WINNIPEG - Manitoba's energy minister made it clear Friday he will not apologize for accepting free NHL tickets from private companies.
What was slightly less clear was whether Dave Chomiak fully agrees with a new ban on freebies which the government brought in earlier this month.
"Of course. It's a decision made by cabinet and government policy decisions are obviously agreed to by, uh ... that's the system of government we have, and I think it's very important ... that we have a clear policy going forward," Chomiak said when asked whether he agrees with the ban.
Chomiak is one of several key cabinet ministers who have been criticized for accepting free tickets to Winnipeg Jets games this season. He went to two games courtesy of Manitoba Telecom Services and Tundra Oil and Gas — a company his department regulates.
Finance Minister Stan Struthers has also come under fire for telling a legislature committee he had only been to three Jets games with tickets he bought himself. It was later revealed he had also been given tickets by Red River College and the Manitoba Homebuilders Association.
Premier Greg Selinger tried to put the issue to rest earlier this month by saying that NDP legislature members would no longer accept free tickets to pro sporting events. He also released a full list of the 13 New Democrats who had received a total of 33 free hockey tickets, and said that some of his ministers would apologize "as required."
Struthers is the only minister so far to have said he is sorry. He apologized in the legislature for making misleading statements.
Chomiak said he will abide by the new ban, but pointed out there was no policy against free tickets when he went to the Jets games.
"There weren't any rules and guidelines in place other than our conflict-of-interest forms where one is supposed to show received gifts, and I put those gifts on my conflict-of-interest forms."
Manitoba politicians are required to disclose any gifts they receive that are worth at least $250. Chomiak said he wasn't required to reveal individual Jets tickets, which sell for $199.
Chomiak faced several questions about the tickets as he announced new programs for the mining and energy sector Friday along with Tundra president Dan MacLean.
MacLean said he did not attend the Jets game that Chomiak saw courtesy of Tundra. But he said he had previously been to American Hockey League games with the minister.
MacLean said he understands there is a public "sensitivity" around giving free tickets to government ministers, but added it is common practice.
"I've been in this business for over 30 years ... here, in the U.S., in Australia, Kuwait, West Africa, and ... we try and get a hold of people as best we can to let them know what we're doing," MacLean said.
"It's very relational. I come in off the street and I sit down with Chomiak and he doesn't know me from Adam, and I'm saying, 'We'd like to do this and this is what our plans are.'
"It takes time to get to know the person so that they can trust you and you can trust them."