By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG – Former federal cabinet minister Steven Fletcher, now a Progressive Conservative backbencher in Manitoba, may be in hot water after criticizing his own government’s bill.
Fletcher has been speaking out against a proposed law that would create a new Crown agency to promote energy efficiency, and has tied up two legislature committee meetings in recent weeks by asking questions for hours, late into the night.
Premier Brian Pallister said Wednesday he has had a talk with Fletcher, but would not discuss any details.
“I tend to have a lot of time for Steven, as you all know, so we’ll just leave it at that,” Pallister said.
When asked whether that means Fletcher has not faced any discipline, Pallister responded: “I wouldn’t say that, but I’d say that we’ll deal with these things internally and that’s how caucus discipline is best arrived at.”
Might Fletcher be removed from caucus, Pallister was asked.
“I don’t have any plans of that nature, but we’ll see where the conduct goes from here. It’s true of all caucus members, not just Steven.”
Fletcher was even more tight-lipped and refused to reveal any discussions he had with Pallister.
He said he was doing his job as a politician by raising concerns about the cost of carving out a new agency from Crown-owned Manitoba Hydro to promote energy efficiency.
“I am fulfilling my responsibilities as a (legislature member), as a critical thinker. There’s a lot of questions which exist,” Fletcher said.
His actions are the first signs of a crack in the unity of the 40-member Tory caucus elected last year. Pallister led his party to the largest majority government in Manitoba in a century and has stressed the need for his members to work as a team.
He repeated that goal Wednesday, and said Fletcher and other Tories ran, in part, on a campaign promise to create the new energy agency.
“Normally … you would think that people would be standing up for the things they ran on. That would be a fair observation, I think.”
Fletcher, 44, was a Conservative member of Parliament between 2004 and 2015 and was Canada’s first quadriplegic MP. He served for a few years as minister of state for democratic reform and minister of state for transport. He lost his seat to Liberal Doug Eyolfson in the 2015 election.
Last year, Fletcher won a provincial seat in the west suburbs of Winnipeg.
Fletcher’s tactics at the legislature committee only managed to delay the bill temporarily. The committee passed the bill — Fletcher is not a voting member — and it is expected to come to a final vote in the legislature in the coming weeks.
Fletcher wouldn’t say whether he might vote against the bill when he gets the chance.
“We’ll see when the bill comes up if I’m in a meeting or not. It depends on the timing.
“I also might need to go to the bathroom. I’m not sure. We’ll see.”