Manitoba NDP leader says he would revive annual open house at the legislature

WINNIPEG — Manitoba's Opposition NDP leader says he'd like to bring back the annual holiday open house at the legislature if he were to be elected premier.

Wab Kinew says security is important, but so is the tradition of allowing the public into the legislature where they can meet politicians in a family-friendly event.

The open house, normally held on a weekend in early or mid-December, allows people to freely roam the building, meet with politicians, and enjoy snacks and musical entertainment.

It was cancelled this year due to security concerns and construction on one side of the building.

Security at the legislature has been tightened in recent years and was further increased after encampments were set up on the grounds before being dismantled in the fall.

Kinew, whose party is leading in opinion polls in the run-up to the provincial election in October, said he'd like to see the event return.

"It's one of the times of year when we really live up to the phrase that this is the people's building," Kinew said in a year-end interview with The Canadian Press.

"Security is an important concern, but there has to be a way for us to balance those concerns with the fact that we live in a democracy where people have a right to have access to the people's building and to be able to speak and meet and, in the case of an open house, celebrate with their democratically elected representatives."

The security upgrades at the legislature in recent years include the use of a metal detector for visitors.

Don Leitch, the head of the provincial civil service as clerk of the executive council, said in November that construction on the grounds and security matters raised safety concerns for managing potentially thousands of visitors in an afternoon.

The same concerns also prompted the cancellation of the New Year's Day Levee, hosted by the lieutenant-governor at the legislature on Jan. 1.

Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen said the government aims to continue to have public gatherings at the legislature, including photo sessions popular in spring with high school graduates and wedding parties.

"I think we will continue to find ways for Manitobans to come here, to celebrate, to gather, to see this as their building and use it as their building," Goertzen said.

"It just might not look exactly the way it did before and it might have a little more formality, maybe, than it did before."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Dec. 29, 2022.

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press