusing.

"It's both conceptual and the wording of the legislation is somewhat obscure," he said in an interview Wednesday.

"It's not terribly well-written, to be honest."

About the Author

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. He has previously worked for newspapers in Brandon and Steinbach. Story idea? Email: ian.froese@cbc.ca.

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