Court filing seeks suspension for Manitoba premier
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A court filing asking a judge to suspend Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson for 90 days and fine her $5,000 for violating conflict of interest rules is likely to fail, a legal expert says.
“I think it is extremely unlikely that the judge will suspend Ms. Stefanson from the legislature for what was — I think no one is really disputing — an oversight,” University of Manitoba law Prof. Gerard Kennedy said Wednesday.
The premier is being taken to court by Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont for allegedly violating the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Conflict of Interest Act in 2016 and 2019, following the sale of three properties by McDonald Grain Co. Ltd. for a total of more than $31 million.
Stefanson owns 20 per cent of the shares in the real estate holding company. She has admitted to failing to disclose the transactions to the clerk of the legislative assembly, who is to be notified about the disposal of assets.
The only way to hold to account an elected official who reportedly violates the act is for a voter to pay a court registration fee and ask a judge to decide if the case should be heard by another judge, which Lamont did last year.
A Feb. 13 court date has been set.
Lamont’s lawyer, Dave Hill, filed a court brief Monday, asking the judge to impose a 90-day suspension and $5,000 fine on the premier. It says Stefanson has been an MLA for 20 years, previously worked as a financial consultant and had no excuse for failing to disclose and violating the act.
Stefanson filed a court affidavit earlier acknowledging her failure to disclose, and has publicly admitted the “oversight,” saying it was inadvertent. However, she is not conceding there’s a reasonable case to be made she violated the act.
In a statement Wednesday, Stefanson said her Progressive Conservative government has worked to strengthen conflict of interest legislation, “so that all elected officials in the province are held to the highest standard of ethics and accountability.”
That new legislation does not take effect until after the next election, on or before Oct. 3.
The premier wouldn’t comment further. “Everything I have to say on the matter before the courts was included in the filed affidavit. We are committed to working for Manitobans and will remain focused on their priorities.”
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.