Manitoba

Pallister yanks advertising before Manitoba election he hasn't called

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister continues to prepare for a general election — on Tuesday revealing he'll restrict government advertising along lines similar to a pre-election blackout — while saying he has no plans to immediately call an election.

Premier will give civil servant the job of ensuring communication materials aren't politically biased

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says he won't call an election immediately. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says he plans to restrict government advertising along the lines of a pre-election blackout — while saying he has no intention of immediately calling an election.

"I wanted to make sure that everyone who works here knows that they need not be concerned about an election at least for a number of weeks," the premier said at a news conference marking the end of the spring sitting of the legislature.

He wouldn't say when voters will go to the polls, even though he's recently made comments that suggest an election is likely slated for September; on Monday, as the current sitting of the legislature ended, he thanked MLAs who don't plan to run for re-election for their service.

"No, I'm not narrowing it down," he told reporters. 

Blackout of his own

Pallister said he plans to restrict government advertising, essentially imposing a voluntary pre-election blackout period, although he wouldn't call it that.

If Pallister planned to follow the province's fixed election date of Oct. 6, 2020, he would be required to abide by a 90-day blackout period when, by law, the province cannot "advertise or publish any information about its programs or activities."

The premier said the clerk of the executive council, Fred Meier, will ensure any communication materials the province releases are not partisan.

The difference is in the coming weeks and months that we're not planning on using taxpayer resources to promote a political agenda- Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister

At the same time, he promised to meet with media on a near-weekly basis.

"I have no intention of hiding from you," he said.

The legislated pre-election advertising blackout does not apply if the fixed election date is ignored and the vote is held on a different day, which is what the current government plans. 

Pallister said the advertising restrictions he is planning are a matter of fairness.

"I'm instituting practices which should help ensure, not that we won't be accused, but that we won't violate the spirit or intent that is inherent in the legislation," he said. "I think that's important to do."

Partisan messaging stamped out 

He said he wouldn't describe his measures as a blackout because that would imply the premier and his ministers would not do media interviews.

A recent review of government advertising found some bureaucrats were overly cautious about what information they could share during a blackout period.

"The difference is in the coming weeks and months that we're not planning on using taxpayer resources to promote a political agenda. If there are, and there will be, items of information that you need to get, you'll be able to ask questions about them," Pallister told reporters. 

While his government may be "restricted somewhat in doing announcements," he said it's important that Manitobans to know their work is continuing. 

NDP Leader Wab Kinew says Premier Brian Pallister is playing games by refusing to reveal when the 2019 provincial election will happen. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Crown corporations and regional health authorities would also need Meier's approval before embarking on any communications messaging, such as the public awareness campaign about the closure of Concordia's emergency room, Pallister said.

Pallister wouldn't say how long his clampdown on advertising would last.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the premier cannot claim fairness when he is making up rules as he goes along.

"You cannot construct a plausible argument that not telling Manitobans when their election is going to be is fair to them," he said.

"This is unfair to the people of Manitoba because he's keeping them in the dark about what should be one of the most important accountability measures: when we're going to have a chance to vote in a provincial election."

Pallister's "games" are distracting Manitobans from the big story about the changes at Concordia Hospital in northeast Winnipeg, Kinew said. The hospital's emergency department was converted to an urgent care centre on Monday. 

'Cherry-picking'

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said Pallister is "cherry-picking" the laws he wants to follow by ignoring the fixed election date and inventing his own blackout.

"The fact that someone who works for the premier is now going to have to pick and choose what the government talks about, and only talk about things that are supposedly not political, is completely ludicrous," he said.

Pallister also said Tuesday that he would spend almost two weeks in France to commemorate D-Day and take in a number of meetings focused on opportunities for Manitoba, including in agriculture.

At the national premiers' meeting in July, Pallister plans to lobby for support from other premiers for the Manitoba-Minnesota transmission line and the construction of flood channels in the Interlake, he said. Both projects face regulatory hurdles.

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