01/17/2014 02:21 EST | Updated 03/19/2014 05:59 EDT

Manitoba Conservatives Upset Over Commemoration Of Women's Vote

WINNIPEG - Manitoba Opposition Leader Brian Pallister did not back down Friday from criticism of an event commemorating women's right to vote.

Pallister said he plans to file a complaint with the provincial elections commissioner alleging an event planned by the Women's Advisory Council violates a ban on government advertising and announcements.

The advisory council has planned a reception at the legislature Jan. 28 to mark the 98th anniversary of when Manitoba women won the right to vote.

That's the same day that two provincial byelections are being held. Provincial law forbids the governments and its agencies from making announcements during any election period.

The government has said the event is not an announcement and is simply a non-partisan gathering to mark an important historical milestone.

When Pallister's Tory caucus first raised the concern Thursday, Liberal Leader Rona Bokhari said that, as a woman, it did not sit well with her. The Tories are politicizing a non-partisan event, she suggested.

Pallister was undeterred.

"Because the government has played fast and loose with the elections rules historically, we want to make sure they're not doing it now," he said.

"And it would be in the government's best interest, frankly, to make sure they're not abusing the election rules."

The Election Financing Act says a government department or Crown agency cannot "advertise or publish any information about its programs or activities" during campaigns, but there are several exceptions such as public health emergencies. There are also exemptions for government contract notices and continuations of pre-existing advertising campaigns.

The NDP government has already been found guilty of violating the act. Commissioner of Elections Bill Bowles ruled the New Democrats were wrong to organize a media tour of a new birthing centre in south Winnipeg just prior to the 2011 election campaign.

In that case, government workers were used to help then-health minister Theresa Oswald highlight the new facility. The commissioner ruled the violation was inadvertent and the NDP wasn't penalized.

For the Jan. 28 ceremony, the minister responsible for the status of women, Kerri Irvin-Ross, sent out invitations to all legislature members. The invitation said the event would be a one-hour celebration of "the 98th anniversary of women's suffrage in Manitoba" and that light refreshments would be served.

Irvin-Ross said Friday the event is clearly not forbidden under the ban on government announcements.

"There will be no cheques, no government announcements. This is really about women gathering and celebrating ... women having the right to vote."

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