Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Regrets over tweet

Wasylycia-Leis feels bad for Sokolyk after posting photo

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Judy Wasylycia-Leis has promised to restore ethics and integrity to city hall but, on Sunday afternoon, she wrapped her arms around the man who financed a scheme to steal a provincial election.

Wasylycia-Leis posted a photo on her Twitter account with Taras Sokolyk, who 20 years ago, as chief of staff to then-Tory premier Gary Filmon, directed funding for a vote-rigging scheme in the 1995 provincial election.

The dirty trick resulted in a provincial inquiry in 1998, where it was revealed Sokolyk had taken Tory campaign donations and secretly given them to an independent candidate in the Interlake, with the hope of stealing votes away from the NDP candidate. Sokolyk initially lied to investigators but confessed at the inquiry to his role in the scheme. The revelations helped turn public opinion against Filmon's PC government and ushered in Gary Doer and the NDP.

Former PC leader Stuart Murray secretly hired Sokolyk as a campaign adviser in 2002 but was forced to let him go after party insiders revealed he had covertly joined the team.

Sokolyk has since found success in the private sector, holding CEO positions with Canad Inns and Shape Foods, a flax-processing operation in Brandon.

The photo of the smiling Sokolyk and Wasylycia-Leis, taken at a community event at city hall marking Ukrainian independence, was on her Twitter account for a only a couple of hours Sunday afternoon before it was removed.

Wasylycia-Leis said Monday she regretted posting the photo and removed it -- not because it questioned her judgment to be photographed with an individual who displayed a lack of integrity and ethics during an election campaign -- but because it revived memories of the scandal and could have been hurtful to Sokolyk, someone she said she's known and worked with in the Ukrainian community for several years.

"I regret doing (posting the photo) it ... and I pulled the tweet just because I don't want to cause any more embarrassment to Taras Sokolyk," Wasylycia-Leis said during a campaign event Monday morning to publicize her support for a variety of crime-prevention initiatives. "He's made a mistake in the past, he's paid for it and by tweeting (the photo), we've allowed for this kind of chatter on Twitter."

Wasylycia-Leis said she had forgotten about the 1995 scandal and Sokolyk's role in it when she ran into him Sunday. She said the scandal is history and didn't want to revive it, adding she should have known posing for a photo with Sokolyk would raise eyebrows.

"With hindsight, perhaps it would have been best if I didn't tweet it," she said, but added the photo was meant to celebrate a major Ukrainian community event. "It has nothing to do with the past."

Retired political studies professor Paul Thomas, who is writing a paper on codes of ethics for politicians and political parties, said politicians have to be careful about their public image.

"We expect politicians to be ethical in their behaviour and appearances matter as much as reality and simply associating with people with a certain background can bring discredit to a politician," Thomas said

He said the vote-rigging scandal happened almost 20 years ago and, as Wasylycia-Leis said, Sokolyk paid a price for his role.

"Undoubtedly there are some warriors in the ranks of the New Democrats or the labour movement who still have a hate on for Taras Sokolyk but I believe most voters will have forgotten about those events a long time ago," Thomas said. "Most people have gotten over his role in those events."

Wasylycia-Leis said she didn't think the incident undermines her campaign or the loyalty of her campaign team and supporters.

"I regret doing this, from the point of view of opening up this chapter. I'm sure it's hurtful for Taras but I have no doubt that my team has any doubts about my integrity."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 26, 2014 B1

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