Right in the Centre-PC government needs to be careful what they ask for


By Ken Waddell

Neepawa Banner & Press

The Manitoba PC party is doing a number of good things. Unfortunately, those good things are being side-swiped by some really silly things they are asking for.

In the process, they have struck out four times on issues. In all four cases, they have incurred the wrath of the newspaper industry.

The first goof-up came when the Manitoba government basically abandoned newsprint recycling and they did so in spite of a 25 year-old-agreement with the industry that worked quite well. By abandoning the old program, they have basically left recyclers, the newspaper industry and municipalities without a viable newsprint recycling program. That in itself is bad enough, but newspaper recycling has been one of the mainstays of the recycling industry.

Then, the government introduced Bill 8, which basically says that about 25 provincial acts can be changed without giving anyone notice, except in the on-line Manitoba Gazette. Newspapers have no argument with the Gazette being on-line and free, but if an important piece of legislation is being changed, the public deserves to know. Some people don’t even have the internet and few go scouring through websites to see what the government is going to foist upon them next.

Then they followed up with Bill 19, which is a fairly good bill, but allows municipal planning districts to implement changes only by posting notice on their websites. This means that any city, town or RM could approve all kinds of re-zoning without actually telling anyone. When the Manitoba Community Newspaper Association (MCNA) mounted a challenge to Bill 19, many towns and municipalities expressed their support in writing for the MCNA stand. Over 60 people registered to speak against the offensive clauses in the bill at committee hearings.

The official opposition forced the government to delay Bill 8 until the fall and the government did agree to not implement the “no newspaper” clauses until later. They can however put the changes into effect whenever they feel like it.

To add insult to injury, PC members, including several publishers, got this little tidbit by email last week. It was a standard fund-raising letter. It started out, “Dear Ken, I’m emailing you today to ask for your help. We have a lot of good news to share in Manitoba, but we’ve learned that we can’t count on traditional media to share the facts with Manitobans.”

Traditional media?? That would be newspapers, I am thinking.

Some will recall my column from last week about free votes in the legislature. There are a lot of MLAs who would like a free vote on Bill 8 and Bill 19, but they won’t get that right.  MLAs don’t seem to know who wrote these bills and they for sure don’t know who slipped in the bits about newspapers. These clauses are so bad, nobody will claim responsibility for them. That tells us something for sure.

There is an old adage that goes like this, “Never get into an argument with a man who buys his ink by the barrel.” It’s a wise saying and it is important to know that newspapers do have a lot of power. It is a fundamental principle of democracy. Having newspapers with differing opinions from each other and from the government are a staunch safeguard of democracy. Everyone knows what happens when a newspaper only spouts the government line or worse yet, is squashed and can’t put out the news at all.

For the government to make these four separate, but related errors is simply a very bad case of judgment. We deserve better and ironically, most MLAs know that, but their hands are tied, their voices silenced and their effectiveness neutered.

Disclaimer: The writer serves as a volunteer president of the Manitoba Community Newspaper Association. The views expressed in this column are the writer’s personal views and are not to be taken as being as the view of the MCNA board or Banner & Press staff.

Editor's note: After this column was originally written, amendments were brought forward to remove Sections 19(2) and 25 from Bill 19. This means that municipalities and planning districts will still be required to give notice of changes to things like zoning and land use in local newspapers where people will more readily see them than on just the municipal or planning districts website.Ken Waddell, publisher.