WINNIPEG - Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger admitted Friday his government was wrong to accept free NHL tickets and some of his ministers who were not up front about the freebies will apologize.
"I've always believed that Manitobans expect their elected officials to uphold the highest possible standards for public life. Clearly we didn't get it right here and I accept responsibility for that," Selinger told reporters called to a late-afternoon news conference.
"Several ministers have either repaid these tickets or made charitable donations in the amount of those tickets. I'm directing that all ministers and government MLAs do the same."
Selinger's NDP government has been under fire all week as details have slowly emerged about cabinet ministers accepting free tickets to sold-out Winnipeg Jets games while many fans have been left out in the cold.
Initially, the government said only three ministers had accepted Jets tickets from provincial Crown agencies, who receive tickets in exchange for advertising at games. But details began to emerge about other ministers who were given tickets by non-government groups.
By Thursday, some media reports pegged the total at five cabinet ministers. By Friday morning, it was seven. Friday afternoon, Selinger released what he said was the final tally — 13 NDP cabinet ministers and backbenchers had received a total of 33 tickets. Selinger was not one of them.
Among them was Finance Minister Stan Struthers, who told a legislature committee Wednesday he only went to three Jets games and used tickets he bought personally. It turns out he also received one ticket to a game from Red River College and two tickets to another game from the Manitoba Homebuilders' Association.
Selinger was asked whether Struthers and others would be penalized for their actions and he hinted it was unlikely.
"They are people that I believe are ethical people and I think they will apologize as required," Selinger said.
"The question is, how have they performed overall in their cabinet duties and that's one element that I will take into consideration as we go forward," he said adding that he did not expect a cabinet shuffle in the near future.
The government has tried to quell the controversy by issuing a new policy on free tickets.
The one-page policy, handed to reporters Thursday, forbids politicians and "government officials" from accepting complimentary tickets to any professional sports event from anyone. The policy also orders Crown corporations to adopt similar policies for their board members.
The written policy does not mention whether cabinet ministers can buy tickets from Crown agencies or third parties — it only mentions complimentary tickets. But Selinger said the ban will extend to purchases as well.