Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Controversial name from politics past still in demand

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You might remember the name.

Taras Sokolyk.

He was Progressive Conservative Premier Gary Filmon's former chief of staff and the man at the centre of a public inquiry just over a decade ago where he admitted to lying to investigators about his central role in a vote-rigging scandal during the 1995 provincial election.

At the inquiry, Sokolyk confessed to soliciting campaign funds from powerful Tory backers with the intent of secretly and unlawfully funnelling them to an independent candidate.

The plan was to draw votes away from the NDP candidate in the Interlake.

Mr. Justice Alfred Monnin explained the significance of what Sokolyk and his co-conspirators did in these words:

"A vote-rigging plot constitutes an unconscionable debasement of the citizen's right to vote. To reduce the voting rights of individuals is a violation of our democratic system."

In recent years, with one exception, Sokolyk has kept a low political profile.

The one exception happened less than three years after the inquiry reported back, when former provincial Tory leader Stuart Murray secretly hired him as an adviser.

That was foolish enough, but Murray didn't even tell his own party.

That didn't go over well or last long.

Today, Sokolyk's day job is as CEO of Canad Inns.

But there have been suggestions along the civic election trail that Sokolyk has been involved in the campaign.

This week I had tried reaching him by phone for two days without success.

On the third day, Friday morning, I drove over to the Canad Inns headquarters on Jefferson Avenue.

He was in a meeting in the boardroom, which only had one door, which led into the lobby.

Where I was waiting.

He sent a message that he wouldn't be available.

I decided to wait.

When Sokolyk emerged he was polite -- except perhaps for the accusation that I was "stalking" him -- but he was clearly unhappy to see me.

And said so.

Obviously he had figured out why I wanted to see him before I even asked the first question.

"I'm not involved in any campaign in any way," he said.

But eventually he seemed to equivocate on his unequivocal statement about not being involved in any campaign.

"If people ask me for my opinion, I'm a free citizen, I can give my advice," Sokolyk said.

That led to other revelations.

He denied working as an adviser to Sam Katz -- a rumour that's been floating around the campaign trail -- but he said before the election he did sit down with property manager Ian Rabb, a Katz favourite, who is running in Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry against the mayor's city council nemesis, Jenny Gerbasi, and newcomer Shane Nestruck.

Sokolyk explained Rabb wanted to run for office and he was looking for advice on whether it should be provincially or civically.

As the man said, if people ask him for his opinion, he's free to give it.

But there was more.

Sokolyk began opening up about his connection with Rabb, maybe because he thought -- given I'd written about him -- I knew more than I actually did.

So when I pressed Sokolyk for what else he might have done once Rabb decided to run for city council, Sokolyk said he was at a meeting with the candidate's father, David Rabb.

Sokolyk didn't call it a campaign meeting, but that's what it sounded like. Actually what it sounded like was a fundraising meeting.

There were eight or 10 people there, Sokolyk eventually told me.

"I was at one meeting with David Rabb," Sokolyk began, "where I had been asked to make a few phone calls."

I asked if they were fundraising calls.

"Yeah," he answered.

Then he hit me with something I hadn't been expecting.

He went on to say that if I reported this he wouldn't have a job on Monday.

There's no reason Sokolyk should lose his job.

His history is well-known. Perhaps the Rabb team should have considered that history before they asked someone with such obvious political baggage into their tent.

But, apparently the call to battle the socialist horde -- to try and unseat Jenny Gerbasi -- was too much for Sokolyk to resist.

If Sokolyk had really wanted to help, maybe he shouldn't have given help in the first place.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 23, 2010 B1

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