WINNIPEG — Manitoba's Opposition New Democrats blocked the government from introducing its budget Wednesday, prompting Premier Brian Pallister to bail on a first ministers meeting in Ottawa later this week.
The 2020-21 fiscal plan was to be delivered in the afternoon, but the New Democrats ate up the clock through procedural tactics until the legislature rose for the day at 5 p.m.
Pallister was not pleased.
"I think the level of disrespect for the people of Manitoba was put on display today, and I think it's disappointing," Pallister said.
"The NDP's delay tactics show that their priority is attention-seeking behaviour, not the priorities of the people of Manitoba."
One by one, various NDP members of the legislature stood up, talked very slowly and raised matters of privilege — complaints about a variety of issues akin to a football coach challenging a referee's decision. Only unlike football, there are no limits or penalties for politicians who raise matters of privilege.
Toward the end of the afternoon, a clearly exasperated Speaker Myrna Driedger asked for a breakthrough.
"It's ... taxing my graciousness at this point because I don't think this is serving Manitobans very well," she said.
NDP Leader Wab Kinew said his caucus is not so concerned about the budget, but is focused mainly on blocking some 20 bills the government is also trying to introduce.
"There are bills to attack schools, bills to attack working people's rights, bills that will make it more difficult for people to stand up for their rights in this province," Kinew said.
"That's what we're delaying."
Pallister said the delay will keep him in Winnipeg instead of travelling to meet with other premiers and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
"I have to miss a meeting with the prime minister and my colleagues as a consequence of this and that's OK. My priority is here in Manitoba and that's where I am going to be."
Media and interest groups were provided with the contents of the budget earlier in the day, but are not allowed to reveal it until the document is presented in the chamber.
The head of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, Loren Remillard, said the NDP did not do itself any favours
"This delay does nothing to further the budget conversation ... and serves little more than to upset and annoy the very stakeholders and media that are important parts of this process themselves."
The Progressive Conservative government said it will try again Thursday to introduce the budget. The NDP said it would continue delay tactics, but offered a compromise of sorts.
Kinew said his caucus would allow the government to table its budget if it agrees to forego Finance Minister Scott Fielding's speech. Pallister said the government would not agree to that.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 11, 2020
Steve Lambert and Kelly Gerladine Malone, The Canadian Press