Manitoba Liberals have asked the Auditor General and Public Service Commission to Investigate
Treaty 1 Territory, Homeland of the Red River Métis, Winnipeg, Manitoba - A Freedom of Information request that took 18 months and multiple appeals to Manitoba’s Ombudsman showed that senior officials in the Executive Council, which supports the Premier and Cabinet, were directing full-time government employees to work for the PCs while getting ready for the 2019 election campaign.
The PCs chose to ignore Manitoba’s fixed-date election law and call an election in the summer of 2019, a year ahead of schedule.
The e-mails show that just days after being hired as a Manager of “Stakeholder Relations” in April 2019, Michael Kowalson, was sending emails to other PC staff, including Jordan Sisson, who is now Stefanson’s Chief of Staff, directing PC government employees to work directly on PC campaigns in Flin Flon and The Pas.
“We already know that Pallister’s staffer was working full-time to elect Marty Morantz while Manitobans paid his salary. The question is whether he was doing the same provincially, because that would mean Manitobans were footing the bill for the PC’s 2019 election campaign without knowing it,” said Dougald Lamont, Manitoba Liberal Leader and MLA for St Boniface. “Premier Stefanson’s Chief of Staff was on the emails, and Manitoba’s Ombudsman had to threaten to take them to court to release them. Frankly, they all have a lot of explaining to do about what happened, and who knew about it.
Manitoba Liberal MLAs originally filed the request for emails in June 2020, after they discovered through Elections Canada disclosures that Kowalson, who was Director of Stakeholder Relations ran the campaign of Conservative MP Marty Morantz when he was supposed to be working full time for the Government of Manitoba.
Then-Premier Brian Pallister directed Kowalson to pay back the money he had earned from the province while working on Morantz’ campaign, but Kowalson’s political work was no secret. A video posted to Facebook of a 2019 Morantz campaign event featured Kowalson as MC, with Heather Stefanson, Scott Fielding and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney in attendance.
When the Manitoba Liberals filed further FIPPA requests into emails involving emails between government and Kowalson’s own personal business e-mail, they were stonewalled for months and had to file multiple appeals until October, 2021 when the Manitoba Ombudsman finally threatened to take the PCs to court for refusing to release the documents.
More recently, Kowalson was on the “Steering Committee” for Stefanson’s leadership bid.
Kowalson was hired in April, 2019 - the same month Pallister threatened to completely eliminate a public rebate that reimburses provincial political parties and candidates in Manitoba for half of their approved and audited election expenses.
Kowalson and Sisson’s employment contract – like that of all Manitoba Government employees - makes it clear that he was not supposed to be involved in political campaigns without express permission from his superiors, and is subject to conflict of interest rules around private businesses.
Lamont pointed out that the PCs have a long record of bending rules in elections. In 1995, a senior advisor to the Premier, as well as a Treasury Board Official, collected funds from PCs donors to pay phony candidates to run in an attempt to split the vote. The Conservative Party of Canada eventually pleaded guilty to the 2006 “in-and-out” scheme, which involved phony transfers of funds to avoid campaign finance laws, including in Manitoba; the 2011 robocalls scheme, where live callers misdirected voters in the Federal Ridings of St. Boniface and Winnipeg South Centre.
“The PCs have a long and shameful record of contempt for the democratic process in Manitoba and across Canada,” said Lamont. “If the PCs decided to put their party organizers on the public payroll, Manitobans deserve to know about it.”