Editorial

Ah, the voice of reason — it’s almost always a welcome intrusion, but in these increasingly polarized political times, it tends to be heard infrequently amid the seemingly ceaseless rancorous din.

Ah, the voice of reason — it’s almost always a welcome intrusion, but in these increasingly polarized political times, it tends to be heard infrequently amid the seemingly ceaseless rancorous din.

But that voice was heard — and seen, in the form of a full-page open letter to Manitoba’s current crop of politicians — this week, imploring the province’s legislators to set aside partisan wrangling and excessive procedural posturing and get back to the work that is expected of them.

Political heavyweights say it's time to put aside partisan bickering

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Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, right, and Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew pose for a selfie after the reading of the throne speech at the Manitoba Legislature in 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES/John Woods						</p>
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, right, and Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew pose for a selfie after the reading of the throne speech at the Manitoba Legislature in 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES/John Woods

Posted: 3:00 AM Mar. 2, 2021

Six prominent Manitobans from across the political spectrum have urged the province’s three party leaders to stop their partisan wrangling and respect the right of Manitobans to be informed about government legislation.

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"We are writing today to express our serious concerns regarding significant departures from legislative norms and best practices related to the parliamentary and the wider democratic process," begins the missive, which is addressed to Premier Brian Pallister and opposition leaders Wab Kinew and Dougald Lamont, and signed by former MPs Lloyd Axworthy (Liberal), Bill Blaikie (NDP), Shelly Glover (Conservative) and Judy Wasylicia-Leis (NDP), as well as retired Court of Appeal justice and former provincial Liberal leader Charles Huband and professor emeritus of political studies Paul Thomas.

At issue is the unprecedented manner in which the current Progressive Conservative government used procedural tactics — in response to obstructive measures employed by the opposition — to introduce, and pass through first reading in the legislature, 19 bills presented with titles alone and no accompanying text that would allow opposition members, stakeholders and the general public to review and react to them in a constructive manner.

Noting that such a situation is unprecedented in Manitoba history and the legislative history of all other Canadian jurisdictions, as well as every international jurisdiction that responded to questions from the Manitoba legislative library, the letter’s writers flatly stated, "This is unacceptable," and called on the Pallister government and both opposition parties to take immediate steps to restore transparency, public accountability and more normal legislative function.

Among the steps requested are ensuring public access to the full text of all 19 bills by no later than this Thursday; a commitment not to proceed with second reading for at least 14 days after the bills are made public; and an undertaking by all three parties to amend the rules of the legislature before the next session "to better reflect and respect due process."

In making their "respectful" demands, the letter-writers reminded the legislature’s intractable trio that democracy — as evidenced by recent events south of the Canada-U.S. border — is fragile, and it’s "time for the leaders and the elected members of all parties in Manitoba to step back from partisan wrangling, to remember who they serve and to respect the right of all Manitobans to be informed of and to participate in the legislative process."

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister

It all sounds so ... reasonable.

Procedural infighting will always be part of the messy business of parliamentary democracy, but the agreement from this across-party-lines collection of experts is that Manitoba’s current legislature has taken petty politicking too far.

The reaction from the elected-official side of the fence was, of course, predictable. During Tuesday’s COVID-19 briefing, Mr. Pallister was asked directly about the letter and offered a lengthy response that placed blame on the other parties for the current democratic debacle and referred to "factual errors in the assertions" while insisting that his is "a hard-working government" that is "ready to play nice."

As has been the case too often in recent provincial politics, Mr. Pallister and his opposition counterparts remain steadfast in their determination to show the others who’s the boss around here. Each might do well to heed the letter-writers’ reminder that they all are employed by the people who cast the votes and pay the taxes.