WINNIPEG - The Manitoba government moved to quash a controversy over free NHL tickets Thursday, but questions remained about who gets to go to the Winnipeg Jets' perpetually sold-out games.
The government has been under fire from the opposition this week following revelations that three cabinet ministers, as well as many employees, executives and board members at Crown agencies, received free tickets to games this season. The cabinet ministers later paid for their tickets.
The tickets were given by the Jets to Crown agencies such as the liquor and lotteries commissions in exchange for advertising the agencies buy at games.
Finance Minister Stan Struthers issued a one-page policy to legislature members Thursday to set down new rules. The policy forbids politicians and "government officials" from accepting complimentary tickets to any professional sports event, and orders Crown corporations to adopt similar policies for their board members.
It also says Crown agencies are "encouraged" to distribute their free tickets to community groups.
"They're not going to give them to ministers and they're not going to give them to boards of directors," Struthers said.
"They will be looking to make good decisions on who gets access to those tickets and I foresee charities, I foresee school patrols, I foresee minor hockey league teams."
The policy allows employees of Crown agencies to continue to accept free tickets. Struthers did not exclude senior executives from that group, but NDP communications staff said later that executives will be forbidden from getting the tickets.
The written policy does not mention whether cabinet ministers can buy tickets from Crown agencies — it only mentions complimentary tickets. Communications staff were again left to clarify the issue, saying purchases will also be forbidden.
The Opposition Progressive Conservatives said the government was scrambling to throw together some sort of policy, and said it falls short.
"Should anybody who's involved in a Crown corporation have the right to just take tickets for their own enjoyment? The answer is no," said Ron Schuler, the Tory critic for Sport.
"Anybody who got free tickets who's in a position of authority should be paying that money back ... if they went for their own enjoyment."
The government also released Thursday a breakdown of how 2,432 tickets owned by four Crown agencies were distributed throughout the season. Nine tickets were given to ministers, 303 went to executives or board members, and 338 were used for business or promotional purposes. The rest went to Crown agency employees, charities or kids' sports teams, according to the government.
The Manitoba Lotteries Corporation is the biggest ticket-holder, with 1,412. The Manitoba Liquor Control Commission had 440, Manitoba Public Insurance had 404 and Manitoba Hydro had 176.
The Jets sold out every home game this season, their first since the original Jets departed for Phoenix in 1996. Single-game tickets sell for up to $200 officially, and can go for much more through scalpers.
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