WINNIPEG — Gary Doer brushed off questions Thursday about party brass accused of altering campaign paperwork filed by official agents, a move that later forced the party to pay back $76,000 in election rebates.
"A report was filed and a report was amended at the request of Elections Manitoba," said Doer. "We recommended that we co-operate with Elections Manitoba -- I've said that 10 times now -- and we did."
Despite repeated questions, Doer wouldn't respond to specific allegations made earlier this week by one of his party's former official agents -- the volunteers in each riding who watch the money, ensure campaign finance rules are being followed and file detailed paperwork with Elections Manitoba.
Jim Treller, who was former Rossmere MLA Harry Schellenberg's official agent in the 1999 election, said someone at NDP headquarters altered his campaign paperwork without his knowledge in order to trigger fatter election rebates. Before submitting the returns to Elections Manitoba, Trellor said the party tweaked two columns in his original return to claim union workers as expenses rather than donations-in-kind. The same thing happened in a dozen other ridings.
Treller said the first he heard of the scheme was at a meeting in 2003 where the party gathered candidates and official agents from all the campaigns together to explain that Elections Manitoba had found fault with the returns and was asking the party to repay $76,000.
Finance Minister Greg Selinger was also at the 2003 meeting, and, under intense questioning by reporters, acknowledged Wednesday that he was so upset by the scheme that he demanded a letter from the party exonerating him and his campaign team.
Despite the new revelations, Doer stayed on message Thursday, saying the matter amounted to a genuine disagreement about the application of elections law. He said the NDP banned union and corporate donations soon after winning office in 1999 to avoid the perception that elections are tainted.
But Doer repeatedly sidestepped questions about party brass altering returns without the knowledge of official agents.
Echoing Treller's recollection, at least five other official agents and candidates have told the Free Press that they submitted their returns to the central NDP office and never heard another word about them. They did not know their returns had been altered in any way by party brass and never got a call from investigators from Elections Manitoba.
"I followed the instructions," said Les Crisostomo, the official agent for former Maples MLA Cris Aglugub. "That's what I did.
Many official agents also don't recall attending the 2003 meeting. According to Selinger and Treller, that would have been the first time the official agents learned their returns had been altered and that Elections Manitoba was demanding the party repay $76,000.
"I wasn't aware of it until I read it in the paper," said Don Tole, who served as an official agent for the NDP candidate in Gimli in the 1999 election. "I can't recall any discrepancies that were brought to my attention."