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Manitoba Opposition Tories say lengthy omnibus bill means less public scrutiny

The Manitoba Legislature in Winnipeg. (The Canadian Press) The Manitoba Legislature in Winnipeg. (The Canadian Press)
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WINNIPEG -

Manitobans may not be able to have public input on a host of proposed legislative changes, including a ban on replacement workers during labour disputes and a tightening of environmental rules.

That's because the NDP government has included those measures and others, originally planned as separate pieces of legislation, in an 89-page omnibus budget bill introduced this week.

The Budget Implementation and Tax Statutes Amendment Act -- known by its acronym, BITSA -- is put before the legislature every year to enact measures contained in the spring budget.

Unlike other bills, it is not required to go to a legislature committee that holds public hearings.

The Opposition Progressive Conservatives accused the government Tuesday of ramming through changes and ducking public scrutiny.

"Will the premier apologize to Manitobans for denying them their democratic rights?" interim Tory leader Wayne Ewasko said in question period.

The New Democrats said bundling the measures together was necessary because the Tories have stalled proceedings at times during the spring legislature sitting.

"The PCs have been blocking debate. They've been blocking the public's ability to hear about important legislation," Premier Wab Kinew said.

The NDP also pointed to similar budget bills under the former Tory government that included non-budget items such as a change in 2020 that tried to shield the government from being sued for clawing back benefit payments to youngsters in the child welfare system.

This year's BITSA contains dozens of changes, many of them not directly connected to the budget.

Proposed changes to labour laws would forbid employers from using replacement workers during strikes and lockouts, and make it easier for workers to join a union.

A proposed change to the election financing law would boost rebates given to political parties and candidates for election expenses.

Another proposal would establish a seniors advocate who would report to the legislature, and another would expand the types of actions that would require an environmental licence.

The Tories said the measures should be in separate bills so that Manitobans can have their say on them. Manitoba is one of the few provinces that mandate public hearings on almost every bill, giving members of the public 10 minutes to speak to a legislature committee.

The NDP tactic also makes it more likely that all of their proposed measures will be passed into law before the end of the year.

The budget bill faces fewer potential hurdles and opposition delays than other bills.

  This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 7, 2024.

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