The Manitoba NDP calls on the Progressive Conservative government to cease exploiting a government loophole in the lead-up to the provincial election. Blackout periods are designed to prohibit governing parties from utilizing government funds to promote themselves or announce government business. However, over the past several months, the province of Manitoba has been inundated with billboards and advertisements across various media touting the government’s achievements. The government is spending a significant amount of money trying to convince Manitobans that they are performing well, which many people consider wasteful spending, particularly given the numerous challenges facing several departments, particularly education and healthcare.
Manitoba’s healthcare system has been criticized, with record numbers of doctors working long hours, nurses quitting, and insufficient staff to provide adequate patient care. As a result, patients are being sent out of the province and even out of the country for treatment. Many departments are shut down, and teachers lack the necessary resources to do their jobs. In light of these issues, the NDP believes that the PC government should stop exploiting the government’s advertising rules in the lead-up to the election.
With the PC Government spending over $1 million on political advertising this election year, the Official Opposition called on the Government to stop using loopholes in Government Advertising Rules created by Brian Pallister. “Brian Pallister brought in loopholes to government advertising rules in pre-election periods in 2021 that Heather Stefanson is looking to exploit – that’s wrong,” said Adrien Sala, Finance Critic for the Official Opposition. “Blackout rules are there to make sure there is a level playing field, and Stefanson’s PCs should not use Government resources to further their partisan agenda.”
In 2021, Pallister introduced changes to Election Law that allow government advertising in the pre-election period if it pertains to “a matter before the Assembly, such as the throne speech, the budget, the introduction or passage of a bill, or an order or resolution of the Assembly” (section 92(2)d Elections Financing Act). One of the significant changes to the Elections Financing Act by the Manitoba PCs was the shortening of the blackout period from 90 days before the fixed election date to 60.
Premier Stefanson, who supported this amendment, is using the law to the government’s full advantage to promote the government’s achievements leading up to the election. Under the old Elections Financing Act, a blackout period would start July 4, 2023, but now it will begin on Aug 4, 2023, seeing the Premier has confirmed she does not plan to change the fixed election date of October 3, 2023.
The current guidelines for communication by the Government during an election period state that government advertising during a blackout period is not permitted. However, if the matter is “before the Assembly,” an exception will be allowed. “The House will rise June 1 and is not scheduled to return prior to the Election – that means there is nothing before the Assembly for the purposes of advertising. The PCs should not use Pallister’s loophole to spend public dollars to further their partisan agenda. We are calling on the Premier to stop using Government resources to tilt the playing field in her favour,” said Sala.
Instead of using public funds to bolster the government’s image in the lead-up to the election, the NDP believes that the PC government should focus on addressing the issues facing Manitobans. They should be looking at ways to help people rather than promoting themselves. It is important to ensure that government funds are not wasted on partisan agendas and that the playing field remains level during elections. The NDP’s call to stop exploiting government advertising rules is a step in the right direction.