A fundraiser for Heritage Minister Shelly Glover raised some eyebrows in Winnipeg's arts community and has prompted some predictably harsh words from her likely Liberal challenger.
Brian Bowman, chairman of the Winnipeg Art Gallery board, said he received an invitation to Thursday night's cocktail party but was double-booked. Had his schedule been clear, though, it's unlikely he would have attended.
"I felt it wouldn't be appropriate," Bowman said.
Many people in Winnipeg's arts community were invited to the party, but it wasn't clear whether the event was a meet-and-greet with the new minister or a partisan fundraiser, he said.
Though Bowman has been affiliated with the Conservative party in the past, he said he tries hard to keep his politics separate from his non-partisan role as chairman of the WAG board.
"Blurring those two roles, I just didn't feel comfortable," said Bowman, who will likely run for mayor of Winnipeg.
Others criticized the fundraiser as a violation of federal conflict-of-interest guidelines, and Glover has since distanced herself from the event and returned the donations.
In a statement, Glover's office said the fundraiser was organized by the riding association, not the MP, who attended thinking she would be meeting with her riding association and other constituents.
The event was hosted by former federal candidate Ken Cooper, who has ties to Winnipeg's arts community as a member of the Winnipeg Art Gallery Foundation board and a supporter of the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre. An invitation from Cooper, obtained by CTV News, said guests at the reception would be primarily members of Winnipeg's cultural community, who would have a chance to meet Glover and offer their views.
Guests were asked to donate $50 to the riding association. But following questions from CTV reporters who confronted Glover at the party about the ethics of soliciting donations from people reliant on her department for funding, Glover instructed the riding association to return the donations. And she asked the association to avoid similar situations in the future.
"Given the fact that some of the attendees have dealings with the Department of Canadian Heritage, the minister decided that any conflicts of interest -- real or apparent -- must not occur," wrote Glover's spokesman, Mike Storeshaw.
Glover wrote to the federal conflict-of-interest and ethics commissioner to alert her of the situation and the steps Glover took to deal with it.
Liberal MP Ralph Goodale and New Democrat Charlie Angus both said Friday the fundraiser was improper. And city Coun. Dan Vandal, Glover's likely Liberal challenger in St. Boniface, said the same Saturday.
"I think it's clearly a case of conflict of interest and completely inappropriate," Vandal said. "I'm happy the media caught her red-handed. Otherwise it would have just kept going."
Vandal said he spoke to several people from the arts and culture sector who were uncomfortable about the invitation but felt compelled to attend for fear of damaging relations with the minister responsible for arts funding.
Federal conflict-of-interest rules forbid cabinet ministers from soliciting funds from anyone who has lobbied or is likely to lobby the minister's department.
— with files from The Canadian Press