01/15/2015 12:44 EST | Updated 03/17/2015 05:59 EDT

Manitoba Tories Slam Free Lunch For Bureaucrats At Premier's Speech

WINNIPEG - Manitoba's Opposition Progressive Conservatives are crying foul after discovering that several dozen bureaucrats dined on the taxpayer dime at the premier's state-of-the-province address.

Documents obtained by the Tories under the freedom-of-information law show at least 45 government workers attended Premier Greg Selinger's luncheon speech last month to the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce. The tickets, which were each $85 plus tax, were paid for by the government.

"The number struck me as unusually high," Tory legislature member Shannon Martin said Thursday.

"If they're going to simply promote and support Selinger ... then obviously I think Manitobans should take issue with that."

Martin said it appears Selinger, who is fighting off a caucus revolt and facing a leadership vote in March, was trying to stack the room of 800 or so people with friendly audience members.

The government said the turnout was nothing unusual.

"The government and its departments have sent staff to the annual ... state-of-the-province address for many years," Selinger spokesman Paul McKie wrote in an email.

"The number of government staffers attending has been consistent over the last decade and there was nothing unusual about the number who attended in 2014," he added.

McKie did not provide any numbers for previous years.

The documents show most of the government staff in attendance came from two departments — municipal government and jobs and the economy — that deal with business leaders regularly.

Theresa Oswald, a former NDP cabinet minister who is challenging Selinger for the leadership, said she would review the practice.

"I'm not casting aspersions in so far as I think that this has been a long-standing historical practice," Oswald told reporters after a campaign announcement about education.

"But I think it bears a review. If these are people that are routinely meeting with the folks who are in the room anyway, routinely meeting with the premier, maybe it is not a necessary expenditure.

"But it's something that I'd want to get more details on before I cast any deep-seated judgment either way."

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