A former executive director of the Manitoba Liberal party pleaded guilty Thursday to falsifying signatures on nomination papers during the 2011 provincial election campaign.
Dennis Trochim, his voice at times cracking with emotion, told provincial court he was under intense stress when he faked signatures of support for Liberal candidates in the constituencies of Dauphin and Swan River.
"I was physically exhausted... working 18-hour days," Trochim said. "I just started signing things without even realizing why I did it."
Trochim pleaded guilty to one count of knowingly providing false or misleading information under the provincial Elections Act. Seven other charges were stayed.
Provincial court Judge Tim Killeen fined Trochim $3,500.
As one of a small number of workers for the Liberal party, which has just one legislature seat, Trochim was the official agent for 12 candidates in 2011.
Hours before he forged the signatures, he received a phone call from his father, asking him to come visit. Trochim told the court he said no because he was too busy with the election.
"(Dad) said he had terminal cancer," Trochim, 45, recalled. "Dad said: 'That (Liberal Leader) Jon Gerrard is more important than me."'
Evan Roitenberg, the prosecutor acting on behalf of the provincial elections commissioner, said he sympathized with Trochim's personal troubles. But Roitenberg pointed out Trochim denied any wrongdoing when first confronted by the commissioner's office and tried to blame someone else.
"In one instance, Mr. Trochim tried to provide the name of another person who he thought (investigators) should look at," Roitenberg told the court.
Eventually, Trochim came clean and admitted his mistakes.
Roitenberg had asked Killeen to impose a $5,000 fine. The defence asked for a $2,000 penalty.
Trochim's lawyer, Sarah Inness, noted he has no criminal record and was swamped by his workload.
"Mr. Trochim had taken on far more than an individual could reasonably cope with."
Trochim has lost his job, Inness added. The Liberals initially said they stood behind him but recently fired him, she said.
Interim Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard said outside the legislature Thursday the party is now in the process of hiring a new executive director. Bronwyn Lawton was recently appointed acting executive director.
"When I first heard this, which was two months ago, I was shocked, not just because it's wrong but also because it was so out of character for Mr. Trochim to do this," Gerrard said.
Gerrard, the MLA for River Heights, stepped down as leader of the Manitoba Liberals a year ago. He agreed to stay on as interim leader until his successor was chosen. A leadership convention is planned for October.
So far, no high-profile Liberals have committed to taking a run at the job. Gerrard said that's not surprising, as formal applications are not being accepted by the party until later this month. Manitoba Liberals will hold their annual meeting in Brandon May 31-June 1.
-- The Canadian Press, with staff files