Manitoba plans infrastructure protection law, private liquor and education reform

Steve Lambert
·3 min read

WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government is planning to prevent blockades of railways, roads and other infrastructure by making them a separate offence under provincial law.

The government also revealed plans Monday to amalgamate collective bargaining by teachers and to allow more private alcohol sales. Cabinet ministers in the Progressive Conservative government gave notice in the legislature of upcoming bills.

One planned bill, first alluded to in the government's throne speech last month, is aimed at preventing protests similar to ones last winter in Manitoba that stalled railway traffic. The protests were in support of the Wet'suwet'en in British Columbia, whose hereditary leaders were fighting construction of a pipeline through their traditional territory.

"The Manitoba government recognizes the rights of citizens to express views on issues and engage in peaceful protests," Justice Minister Cliff Cullen said.

"Those rights must be balanced with the right of Manitobans to enjoy their property and preserve their livelihood and access necessary services."

The proposed law would make it an offence to obstruct critical infrastructure and would provide consequences, Cullen said, although he did not reveal details.

A similar law passed in Alberta earlier this year provides for fines of up to $25,000 and six months in jail.

The government also plans to pave the way for private sales of hard liquor in urban areas.

Currently, the province has many private beer vendors and a handful of private wine stores. Hard liquor is sold at government-run stores in Winnipeg and other cities, and a mixture of government stores and private vendors in rural areas.

The change will save Manitobans money and help the economy, Crown Services Minister Jeff Wharton said.

Another bill would amalgamate collective bargaining for teachers, replacing the current 38 collective agreements between teacher bargaining units and school boards.

The idea is being supported by the Manitoba Teachers' Society.

"We're prepared to sit down with the government in a fair process representing 16,000 members across the province," union president James Bedford said.

The government also served notice that it will soon introduce changes to the administration of public schools.

Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen has hinted that the number of elected school boards across the province might be reduced. The province has done a review — yet to be released — led by a consultant, who prompted the Nova Scotia government to replace elected boards with an appointed advisory council.

The government took an unusual path to reveal its plans in broad strokes Monday. It introduced some two dozen bills in the legislature for first reading, which normally leads to the bills being printed and made available to legislature members, the media and the general public.

But only four of the bills were provided. Goertzen, who is also the government's house leader, pointed to a rule that allows bills to only be distributed the day before second reading — one of a few stages at which legislature members vote on proposed laws.

The former NDP government followed a similar course on occasion, Goertzen said

NDP house leader Nahanni Fontaine said the government was withholding full details of its bills to hide information from Manitobans.

"That is pretty sneaky, actually."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 2, 2020

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press