Manitoba Liberal leader wants premier suspended for allegedly violating conflict of interest rules

A Manitoba judge is being asked to decide whether Premier Heather Stefanson violated conflict of interest rules, as alleged by the leader of Manitoba’s Liberal Party.

Dougald Lamont first brought forth the civil lawsuit last year, when Stefanson admitted she did not follow conflict of interest rules after the sale of three Winnipeg properties by the McDonald Grain Company, in which she holds a 20 per cent voting share.

According to the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Conflict of Interest Act, politicians in Manitoba are required to disclose any acquisition or disposal of assets within 30 days – something Stefanson confirmed she failed to do for these sales.

In her affidavit response, Stefanson said any violations of the act were unintentional.

“At the time of the disposition … it did not occur to me that a filing under the act may be required and I did not file a form 2 in respect of these dispositions by McDonald Grain,” said the affidavit. “I simply did not direct my mind to whether the Act required a special filing in respect of these dispositions. Any failure to comply with the Act was inadvertent.”

The lawsuit also claims Stefanson failed to recuse herself from meetings in which she had a conflict of interest as MLA for Tuxedo.

“During any meeting dates there arises a matter in which a Member has a direct or indirect pecuniary interest, the Member shall disclose the nature of this interest, withdraw from the meeting without voting or participating in the discussion, and refrain at all times from attempting to influence the matter,” said court documents.

Specifically, the lawsuit names a 2018 meeting of the standing committee on social and economic development about Bill 12, which involved changes to Manitoba’s Residential Tenancies Act (RTA).

“Despite being a Director and beneficial shareholder of a company which owned both commercial and residential rental properties, and notwithstanding the fact that the conflict of interest this presented was repeatedly brought to her attention by the Applicant, the Respondent failed to recuse herself from the discussion and subsequent vote on Bill 12,” said the lawsuit notice of application.

In her response, Stefanson said there was no conflict of interest for her specifically at that time.

“During the time Bill 12 was being considered, there were no issues reported to me relating to the properties that would have been affected by the amendments to the RTA contained in Bill 12,” said Stefanson’s affidavit.

Lamont is asking for Stefanson to be suspended as premier for three months and to pay a $5,000 fine if she is found guilty.

In an email response to CTV News Winnipeg, Stefanson said she will leave the matter to the courts.

“Our government has worked to strengthen conflict of interest legislation so that all elected officials in the province are held to the highest standard of ethics and accountability. Everything I have to say on the matter before the courts was included in the filed affidavit. We are committed to working for Manitobans and will remain focused on their priorities,” said the email.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Feb 13.

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