WINNIPEG - Manitoba's governing New Democrats and Opposition Progressive Conservatives reached a deal Thursday to end a political standoff that has kept politicians cooped up in the non air-conditioned legislature through the summer.
The Tories have agreed to stop stalling most government legislation, including a controversial anti-bullying bill and a move to force small municipalities to amalgamate. The Tories will let the proposed laws pass sometime between Sept. 13 and Sept. 17, and allow the legislature to rise for several weeks.
In exchange, the government has agreed to put off final votes on its most contentious legislation — two budget bills that will formalize a sales tax increase that took effect July 1 and provide public subsidies for political parties. Those bills will only go to a final vote after the legislature resumes Nov. 12.
Tory Leader Brian Pallister said the compromise includes a recognition that the NDP government has a majority and can eventually force laws through the house.
"As much we have put the government's feet to the fire, and will continue to, (we) realize that government legislation has at some point got to come to a vote," Pallister told reporters.
"But we recognize by prolonging the debate by some weeks that we can, we hope, encourage more Manitobans to come to the forefront, engage and let the government know in no uncertain terms that ... what they're doing is not a wise move."
NDP house leader Jennifer Howard said the compromise will allow many bills to be passed next month, and all others to get final approval before the end of the year.
"We know that bills like Bill 18, the anti-bullying legislation, ... are going to pass by mid-September. That is critical to us."
There are other tradeoffs under the deal. The NDP has agreed to start the spring sitting of the legislature in March, about a month earlier than normal. The Tories have agreed not to stall the end of the next spring sitting beyond the normal end date in June.
The agreement brings to an end a log-jam that started in April. The Tories, upset over the government's decision to raise the provincial sales tax to eight per cent from seven per cent, started using delay tactics.
Every day, the Tories called for recorded votes, challenged rulings by the Speaker, and raised objections to a wide variety of government actions inside the chamber. As a result, there was virtually no time left to debate and pass bills. Dozens of proposed laws were stuck in limbo, including:
— An anti-bullying bill which will require schools to accommodate gay-straight alliances, a move the Tories say violates the religious freedom of some schools.
— A bill to force municipalities with fewer than 1,000 residents to merge with a neighbouring community.
— Budget bills that will raise the sales tax, provide annual subsidies to political parties based on their voter support, and create more loopholes in the provincial balanced budget law in order to allow the government to continue to run deficits.
The government decided to start the spring sitting in April, leaving only nine weeks to pass the bills before the traditional June session-end date.
The Tories, sensing the public would support stalling tactics over the tax-hike legislation, soon made it known they were willing to block passage of dozens of bills. The move forced the government to drag out the session into the summer.
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