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NDP cleared of election wrongdoing

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Elections Manitoba has cleared Premier Gary Doer's chief of staff from allegations he bribed and intimidated a candidate in an NDP nomination race last year. But Liberal MLA Kevin Lamoureux, who last year promised to resign his seat if Michael Balagus was cleared of wrongdoing, says the Elections Manitoba decision "doesn't prove anything."

Elections Manitoba, an independent office of the Manitoba Legislature, launched the investigation after pharmacist and longtime NDP member Kaur Sidhu wrote a letter to Doer accusing Balagus of trying to rig the results of the NDP nomination in favour of then NDP MLA Cris Aglugub.

(Aglugub ultimately lost the nomination to Mohinder Saran who is now the NDP MLA for The Maples).

Doer passed on the letter to Elections Manitoba, which this week informed the NDP it had finished its investigation and decided not to lay charges.

NDP Secretary Wayne Copeland said from his perspective this is the end of the matter.

"The commissioner of elections has a done a thorough investigation and determined charges will not be laid," said Copeland. "The issue is closed."

And Copeland said Lamoureux should "live up to" his promise to resign his seat.

Not so fast, says Lamoureux, whose crusade to prove Balagus had acted improperly led to him being sued for defamation and kicked out the legislature for one afternoon last December.

Lamoureux says nobody knows what Elections Manitoba actually found out because the office, by law, cannot release details of its investigation or findings unless it decides to lay charges.

"I'm not convinced," said Lamoureux. "We don't know what Elections Manitoba did in its investigation."

And he says, Elections Manitoba also has informed him it doesn't deal with violations of the legislature's code of ethics, only with violations of the Elections Act or Elections Finances Act.

It means Elections Manitoba's decision not to lay charges doesn't mean Balagus didn't violate the code of ethics, said Lamoureux.

Lamoureux also notes Elections Manitoba chose not to lay charges against any Tories after it investigated allegations of the now infamous vote-rigging scheme in the 1995 election. It was only after the NDP pushed for a public inquiry that "we got the truth," said Lamoureux.

A spokesman for Doer said since the vote-rigging matter, Elections Manitoba has been given additional powers to investigate, including the power of subpoena. When it was looking into the vote-rigging scheme in 1995, the spokesman said, it couldn't compel any of the Tories involved to talk.

The spokesman also noted the Liberals had no problem with Elections Manitoba's abilities when it investigated and cleared Liberal candidate Bernie Bellan earlier this year.

Lamoureux said if the NDP really believe it would win a public debate over who is wrong here it should start a petition to force Lamoureux out. If enough signatures are collected to meet the standard of legislative recall which exists in British Columbia, Lamoureux said he'll step aside. That means 40 per cent of registered voters must sign the petition.

"Even though it's not the law in Manitoba, I'll live up to it," said Lamoureux. "If Gary Doer wants to do that, go nuts."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 30, 2007 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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