Dougald Lamont, MLA for St. Boniface and Leader of the Manitoba Liberal Party, says that Brian Pallister’s Cabinet is ignoring basic conflict of interest rules which require them to hold off voting on bills that could benefit businesses that they own.
Last Thursday, October 4th, the PC caucus voted unanimously to pass Bill 12 - the “Red Tape Reduction Act” - which includes a section that reduces tenants’ ability to appeal rent increases.
Three of Pallister’s Ministers who declared rental properties on their conflict of interest declarations voted for the bill: Education Minister and PC House Leader Kelvin Goertzen of Steinbach; Children and Families Minister Heather Stefanson of Tuxedo, and Municipal Relations Minister Jeff Wharton of Gimli.
“The conflict of interest rules are crystal clear - if a vote comes up on an issue that could benefit you, you are supposed to declare your interest and walk away, but they ignored it,” said Lamont. “The next time an issue like this comes up, they have to refrain from voting, no matter what type of business they own.”
Premier Brian Pallister also voted for the bill, but it is not clear from his conflict of interest statements whether his holdings include any rental properties. Aside from Pallister’s Costa Rican corporations, which exist only to own the Premier’s tropical vacation properties, the Premier owns a number of other corporations: The Pallister Family Trust, Pallister Investments and a numbered company, 3-102-580018 Ltd.
Lamont said it’s no secret that Manitoba already has the weakest conflict of interest laws in Canada. That was the finding of Conflict of Interest Commissioner, Jeffrey Schnoor, who pointed out they haven’t been updated since 1985.
The legislation only covers cases where MLAs might benefit financially - but not other kinds of advantages. For example, MLAs can receive unlimited gifts (but have to declare them). Enforcement of complaints is left up to individual voters, who have to personally take a case to court. In 35 years, this has never happened once.
In mid-summer, the PCs held a committee meeting where they made being able to fire Schnoor a condition of re-appointing him. Lamont says this is a clear violation of the Commissioner’s independence.
“Re-appointing the Conflict of Interest Commissioner and updating our laws based on his recommendations should be a top priority for this Government, but they can’t even follow the rules we have now,” said Lamont.
Director of Communications & Media Relations
Manitoba Liberal Caucus
(204) 771 – 2513