Manitoba New Democrats decry Tory partisan comments at budget hearing

Manitoba’s Opposition New Democrats are asking the provincial ombudsman to investigate partisan comments by a member of the Progressive Conservatives at a public hearing on the upcoming budget.

Tory backbencher Josh Guenter was offside when he used the taxpayer-funded budget consultation hearing to accuse the NDP of planning to raise taxes if they win the election slated for Oct. 3, NDP finance critic Mark Wasyliw said Thursday.

“I think we need a strong message from the ombudsman that this crossed the line, that no government — it doesn’t matter what party stripe — can use these taxpayer-funded events for this sort of partisan political messaging,” Wasyliw said.

His complaint focuses on a Feb. 8 telephone town hall that allowed people across the northern part of the province to call in with questions.

Those questions were answered by Guenter, who is also the legislative assistant to Finance Minister Cliff Cullen.

Twice during the meeting, Guenter said Manitobans do not want to return to what he called the “dark days” of the former NDP government, and said the NDP will raise taxes if it is elected again.

“They would raise taxes and institute new taxes,” Guenter told the hearing in response to a question about inflation.

Guenter also said the NDP “botched” Manitoba Hydro projects by allowing a new generating station and transmission line to run billions of dollars over budget. The Crown-owned utility saw its debt triple over several years due largely to cost overruns.

Cullen said Thursday he didn’t hear the comments but that Guenter was likely just pointing out past events.

“Josh was probably being respectful of past history and maybe pointing out differences between previous governments and what our government has been undertaking,” Cullen said.

The ombudsman has little power to penalize politicians, but Wasyliw is hoping for a stern missive to the governing Tories to discourage such talk at future meetings.

“The partisan, political content of this pre-budget consultation undermines the impartiality and integrity of the public service and represents a misuse of government resources,” Wasyliw wrote in his complaint to ombudsman Jill Perron.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 16, 2023.

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