POLITICS

Manitoba government, opposition reach deal on legislature sittings

06/11/2015 05:44 EDT | Updated 06/11/2016 05:59 EDT
WINNIPEG - Manitoba politicians will face each other in the legislature much more often under an agreement reached Thursday.

The NDP government has ceded to demands from the Opposition Progressive Conservatives to hold longer sittings in the spring and fall. In exchange, the Tories will lose some of the delay tactics available to them to hold up legislation.

"What we're trying to strike is the right balance here between the ability of ... the government to govern in the interest of the public and the opposition to oppose in a responsible manner," Premier Greg Selinger said.

The deal, which is to be formalized later this month, is aimed at ending acrimony that has often stalled proceedings in the chamber, most notably in 2013, when the Tories kept the legislature sitting through the summer to try to stop a sales tax hike.

The Tories said the deal is good for democracy because it prevents the government from keeping the legislature in recess for months at a time. In some years, the legislature has sat for little more than 30 days.

"There shouldn't be times when the legislature is hardly sitting in a year," said Tory house leader Kelvin Goertzen.

Traditionally, and not unlike other western provinces, the Manitoba legislature has sat for eight to 10 weeks in the spring and three in the fall. The new deal will see the legislature reconvene in February or March each year instead of April. The summer break will end in October instead of November.

In exchange, the opposition will no longer be able to raise formal objections — called points of order or privilege — during the daily question period. Each objection can lead to an hour-long debate and delay regular proceedings.

The deal contains more than a dozen other give-and-takes. The government has agreed to hold more committee hearings and allow more opposition bills to be voted on. The opposition has agreed to not hold up more than five bills from passing each spring. Those proposed laws would be carried over to the fall.

The deal came on what was supposed to be the last day of the spring sitting. Under the deal, the legislature will reconvene next week and sit until June 30.