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Manitoba’s spring session ends; more than twenty bills become law

WINNIPEG — Manitoba politicians sat late into the night Monday to give final approval to more than two dozen bills covering topics ranging from criminal asset seizures to social assistance.

WINNIPEG — Manitoba politicians sat late into the night Monday to give final approval to more than two dozen bills covering topics ranging from criminal asset seizures to social assistance.

Among the bills passed by a final vote by the NDP government was one that would make it easier to seize property from criminals, including vehicles modified to have hidden compartments for drugs and other contraband.

A new law ends the province’s ban on homegrown recreational cannabis.

The government said the change brings Manitoba in line with all provinces except Quebec. The opposition Progressive Conservatives opposed the change, saying they are concerned that cannabis will fall more easily into the hands of children.

Another new law will establish “buffer zones” around abortion clinics in which protests are not allowed, similar to an existing law in British Columbia.

Another will ban convicted sex offenders from changing their names, while yet another will pave the way for people on welfare to have the option of adult education as a path to work.

However, much of the government’s agenda will be carried over to the autumn.

An omnibus bill that would ratify the government’s budget measures will not receive a final vote until the legislature reconvenes in October. The bill is called the Budget Implementation and Tax Statutes Amendment Act, known by the acronym BITSA.

That bill was criticized by the opposition because the government retained several non-budget initiatives, including a doubling of rebates for political campaign costs and a ban on replacement workers during labor disputes.

“There are a lot of pieces that they haven’t processed that are coming through BITSA,” said Wayne Ewasko, interim leader of the Progressive Conservatives.

Including more items in BITSA also means there will likely be no public hearings on the changes. The rules of the Manitoba Legislature require public hearings on all bills, except those directly related to the budget, such as BITSA.

Gov. Nahanni Fontaine said the NDP has the right to use BITSA to ensure its agenda can be implemented after winning last October’s election. She pointed to Tory delaying tactics at the spring meeting.

“We were chosen to do a job. Manitobans have given the NDP a very clear mandate to do what is in the best interests of Manitobans,” she said.

“We are going to use the resources available to us to do the work that Manitobans chose us to do.”

Four bills that the opposition has blocked have also been suspended until the fall under legislative rules that allow them to postpone as many as five bills a year.

One of the bills postponed this year would lift a ban on project labor agreements — deals that require workers who don’t work on major projects to be covered by the same rules and benefits as their unionized colleagues.

Although politicians and staff will have fewer seats in the legislature during the summer holidays, they will likely take to the streets more often in the coming weeks.

A by-election has been called for June 18 in Winnipeg’s Tuxedo constituency. It has been vacant since former Tory leader and Prime Minister Heather Stefanson resigned earlier this year.

The seat has been held by the Progressive Conservatives since its creation in 1979, but the NDP came within 300 votes in last year’s election.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 4, 2024.

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press

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