By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Two long-standing events at the Manitoba legislature that allow members of the public nearly unfettered access to the historic building during the holiday season have been cancelled this year partly due to security concerns.
The cancellations are the latest signs of tightened security and fears for the safety of politicians, visitors and staff inside the stately building.
The annual legislature open house, normally held on a weekend in early or mid-December, allows people to freely roam the building, meet with politicians, and enjoy snacks and musical entertainment.
Not this year.
The head of the provincial civil service said security concerns and construction on the east side of the building, which has closed part of the roadway, are factors. And there are no guarantees the event will return next year.
“Significant construction on the property and security matters raised safety concerns for managing potentially thousands of visitors to the building in a short period of time,” Don Leitch, clerk of the executive council, said in a written statement Thursday.
“Scheduling the event for next year will be reviewed and determined at the appropriate time.”
The event was put on hold for the last two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions on public gatherings. Those restrictions were removed earlier this year.
The New Year’s Day Levee, hosted by the lieutenant-governor on Jan. 1, has also been cancelled this winter for similar reasons, another government official said.
The legislature grounds have seen a series of long-term protests. There was a blockade by large trucks at the main driveway entrance last winter to protest COVID-19 restrictions. There were also two encampments on the grounds — one in response to the discovery of possible unmarked graves at residential schools — that were dismantled by police in October.
Even before the encampments and blockades, security inside the building had been tightened and some entryways were closed.
Public figures from Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew to Dr. Brent Roussin, the chief public health officer, have said they have received threats.
Shannon Martin, a Progressive Conservative legislature member, has seen a change in tone since he was first elected in 2014.
“Unfortunately, the level of political discourse in Manitoba has deteriorated in the last several years both inside and outside the legislature,” he said.
“Decisions about legislative building security are non-partisan and independent of government policy making. I have full confidence and trust the work of our legislative building security staff.”