Despite assurances that the Manitoba government’s liquor agency has been giving away NHL tickets to its customers, many of the passes appear to have gone to senior agency staff, and some have gone to a cabinet minister’s office.

The Manitoba Liquor Control Commission has been questioned about its tickets since March 21, when acting president Roman Zubach told a legislature committee the agency spends $250,000 a year to advertise at Winnipeg Jets games. As part of the deal, the commission receives 10 season tickets – a total of 440 tickets when broken down into individual games.

Zubach told the committee the tickets are used for promotional purposes, “in other words, for our customers.”

But documents obtained by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation under the province’s freedom of information law seem to tell a different story. The documents include a general breakdown of where each ticket went: 188 tickets went to the corporation’s head office staff, another 62 went to executives, and 66 went to board members.

Another 108 tickets were given to store managers, four tickets were given to the office of Jim Rondeau, the cabinet minister responsible for the liquor commission, eight went to something called the MLCC social club and four tickets were given to charities.

“I think it would be better for these tickets to be made available to the public rather than politicians and senior staff receiving them,” Colin Craig, Manitoba director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said Tuesday.

Some of the tickets given to store managers and staff might have ended up being awarded to customers, Craig said, but the government has been unable to provide confirmation or details so far.

Craig also questions why the liquor agency needs to advertise, as it holds a near-monopoly on liquor sales in the province.

Jets tickets are a hot item in Manitoba. The team sold out every game of the 2011-12 season, after moving from Atlanta. Individual tickets sell for as much as $200 each, and often go for more on the black market.

The NDP government has reacted to the controversy by promising to implement a new policy that would forbid cabinet ministers, and perhaps others, from accepting free Jets tickets. But the policy is only now being developed and the government was unable to say Tuesday whether it would also apply to political staff and senior executives at Crown corporations.

“That would be made apparent as (the Crown corporations) come forward with the policy that we could take a look at, but we think it’s important to make sure that, firstly, we lead ourselves on this,” said Stan Struthers, the province’s finance minister and minister responsible for the oversight of Crown corporations.

Three members of cabinet – Justice Minister Andrew Swan, Conservation Minister Gord Mackintosh and Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton – received tickets during the Jets’ season but have since paid for them, Struthers said. Struthers was unable to say whether all three received the tickets through provincial Crown agencies or by other means.

Swan said Tuesday he received four tickets to a Feb. 20 game from Manitoba Public Insurance, the province’s government-run auto insurance agency for which Swan is responsible, but reimbursed the agency for the tickets.

“I wrote a cheque Feb. 21 then I sent it to MPI a couple of weeks after,” Swan said.

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