It must have seemed like a sure-fire electoral score for Manitoba New Democrats: Leader Greg Selinger announcing a program for inner-city youth alongside officials with the Winnipeg Jets in a hockey-mad city.
But Mr. Selinger quickly found himself on the defensive Friday, facing accusations he had broken the province’s Elections Finances Act.
“This is clearly against the law, to be announcing new government programs during an election period,” Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard said.
“The announcement and the release clearly show that they’re setting up a partnership, that this is not just a promise, that this is a government program that they’re announcing.”
The law forbids the government from promoting existing programs or announcing new ones in the 90 days before an election. Voters go to the polls Oct. 4.
Mr. Gerrard said his party was filing a complaint with Elections Manitoba.
Mr. Selinger and Jets co-owner Mark Chipman held a news conference at the National Hockey League team’s arena that, to critics, looked more like a government announcement than a campaign stop.
The NDP’s news release did not mention the election. Nor did it say the program was conditional on the party being re-elected.
“Premier Greg Selinger and Mark Chipman of True North Sports and Entertainment announced a new partnership today to support at-risk high-school students in Manitoba,” the release said.
“A new program … will provide apprenticeship and mentoring opportunities for high-school students during after-school hours.”
Mr. Selinger said he hadn’t run afoul of the law – the announcement was simply part of a campaign promise to help troubled teens avoid a life of crime.
“I made the campaign announcement a week ago and we followed up on it by showing that there are people that are very interested in the way we think Manitoba can develop,” he said.
“We’re pleased that the Jets are willing to be one of the sponsors of the program if we get elected again.”
Progressive Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen stayed out of the fray. He said he saw nothing wrong with what Mr. Selinger did.
“For us it’s not [an issue] We don’t have any intention of filing a complaint,” he said.
It’s not the first time the Jets have shown up on the campaign trail. The former Jets left Winnipeg in 1996 for Arizona. This year, a new team with the same name has emerged from the ashes of the Atlanta Thrashers and Manitobans have been snapping up tickets and memorabilia.
In 2007, Mr. McFadyen promised to bring the NHL back and was ridiculed for what many at the time considered an outlandish vow.
In this election, Mr. Selinger has claimed credit for helping to return the team home by subsidizing the construction of the MTS Centre and by providing more video lottery terminals to the facility this year in a bid to help the team’s financial picture.
“I put the puck in the net, which is the difference,” Mr. Selinger said earlier this week during a leaders debate with Mr. McFadyen and Mr. Gerrard.
“They promised to bring the Jets back. We did it.”