The opposition followed up on their blistering attack on Greg Selinger’s support for the right of his Deputy Premier to have racist beliefs, with sharp questions about the failed cover-up of his anti-white comments. His invoking the memory of Martin Luther King as he squirmed only added to the spectacle of a government caught in a vice of their own making.
Prying the fact out of the Manitoba Premier – on his feet trying to provide political cover for the Minister of the FIPPA Act Flor “Cheeze Whiz is a good substitute for milk on reserves” Marcelino – that it was up to the Aboriginal Affairs department’s Deputy Minister to approve the redaction before the Freedom of information response was sent to Osborne House CEO Barbara Judt, has now allowed the Progressive Conservatives to open a gaping hole in the NDP’s defence of L’affair Robinson.
It is one thing to say, a person can appeal to the Ombudsman if they disagree with a redaction.
But if the redaction had no legal basis – and Selinger under fire repeatedly disowned any notion the racist remark by Robinson about “Ignorant do good white people” was government opinion or analysis – then in fact, the Ombudsman would have no choice but to call the NDP’s bluff.
Or, one supposes, he would say nothing about such blatant abuse of power and public trust, and risk the entire Act, designed to ensure transparency in government, could be submarined on each and every FIPPA response from government by politically motivated fraudulent claims of privilege.
If it hasn’t already.
From the Act:
Information about offences
55(4) The Ombudsman may disclose to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General information relating to the commission of an offence under this or any other enactment of Manitoba or Canada if the Ombudsman considers there is reason to believe an offence has been committed.
Follow the logical trail the opposition is following, and it is apparent that when Robinson and Selinger became aware that material was being redacted and what they did to verify the legitimacy of it is very key. And City Circus knows at the very least, when one of them did.
From the hottest day of the year, here is the Hansard from Wednesday of Question Period about Eric Robinson’s email. Send it around. It’s good for democracy.
Cabinet Removal Request
Mrs. Heather Stefanson (Tuxedo): Today marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech, I have a dream, which focused on the eradication of racial inequality, and it’s hard to believe that 50 years later that this NDP government is plagued with a scandal of racist remarks made by the Deputy Premier (Mr. Robinson).
The minister believes that he is entitled to make such remarks. We don’t believe he is entitled to make those remarks.
I will ask the Premier of the province again: Will he remove the Deputy Premier from Cabinet?
Hon. Greg Selinger (Premier): It’s always worth to revisit the dream that Martin Luther King had for the people of the United States and, indeed, the people of the world. It was a dream based on social justice, and that’s exactly why we have the first hydro project in North America built in partnership with First Nations people. That’s exactly why we have a prenatal benefit that’s for–available for all young families and children in Manitoba, whether they live on First Nations communities, whether they live in northern communities, rural communities, urban communities. We have the only province in Canada that has a prenatal benefit to help young families get off to a healthy start.
Mr. Speaker, we have a Neighbourhoods Alive! program that works with people at the local level to rebuild their housing, to make sure their neighbourhoods are safe, to ensure there are recreational opportunities for young children after school at a time of risk when their parents might still be working. Those are things that are the vision of Martin Luther King. They’re the vision of this part of the Legislature, this side of the government. These are things we’re doing to build a more socially just society.
And just recently, we’ve discovered that one third of the First Nations people living–
Mr. Speaker: Order, please. The First Minister’s time has expired.
Mrs. Stefanson: I don’t believe that the behaviour of the Deputy Premier is exemplary of the kind of dream that Martin Luther King had some 50 years ago. Just because a person has something stolen from them does not give them–or entitle them to go out and steal from someone else. Two wrongs do not make a right. The Premier has the opportunity to do the right thing today by removing the minister from Cabinet.
The question is: Will the Premier take the leadership and do the right thing today?
Mr. Selinger: The Deputy Premier, the Minister of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs, very much shares the dream of Martin Luther King.
That’s exactly why, even before he was in elected office, in the 1980s, he championed the case of Helen Betty Osborne, a woman who had been murdered and there had been no action taken by the police authorities to deal with it. He brought that case to attention, closely worked with the families and has expanded that division to protect all missing and murdered Aboriginal across the country. That is something that no other member of this Legislature has ever done, no other member of a Legislature in Canada has done. That is leadership provided by our member on this side of the House. We’re very proud of the work he’s done. o
Some Honourable Members: Oh, oh.
Mr. Speaker: Order, please. Order. Order, please. Order, please.
The honourable member for Tuxedo has the floor.
Mrs. Stefanson: Mr. Speaker, when the member for St. Norbert (Mr. Gaudreau) made homophobic comments the Premier acted quickly to remove him and strip him of his caucus responsibilities. But when one of his Cabinet colleagues makes a racist remark, he stands up and praises him, as all members opposite do. This is just wrong.
Mr. Speaker, will the Premier do the right thing and remove his minister from Cabinet, or is he saying to Manitobans that it’s–that making a racist comment is not as bad as making a homophobic one?
Mr. Selinger: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question from the honourable member across the way. What she’s skipping over is the fact that the member has expressed regret for his comments. He has withdrawn those comments and he has apologized for those comments.
Now, when members opposite make inappropriate comments, their response is to deny them. They pretend they didn’t happen even though members all over the Chamber have heard them, even though staff have heard them. When they do that, they just go into a structure of denial.
The members on this side of the House, if they make an error–and we all make errors, except, perhaps, members of the opposition. We as human beings do make errors from time to time, and when we make an error we take responsibility for that and we apologize for it, and then we get back to the world, back to the business of creating a more socially just world, a more socially just society, a society where murdered and missing women are brought–the perpetrators of those crimes are brought to justice, where the families are given support for healing. That’s what we do on this side of the House: work every day for a better life for all Manitobans.
Mr. Speaker: Order, please. First Minister’s time has expired.
Mr. Wayne Ewasko (Lac du Bonnet): Mr. Speaker, The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act office said its decision to redact the Deputy Premier’s (Mr. Robinson) inflammatory comments, which was made public last Thursday, was covered under section 23(1)(a) of the act.
Can the minister in charge of The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the Minister for Culture, Heritage and Tourism, please explain that section to the House?
Hon. Greg Selinger (Premier): We’ve canvassed this. Section 23(1) has been put into–read into the record by the member asking the question, and he understands that. And the reality is is that that section is part of the FIPPA legislation which has been in place for many years within this House, and it’s a section that says: “advice, opinions, proposals, recommendations, analyses or policy options developed by or for the public body or a minister” can be–can be–information that is disclosed or not disclosed, Mr. Speaker, depending on whether it’s that type of advice or opinion. The officials in the department normally deal with these matters as a matter of routine. They’re signed off by the deputy minister and they’re provided to the public. That’s the standard procedure in all departments within the government.
Mr. Ewasko: Mr. Speaker, it seems that the seat belt light’s on today.
Yesterday, on more than one occasion, we had asked: Was the decision to redact the ministry’s–the minister’s inflammatory comment covered under section 23(1)(a) of the act to protect against material that would reveal advice, opinions, proposals, recommendations, analyses or policy options developed by or for the public body or a minister?
Can the Minister of Culture, Heritage and Tourism (Ms. Marcelino), the minister in charge of the act, tell the House what part of section 23(1)(a) would the redacting of the Deputy Premier’s comments fall under?
Mr. Selinger: Mr. Speaker, we just went over this clause, 23(1)(a), and we made it clear that there’s a standard procedure that’s followed in government where there’s an official that handles freedom of information requests. They prepare the material, they review the material and then the disclosure is signed off by the deputy minister in the department. That was the procedure followed here. That’s the procedure followed in every department.
Mr. Ewasko: Mr. Speaker, on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s speech, it is disappointing to hear the blatant cover-up which this government tried to do on the racist comments by this Deputy Premier. The Premier told this House yesterday that when asked whether the statement, which was redacted, was the opinion or the advice of either the government, the minister or himself, he said no.
Therefore, Mr. Speaker, why are they hiding behind the act? Why don’t they just admit they were trying to cover it up, and how many other situations are they covering up?
Mr. Selinger: I’ve answered the question. The request for information was handled in the standard method by officials in the department, signed off by the deputy minister.
And what the member’s skipping over–what the member’s skipping over–is is that regrets were expressed and an apology was made by the member, which puts the bar higher than what we’ve seen on any other member on the other side of the House. They just deny. Anything that they say that’s untoward, they deny, and they pretend that they could never do anything wrong, Mr. Speaker. They think that it’s impossible for themselves to make a mistake. And when it’s impossible to make a mistake, it’s impossible to have regrets. It’s impossible to apologize for something. There’s no such thing as redemption. When you’re perfect, you can’t do anything wrong.
We accept that mistakes can be made. When mistakes are made, people take responsibility for them and they apologize for them. Then they get back to the business of building a better Manitoban for all Manitobans, an inclusive society, a socially just society. That’s what we’re about.
Mr. Kelvin Goertzen (Steinbach): What the Premier failed to say is that there wasn’t actually responsibility taken initially. They tried to cover it up by redacting it from the freedom of information request, Mr. Speaker. Now, yesterday, and the Premier repeated it today, he says that this is standard procedure to cover up racist comments.
When did it become standard procedure to cover up racist comments under FIPPA requests?
Hon. Greg Selinger (Premier): Mr. Speaker, that’s–what the member has just put on the record is exactly the reason we have some challenges in the House. When a member opposite tries to misinterpret the words of another person, tries to stretch the truth–and I mean stretch the truth–it’s not even worthy of rebuttal.
He knows what we said; it had nothing to do with what he said. He can be a creative journalist if he wishes; I wish he’d be an honourable member of the House.
Mr. Speaker: I want to remind all honourable members–in fact, the honourable First Minister, in specific–all members in this Assembly are honourable, and I have always, hopefully, treated each and every one of you in that fashion. And the comments that I just heard, I think, were inappropriate, and I’m going to ask the honourable First Minister to withdraw those comments in reference to another member.
Mr. Selinger: Yes, thank you, Mr. Speaker. I withdraw any inappropriate comment I made, and I apologize to the House for that.
Mr. Speaker: Thank the honourable First Minister.
The honourable member for Steinbach, with a supplementary.
Mr. Goertzen: Well, you know, whether one is a creative journalist or a standard journalist, it’s hard to do your journalistic job when information is redacted from a freedom of information request when it shouldn’t have been redacted, Mr. Speaker. There are rules that are supposed to be followed under the freedom of information request.
We have a minister who is supposed to guard those rules. She’s the gatekeeper for those rules, and I want to ask her why were these racist comments–why were they redacted? Why were they covered up when there was no reason under the FIPPA act to cover them up, other than to protect the deputy minister?
Madam Minister, why were they covered up?
Mr. Speaker: Order, please.
Again, I sense we’re straying away from what I would consider to be appropriate decorum in the House, and I’m asking for the co-operation of the honourable member for Steinbach. When he’s addressing his comments, through the Speaker, please. That way I can maintain some decorum in here and make sure that we are respectful of each other. So, I’m asking for your co-operation in that regard.
Now, the honourable First Minister, I believe, was about to respond.
Mr. Selinger: Mr. Speaker, when a freedom of information request is addressed by the civil servants and they make it available to the public, one of the things they do at the bottom of that request is they make it very clear that any member receiving–anybody that receives that information has the right to appeal it, if they’re not satisfied with it, to the Ombudsman in Manitoba, which is a position that reports and is accountable to the House, not to the government. It’s an independent officer of the Legislature. And that is stated right at the bottom of every FOI response that’s put out there, so people know their rights if they’re not entirely satisfied with the response they’ve got.
That is an additional assurance to the public that if they’re not satisfied with the information they’ve got, that they have the right of appeal to an independent officer of the Legislature.
Mr. Speaker: The honourable member for Steinbach, with a final supplementary.
Deputy Premier’s Email
Mr. Goertzen: Well, you wouldn’t even know what to appeal because it was blacked out and it was never intended to be seen, Mr. Speaker. The issue is very clear that it should never have been redacted, and it was only redacted because they’re trying to cover up for the deputy minister.
And I want to ask the government; I want to ask the Premier: When did he first learn of this freedom of information request and the fact the portion was redacted, and when did the Deputy Premier (Mr. Robinson) learn that this request had come in and that a portion of it was being redacted? When did each of them know?
Hon. Greg Selinger (Premier): Mr. Speaker, we’ve explained this. I’ve explained this. These matters are dealt with in a routine fashion by the public officials in the department. They receive the request. They deal with the request. The request–
Some Honourable Members: Oh, oh.
Mr. Speaker: I’m getting very close to the point where I have to call House leaders into a meeting. I’m sensing we’re getting out of control here again and I want to make sure I maintain control of this House, that’s my responsibility. So I’m asking for the co-operation of all honourable members, allow for the questions to be posed and for the answers to be in response. So I’m asking for the co-operation once again.
I’m sorry, I regret to interrupt to First Minister. First Minister, to continue his response.
Mr. Selinger: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I’ve explained to the House the standard procedures that would follow in this case. Public official receives the request, handles it in a way they consider appropriate under the legislation that guides their behaviour. That is signed off by the deputy minister and the information is made available with the very clear information at the bottom of the form that responds to the request that there is the right of appeal to the Ombudsmen of the Legislature. I’ve put that on the record. I put it on again for greater certainty.