06/03/2014 05:58 EDT | Updated 08/03/2014 05:59 EDT

Manitoba Opposition says it was just following rules in blocking same-sex debate

WINNIPEG - Manitoba's Opposition Progressive Conservatives said they were just following legislature rules Tuesday when they blocked a debate commemorating the 10-year anniversary of same-sex marriage in the province.

But NDP Finance Minister Jennifer Howard accused the Tories of ducking a debate on gay rights.

"They saw an opportunity to not talk about an issue where they know they are out of touch with where Manitobans are and they took that opportunity," Howard said. "They used a procedural tactic to avoid talking about an issue that they clearly don't like to talk about."

The controversy stemmed from last week, when NDP backbencher Jim Rondeau gave notice that he would introduce a private member's resolution marking a 2004 court ruling that granted same-sex couples in Manitoba the right to marry. The debate was scheduled for Tuesday.

Rondeau was out of town at a conference Tuesday, so the NDP tried to have another member introduce the resolution in his place. Such a change requires the consent of all parties, and the Tories said no.

Tory House Leader Kelvin Goertzen told reporters afterward it's standard practice to have the politicians behind a resolution on hand to launch debate on it.

"Private member's resolutions are very specific and usually personal to those members ... so if a member doesn't show up, that leads me to wonder what is going on with the particular resolution," Goertzen said.

"We came, ready and willing to discuss this, and some members would have supported the resolution."

Goertzen added the Tories were only informed 30 minutes before the debate that Rondeau was away and offered to reschedule the debate.

"I said ... find out when your member is coming back and maybe he can show up at the time he's allotted next time and we can figure out a time."

The 10-year anniversary of the ruling is still months away on Sept 16. The resolution called on the province to "honour the courage of those who fought for LGBTQ rights and to acknowledge the pivotal role these events played in creating a more equal and accepting society for all".

It's not clear if the resolution will be debated again. The legislature is scheduled to start its summer break next Thursday and may not reconvene until November.

Howard said the Tories should have been flexible with the rules and allowed the resolution to be debated, but Goertzen said the fault lies with the NDP for not ensuring Rondeau was present.

"I think the question you have to ask is, why are they hiding from their resolution?"

Howard pointed to the early 2000s when the Tories voted against same-sex adoption. That vote was under a different leader with a largely different caucus. She also pointed to comments against same-sex marriage that current leader Brian Pallister made as a member of Parliament in 2005.

"It's clear they have opposed equality for gays and lesbians in many, many ways."

Howard said the resolution was not an attempt to score political points against the Tories, but rather a recognition of a legal milestone in the province.