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Jets Ticket Scandal: It started with an innocent question back in March

It started March 21st.

It was near the end of a long, boring meeting of a committee of the Legislature at which the Opposition gets to ask questions about crown corporations like the Liquor Control Commission.

Out of the blue, Ron Schuler (P.C. St. Paul) asked," Is the MLCC a season ticket holder of the Winnipeg Jets?"

The resulting discussion was hardly momentous.

Roman Zubach, acting president of the liquor commission, answered,"We do hold 10 season tickets..."

Schuler asked Jim Rondeau, minister responsible for the Liquor Control Act, "Has the minister been to any Winnipeg Jets games using MLCC Jets tickets?"

"No," said Rondeau.

"Could we have a list who has access to those tickets?" asked Schuler.

Rondeau squirmed a bit about providing names of citizens who won tickets in contests but "(i)f it’s talking about board members or MLAs or Cabinet ministers, absolutely. I have no difficulty whatsoever providing that to you." Schuler was satisfied.

That was it.

Except that the MLCC's 10 tickets were actually ten season tickets which translated into 440 actual tickets to games. Was the liquor commission prez being coy about how many prized Jets tickets he had at his disposal? Maybe. But Rondeau seemed honest with his offer to cough up the names of politicians and board members who had access to those tickets.

Skip ahead six and a half weeks. Monday, May 7, 2012.

Ron Schuler stands in the Legislature and asks Rondeau, where's that list you promised?

Rondeau is a lot less conciliatory than he was in March.

Well, replies Rondeau, its a lot of work and the liquor commission is extremely busy combining with the Lotteries Commission as announced in the budget speech, and its going to take more time.

He was stalling, as we can now see.

There had been a flurry of activity behind the scenes. NDP cabinet ministers had been tipped off that questions were being asked about Jets tickets. They, ahem, suddenly realized how it would look if word got out that they had received free tickets to Jets games from public utilities, crown corporations and businesses they deal with. There was a rush to, ahem, "pay" for the tickets.'

* In early April, Gord Mackintosh, Minister of Conservation and former Minister of Justice, coughed up the cost of four Jets tickets he received from the MLCC for a game on Feb 7th.

* Stan Struthers, Minister of Finance, remembered he had a cheque somewhere that he had been meaning to mail for the two Jets tickets he got, one from Red River College and the other from the Manitoba Homebuilders Association, both of which thought he was working too hard and he needed a break with some homegrown recreation.

* Erin Selby, the Minister of Higher Education, finally got around on May 4 to paying for a Jets ticket she received from Red River College -- on October 24th.

Colin Craig, of the Manitoba Taxpayers Federation, was puzzled by Rondeau's answer. Puzzled because he was holding in his hands a list of how the MLCC distributed its Jets tickets. He had asked for the information under the province's freedom-of-information laws on March 1st.

Tuesday, May 8th, 9 AM.:

“We received the details five weeks ago from the MLCC.” Craig said in a news release he issued that exposed the stall tactic.

"Of the 440 Jets tickets received by the MLCC, a March 30 freedom of information response shows four of them went to Minister Rondeau’s office, 66 went to the Board, 188 went to head office staff, 108 to store managers, 62 to MLCC Executives, eight to the MLCC Social Club and just four to charity."

So when Rondeau told the committee back in March that he hadn't gone to any Jets games courtesy of the Liquor Commission he was sorta kinda telling the truth. He had received four tickets from the MLCC (at his request?) on Feb. 7, but had given them to his pal and colleague Gord Mackintosh. What a guy.

The Taxpayers Federation blew the stall tactic out of the water.

The Legislature. 1.30 PM, Tuesday, May 8.

The NDP admitted that three cabinet ministers received tickets to Jets games. The new gambit was to declare that they had all paid for their tickets so there was no scandal.

"The three Cabinet ministers that did receive tickets have repaid those tickets, and that has put the matter to rest from their perspective as they paid for them out of their own pocket." declared Premier Greg Selinger.

The NDP named the three hockey-loving members of cabinet as Justice Minister Andrew Swan, Conservation Minister Gord Mackintosh and Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton.

Overlooked by most commentators was Struthers' confession that he couldn't say whether all three received their tickets through Crown agencies or otherwise.

Again, Struthers was being disingenuous. He would have known that Mackintosh got his tickets from the MLCC after being laundered through Jim Rondeau. He would have known that Andrew Swan had been the recipient of EIGHT Jets tickets even if he didn't know who Swan's benefactors were (Manitoba Public Insurance, Red River College, the Homebuilders Association and Canad Inns). And Ashton's two tickets came courtesy of the homebuilders and the Manitoba Lotteries Corporation.

The NDP tried to seize control of the scandal by claiming they had a policy to prevent any ministers from getting free tickets to Jets games.

"...the members opposite also need to know that with respect to Jets tickets we've brought out a very clear directive that no minister or senior official should receive the benefit of free tickets from a Crown corporation or any private business." said Selinger.

The Opposition called his bluff.

Mr. Kelvin Goertzen (Steinbach): "I wonder if the Minister of Finance (Mr. Struthers) can table for the House this great policy he's been talking about. Can he table for the House so we know what this policy actually is?"

Uhhhh, said Stan Struthers. They were working on that.

Hon. Stan Struthers (Minister charged with the administration of The Crown Corporations Public Review and Accountability Act): " Mr. Speaker, work on this policy started a number of weeks ago, well ahead of anybody in the opposition even being interested in this whole topic. "

He continued,"... we've–I've been very clear that this government is coming forward with a policy that will be fair, that will address the accessibility issues when it comes to Jets tickets."

"I also was very clear, Mr. Speaker, that any minister in this government who received tickets, Jets tickets, paid for those Jets tickets out of their own money."

"So, Mr. Speaker, we will–we are endeavouring to get the information–all of the information to all of the questions that the members opposite are interested in. We've been up front in saying we would follow up with that, and that's under way."

"Mr. Speaker, my hope is that members opposite would take this as seriously as we are."

How seriously were they taking it?

Well the next morning, Wednesday May 9th, Premier Selinger went on CJOB to declare he was taking it seriously. He had put a policy in place, he said. The Opposition didn't have a policy, but he did. So there. That seriously.

In the Legislature, Struthers returned to the Party Line.

Hon. Stan Struthers (Minister charged with the administration of The Crown Corporations Public Review and Accountability Act):. "The–as we reported yesterday, as has been made very clear, no Cabinet minister benefited on behalf of the Manitoba taxpayers, absolutely, end of story on that."

It wasn't the end of the story. By nightfall it had been revealed that EIGHT cabinet ministers had accepted free tickets to Jets games.

But, but, but...they paid the money back, pleaded Selinger. Nobody was listening.
By question period Thursday, May 10, the NDP was reduced to flailing around for a response to the scandal that was growing larger by the day.

They tried going on the offence. They accused the Opposition of being anti-Jets.

Hon. Stan Struthers (Minister charged with the administration of The Crown Corporations Public Review and Accountability Act): "I suppose the other way to look at this–that if we had followed the advice of members opposite, the Jets wouldn’t have come home in the first place and there wouldn’t be this problem, I guess, Mr. Speaker. "

It was pathetic.

It only sounded more pathetic the next day.

4PM Friday, May 11

A contrite, apologetic Greg Selinger called a news conference as late in the day as he dared.

The truth, he said, was that there were THIRTEEN NDP MLA's who enjoyed Jets hockey with free tickets given them by public corporations, private companies, lobby groups, and even a retirement home.

THIRTEEN, not three as they said on Tuesday. THIRTEEN, not eight as they admitted to on Thursday.

They had or would all pay back the price of those tickets. And they wouldn't accept any other tickets. And they would apologize to the public (still waiting...ed). Honest, he said. Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.

Do you think that's the end of the story?

Hardly. Stay tuned.

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