By The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG – Manitoba politicians appear to be in a game of chicken about when the current legislature session might end.
The NDP government started the spring sitting three weeks later than normal this year, and has so far been unable to pass all its budget legislation and other bills in advance of next Thursday’s scheduled end date.
To make up time, the government recently asked the Opposition Progressive Conservatives to agree to sit on Fridays, which is normally a day off, or into extra hours in the evenings. The Tories have refused.
On Thursday, Opposition house leader Kelvin Goertzen surprised everyone when, during a sparsely attended morning sitting that involved mostly backbenchers, he moved that the legislature sit straight through to Dec. 31.
The government appeared to be caught off-guard and none of the NDP members objected. The motion passed, and even Goertzen appeared surprised.
“The last few days, the NDP have been saying they want to sit here for a long time, so I wanted to given them the opportunity to back up their word,” he told reporters afterward.
NDP house leader Dave Chomiak said Goertzen’s move was a stunt aimed at pressuring the government side for concessions on scheduling.
“I know it’s a negotiating ploy that they’re doing,” Chomiak said.
“We want to pass our budget and I said a long time ago we’re prepared to sit as long as it takes to get our budget passed.”
While Thursday’s turn of events means the legislature should sit for the rest of the year, that’s unlikely to happen. The schedule can be changed by agreement between the two parties, and talks have been ongoing behind the scenes.
A similar showdown occurred in 2013, when the Tories used delay tactics to protest the government’s sales tax increase and kept the legislature going well into the summer. Eventually they agreed to end the session. In exchange, the government agreed to pass some Tory bills, delay votes on some NDP bills and have an extra-long spring sitting the following year.
Chomiak said he is confident a deal will be struck, and accused the Tories of bluffing.
“Somehow I have real difficulty thinking that people … who aren’t here after five (o’clock) or people who won’t come here on Fridays are willing to sit here (until December).”