Manitoba government passes several bills into law before legislature break

WINNIPEG — Manitoba's Progressive Conservative government passed several bills into law Thursday night covering items ranging from electricity to weeds before the legislature's autumn break.

One bill approved in a final vote sets debt-reduction targets for Crown-owned Manitoba Hydro and caps annual rate increases. The government said the measures will keep increases reasonable while helping the utility's financial stability.

"This is about ensuring that there is rate certainty and not rate shock for Manitobans. It's really, really important in this time in high inflation," Tory house leader Kelvin Goertzen said.

The Opposition New Democrats delayed the bill in the spring and fought against it.

They said the debt-reduction targets would force higher than necessary rate hikes. The bill also gives the provincial cabinet new powers to set parameters for hearings held by the provincial regulator. The NDP said that amounts to interference in what is supposed to be an independent process.

Another bill passed Thursday removes restrictions on the use of cosmetic pesticides in some areas, such as private lawns and municipal parks.

The government said it is simply following federal health guidelines on pesticide use, and municipalities have applauded the move as necessary to tackle weeds. But the NDP said the change could put people's health at risk.

"We've heard from so many health experts and folks in the community who are concerned about potential health impacts on children and on animals," NDP Leader Wab Kinew said.

Other bills passed Thursday night include one aimed at preventing domestic violence. It will allow people to find out whether their partner has a history of abuse or violence, even if some information might normally be deemed personal and beyond publicly available court records.

It is similar to Clare's Law, first enacted in the United Kingdom, where a woman named Clare Wood was killed by her partner. Saskatchewan and Alberta have adopted similar laws.

Another bill compels hotel workers and taxi drivers to report human trafficking instances to police. Hotels will also have to keep a registry of guests that police could access with a court order.

The Tory majority government did not get all its bills through. Two that would have expanded alcohol sales will have to be reintroduced when the legislature resumes.

One would have eliminated some licence requirements, such as the need for beverage rooms to have a hotel attached. Another would have allowed private beer vendors and wine stores to sell a full range of alcohol products.

During the session, the opposition parties managed to get a few of their issues on the agenda.

The New Democrats called for a new specialty licence plate to raise money for families of missing and murdered women Indigenous women and girls. An NDP bill did not pass, but the Tories said Crown-owned Manitoba Public Insurance will take up the matter and plan to have a plate ready for sale by next summer.

The Liberals, who have three of the 57 legislature seats, pushed for a new law to ban the use of non-disclosure agreements in cases of harassment or discrimination. Liberal leader Dougald Lamont said such an agreement can silence victims, and pointed to victims of Hollywood film mogul Harvey Weinstein.

"It's protecting corruption. It makes it possible to silence people when they (want to) speak up," Lamont said.

The government did not pass Lamont's bill but referred it to the Manitoba Law Reform Commission, an independent agency tasked with improving and modernizing provincial laws. The commission is expected to make recommendations early next year.

The legislature is to resume Nov. 15 with a throne speech that will outline the government's plans for the coming year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 3, 2022

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press