04/23/2014 06:32 EDT | Updated 06/23/2014 05:59 EDT

Jason Kenney Accuses Manitoba Government Of Using Immigrants As 'Political Props' Two Years Ago

WINNIPEG - Federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney says the Manitoba government should apologize for a controversial immigration event two years ago.

Kenney says the province's NDP government used immigrants as "political props" and engaged in fear-mongering over federal changes to immigration programs.

In 2012, the Manitoba government was upset that Ottawa was taking control of immigrant settlement programs and warned the move could lead to service cuts.

The government used bureaucrats to invite immigrants and support workers to attend a legislature debate, even if it meant taking an afternoon off work.

Hundreds of people packed the legislature gallery, and Manitoba's ombudsman later criticized the government for using non-partisan bureaucrats to organize the event.

The government said it was simply responding to concerns from immigrant groups about the changes, and has said all political parties have the right to invite people to the legislature.

"It's important for people to hear debate about issues that affect them, such as sweeping federal changes to immigrant settlement services," Immigration Minister Erna Braun said in a written statement.

Kenney, who was in Winnipeg on Wednesday to sign a job-training agreement with the province, said the NDP government was wrong to tell people the changes would lead to cuts. Funding has increased and immigration is growing in Manitoba, he said.

"Not only was it wrong to try to use newcomers as political props for that purpose, but the message was completely misleading."

The legislature debate has dogged the NDP government for much of the last two years.

The immigration minister at the time, Christine Melnick, denied ordering her department workers to invite immigrants and workers to the debate. Last December, a report from the provincial ombudsman revealed she in fact did give the order.

Melnick later said she was acting under the orders of the premier's office — an accusation Premier Greg Selinger denied — and she was turfed from the NDP caucus in February. She now sits as an Independent.

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