Manitoba

Include question period in Phase 2 of Manitoba's economy restart, NDP says

If restaurants, pools and gyms can reopen in the next sweeping phase of Manitoba's reopening plan, so should one democratic institution holding the government to account, the Official Opposition says.

It's up to the parties to negotiate extra sitting dates, not Dr. Roussin, province says

Before COVID-19, Manitoba's legislative chamber is seen packed with MLAs, special guests and visitors in the gallery during the speech from the throne last year. The Official Opposition is arguing the democratic institution is an essential service that should reopen in Phase 2 of the province's economic restart. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

If restaurants, pools and gyms can reopen in the next sweeping phase of Manitoba's reopening plan, so should a democratic institution holding the government to account, the Official Opposition says.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew wrote to Dr. Brent Roussin and the premier on Monday, arguing the restoration of regular sitting days of question period should be included in Phase 2 of the economy restart, like the many eateries and recreation centres that can soon open their doors.

No date is attached to the second phase yet. 

"The democratic functions of the Legislative Assembly are an essential part of our province," the letter reads.

"Other provincial legislatures and Parliament are ensuring that regular sittings of their Houses will take
place in June and during the summer."

Another edition of question period will occur on Wednesday, but no additional dates have been set. The legislature normally goes on summer recess in early June.

Sittings limited during pandemic

The legislature usually meets four days a week throughout much of spring, but sittings were indefinitely suspended by the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-March. 

There has since been one emergency meeting to pass COVID-19 legislation and three question periods in May. 

While negotiations between party house leaders for extra sitting dates have happened, no plan has been ironed out.

"It seems odd to me that when we look at Phase 2, I might be able to get a tattoo on my way to the gym after which I visited a patio, but I wouldn't be able to hear the Premier answer accountability questions in Question Period," Kinew said.

On Monday, the Liberals called for sittings every Monday to Thursday in June.   

House Leader Jon Gerrard says the existing sittings, conducted with a reduced number of MLAs, demonstrate the legislature can function under physical distancing and sanitation requirements.

"We have seven weeks of work to make up, and unless we go back with more sitting days, it is not going to get done," Gerrard said in a news release.

"We should be sitting in June and September to make sure that the PCs have to justify and defend their agenda in public." 

A number of Progressive Conservative MLAs are seen in the legislature in March 2020. (Gary Solilak/CBC )

Premier Brian Pallister was non-committal last week when asked about more question periods.

"I understand the job of opposition parties is to do what the opposition is trying to do here now," he said in a media briefing.

"That being said, we're focused in the middle of a pandemic on the recovery of our province and we're also focused on being available in an appropriate manner, in a safe manner, here in the legislature and always to answer questions that the opposition and you in the media may have."

The government said Monday that the health department is comfortable with the physical distancing measures in place for question period. Any additional sitting dates must be negotiated between the parties. 

During the pandemic, Manitoba legislators are meeting more frequently than their counterparts in other provinces. 

The Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia legislatures haven't been recalled since mid-March. New Brunswick has only met once to consider COVID-19 legislation and Prince Edward Island will resume sitting tomorrow. 

The Manitoba NDP, however, says the provinces representing the vast majority of the population — including Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia — have sitting dates in June. 

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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