Cabinet minister Dave Chomiak poked a thumb in Premier Greg Selinger's eye on Friday, and dared the Premier to do something about it.
The mainstream media reported on the thumb, but ignored the eye, leaving it up to us to do their job again.
"Six Months" Chomiak is one of 12 cabinet ministers who got caught taking free tickets to Winnipeg Jets hockey games from Crown corporations, Red River College and private companies that do business with the government.
But he's the only one to declare that he intends to pick and choose what sections of cabinet policy on accepting freebies he will follow and what he won't----because he can.
Earlier in the month, the Premier gave a televised mea culpa for the scandal that's enmeshed his government and announced that ministers who enjoyed Jets games on someone else's dime would pay back the cost of their tickets, and do the right thing and apologize.
Chomiak said 'blow it out your ear'. At least, we think he meant 'ear'.
Friday, he declared he had no intention of apologizing to anyone for anything. As Minister of Everything in Manitoba, he had an obligation to take free stuff, he said. He just has to, because that's the way business is done, and as Minister of Everything he has to do business, see?
He did, however, agree to pay to charity the sum of the free ticket to a Jets game that he got from Tundra Oil and Gas, the biggest oil company in Manitoba.
Selinger could only grin and bear it. That's because he can push around junior ministers like Erin Selby and make them toe the cabinet line, but he doesn't dare try to muscle Chomiak---because Chomiak knows where the bodies are buried.
Selinger could try to remind Chomiak that he's responsible for appointing Chomiak as Minister of Everything.
But then Chomiak would remind Selinger that the NDP is in government only because of him, Dave Chomiak.
That's the part that the mainstream media forgot to report on Friday.
Chomiak was front and centre of a huge election rebate fraud in 1999, the election that brought the current NDP to power in Manitoba. They managed to keep the fraud covered-up for ten years with the help of the head of Elections Manitoba. But in 2009 a whistle-blower, a former NDP campaign worker, spilled the beans.
You can read the dirty details in The Black Rod here:
In brief, during the 1999 election, when Dave Chomiak was co-chairman of the NDP campaign, the NDP engaged in a rebate fraud which saw the party get tens of thousands of dollars of government rebates for election expenses by claiming that unpaid union volunteers were actually paid election workers. They had been pulling this scam for years previously, it turned out.
When they got caught, by a forensic auditor years later, they first tried to get the auditor fired. Then they had him removed from the file while they made a backroom deal with the head of Elections Manitoba to pay back the rebate for the 1999 election, secretly, while he glossed over the fraud as a minor transgression to be reported in obscure terms only in an internal publication released days before the Christmas holiday weekend -- when nobody would notice.
We forget whether the deal was made before chief electoral officer Richard Balasko got a big raise, or after.
Greg Selinger was a candidate in that election, but wasn't aware of the fraud. However he was notified in 2003 that his campaign manager was implicated. His first instinct was to get a statement, in writing, from the NDP that cleared him of all blame. His second instinct was to help with the cover-up---until it fell apart six years later.
Chomiak can do whatever he wants because he pulls the puppet strings on Selinger. And when he says apologies are for sissies, Greg Selinger can only grin and do a happy dance.
Friday's appearance by Chomiak was a carefully choreographed event.
After Chomiak was exposed as one of the beneficiaries of Ticketgate, he mysteriously came down with a case of "apology flu" which kept him out of the Legislature and away from embarassing questions of the better part of a week.
He was treated by the NDP's top spin doctors who devised a cure.
Chomiak would appear at a non-news conference at which he would made a non-announcement about some non-event and answer a few pesky questions and that would be the end of it.
So on Friday Chomiak showed up to announce Mining Appreciation Week or something and to blow off questions about Ticketgate. Standing beside him was the CEO of Tundra Oil to give moral support and to help get Chomiak off the scandal hook.
Chomiak couldn't shed his insufferable sense of entitlement. He wouldn't apologize, he sniffed, because as Minister of Everything he was only doing his job by accepting free gifts from business.
Yeah, said Tundra president Dan MacLean. The giving and taking of freebies is part of doing business as everyone knows, he said. For example, he took the oil minister of Congo to a baseball game.
We're not sure how comparing Manitoba with Congo was a compliment.
And, he said, as head of the biggest oil company of Manitoba, this was the only way to get "facetime" with the Energy Minister.
Say what? The Energy Minister won't meet face-to-face with the biggest oil company in the province without some gift changing hands? That's interesting.
A free ticket to the Jets game was no different than taking the minister to dinners or shows, Maclean said, digging his foot deeper into this mouth.
No, maybe it's not. Which is why we really should know all about which dinners our government ministers go to and with whom. At present they only need to report any gift over $250, but their share of dinner will rarely meet that threshhold, and yet, as Dan Maclean says, lots of business, or dare we say lobbying, is conducted at free dinners.
But the real bombshell was reported by CBC News which said that Dave Chomiak may have been a guest of Tundra Oil at the Jets game, but he sat in the private box of Richardson & Sons, the owners of Tundra Oil.
In other words, he was a guest of the richest man in Manitoba.
And, somehow, Chomiak didn't think that a ticket to sit in the private box of the richest man in the province was worth $250 and needed to be reported.
So he waited until May 8 to fill out his disclosure forms just as Ticketgate blew wide open.
So what picture are we left with?
* Dave Chomiak, Minister of Everything including Energy, is so incompetent he can't make the time to meet with the head of the biggest oil company in Manitoba
* Dave Chomiak, the Minister of Everything, believes accepting gifts and gratuities is normal business practice and he, as a servant of the public, must do business
* Dave Chomiak, cabinet minister, won't apologize for taking freebies, although the Premier said cabinet ministers who took free Jets tickets would apologize
* Dave Chomiak can blackmail the Premier into letting him do whatever he wants.
Hey, maybe Manitoba is more like the Democratic Republic of the Congo that we thought.