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Opposition Cries Foul as Manitoba Premier Says Some Government Ads Will Continue

August 3, 2023 4:31 PM | The Canadian Press

By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press

Heather Stefanson

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson speaks during a news conference, in Winnipeg, on Monday, June 19, 2023. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government is planning to continue to run advertisements promoting rebate cheques and some other programs in the lead-up to the Oct. 3 provincial election, despite accusations from the Opposition that it’s an unfair use of taxpayer dollars.

The Election Financing Act forbids many types of government advertising, announcements and news conferences in the 90 days prior to an election, with some exceptions such as matters of public health and continuations of ongoing ad campaigns at agencies such as Crown corporations.

The law is aimed at preventing the governing party from having a campaign advantage over other parties that do not have access to government resources.

In 2021, the Progressive Conservative government changed the law to allow for more exceptions, including continuations of ongoing ad campaigns by government departments.

The change also shortened the time frame of the restrictions — known as the blackout period — to 60 days from 90. The blackout period this year starts Friday.

Premier Heather Stefanson said the government plans to continue to run ads on health issues such as West Nile virus.

She also said the government needs to continue to remind people of the availability of cheques that have been mailed out this year — one was a rebate on property taxes, the other was a “Carbon Tax Relief Fund” cheque to offset costs associated with a federally imposed price on carbon.


“There’s actually a lot of people who haven’t cashed their cheques, so we just want to make sure that it didn’t get lost in the mail or something of that nature,” Stefanson told reporters.

“I think it’s informing Manitobans about how they can get the moneys that they should be getting,” she added.

Many other ad campaigns are ending or have already ended, Stefanson said.

The premier’s office later clarified in a written statement that future ads about the cheques will be strictly to remind people that there is a Sept. 30 deadline to apply if they did not already receive their payments.

The Opposition New Democrats accused the government of tilting the electoral playing field by changing the law and continuing to advertise with an election looming.

“They’re using loopholes now that ultimately, I think, will … give them some justification that they’re going to use now to say, ‘Well we have to keep advertising,'” NDP justice critic Matt Wiebe said.

Wiebe would not commit to reinstating the previous advertising restrictions if the NDP wins the election. He said details of any NDP plan would come later.

The last day before the scheduled advertising blackout was a busy one for the government.

There were millions of dollars in announcements, including a pledge of up to $1 million to support a bid by the Winnipeg Sea Bears to host the 2025 Canadian Elite Basketball League championship.

Other announcements have included $11 million for a sobering centre and transitional housing projects in Brandon and $6.7 million for a feasibility study on a potential Indigenous-led trade corridor from Fort McMurray, Alta., to the coast of Hudson Bay in northern Manitoba.

Opinion polls over the last two years have suggested the Tories are trailing the New Democrats, especially in Winnipeg, where most legislature seats are.

CP - The Canadian Press