Osborne BIZ boss’s election tweet raises ethics questions

Using BIZ platform a 'mistake,' but ex-BIZ chairwoman, outgoing councillor disagree


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A candidate for city council who used her Osborne Village BIZ Twitter account to promote a campaign event says it was an accident.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/10/2018 (1388 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A candidate for city council who used her Osborne Village BIZ Twitter account to promote a campaign event says it was an accident.

“It was a very simple mistake,” said Stephanie Meilleur, who’s on leave from her position as the executive director of the Osborne Village BIZ to run in Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry. Meilleur used the BIZ account to tweet about a town hall meeting on public safety she was hosting on Oct. 18.

“I have multiple accounts and when I realized it, I took it down immediately,” Meilleur said Sunday.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESSStephanie Meilleur, left, who is running for city council in Fort Rouge/East Fort Garry, campaigns in Osborne Village Sunday. She said using the Osborne BIZ twitter account for an election tweet was 'a very simple mistake.'

That doesn’t ring true to Osborne Village resident and former BIZ chairwoman, Teresa Sanderson, who was also a former interim executive director of the BIZ.

“The Tweet remained up as of Saturday,” said Sanderson, who challenged the BIZ tweet as soon as it was posted last week. She said that Meilleur left it up for several days after it was brought to her attention and never issued a correction or an apology for using a BIZ account to campaign for herself. “She did it on purpose,” said Sanderson.

The Village BIZ hasn’t tweeted about any events hosted by the other six candidates in the ward, Sanderson said. With the BIZ having more than 3,200 followers on Twitter and Meilleur having just 110, Sanderson said she can see why Meilleur would have used the BIZ Twitter account to get the word out about her campaign event but doesn’t think it’s right.

Teresa Sanderson, former chairwoman of the Osborne BIZ, isn't convinced council candidate Stephanie Meilleur's tweet was a mistake. JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

“It’s like using company property for your own purposes,” said Sanderson, who handles asset protection for a national retail chain. The City of Winnipeg works with 16 Business Improvement Zones representing more than 5,000 businesses. Their goal is to enhance economic development for businesses in a variety of neighbourhoods, create distinct shopping destinations, promote business attraction, provide street-level beautification, and improve marketing opportunities for BIZ members.

Coun. Jenny Gerbasi, who held the ward for 20 years before announcing she would not seek re-election, said she’s not sure if the BIZ tweet sent out by Meilleur actually breaks any election rules. Gerbasi did, however, question the ethics of using the BIZ as a platform to promote a specific candidate.

“I don’t believe the BIZ should be doing this,” she said in an email. Gerbasi has endorsed one of Meilleur’s opponents, Winnipeg School Division chairwoman, Sherri Rollins.

University of Manitoba political studies Prof. Royce Koop said candidates can be expected to take advantage of their connections but ought to avoid the impression that they’re getting an unfair advantage.

“I think it’s a general point that candidates draw on the resources and the connections they have developed before the campaign, and we shouldn’t really blame them for doing so,” Koop said. “But they will certainly want to avoid the impression that they’re getting an unfair advantage — that they’re being helped by organizations that have a certain standing in the community…” he said.

“And that’s more the concern here, the idea that (Meilleur) is getting an unfair advantage, and the possibility that people will respond negatively to that.”

The negative reaction to her BIZ Tweet is one example of “cyber bullying” that Meilleur said she’s endured since announcing her candidacy. She’s been hounded on social media about where she lives and where her child goes to school, for instance.

Meilleur said her family lives in Warren, Man. and she’s worked for the Osborne Village BIZ for seven years and been committed to improving it.

“I plant the flowers, pick up the needles and pick up the garbage,” Meilleur said.

“When I decided to run, I rented an apartment in the ward because I need to be living in the ward – you should live and work and breathe in the area you’re running in,” she said. “If I’m elected, we will be purchasing a home in Winnipeg,” she said.

Meilleur said she’s deleted most of the “highly inappropriate” social media comments that she receives, and couldn’t think of any specific examples or identify the senders. She alleges they’re connected to the Manitoba NDP.

“It’s very well known the NDP are involved in this election,” Meilleur claimed.

That’s news to the president of the Manitoba NDP.

“In 2013, the Manitoba NDP updated its constitution to eliminate municipal endorsements by the provincial party,” David Woodbury said in an email Sunday. This is the second round of municipal elections in which no municipal or school board candidates have been endorsed by the Manitoba NDP.”

Sanderson said she complained on Twitter about Meilleur because she was outraged by her misusing her BIZ connection campaign on her own behalf.

“I have no connection to the NDP,” Sanderson said. On the contrary, the woman who used to live in Calgary says she once voted for Conservative MP Stephen Harper.


Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.


Updated on Monday, October 22, 2018 12:23 PM CDT: Teresa Sanderson, who on Sunday criticized Winnipeg city council candidate Stephanie Meilleur for using the Osborne Village Business Improvement Zone Twitter account to promote her own campaign event, is a former BIZ chairwoman and former interim executive director of the BIZ.

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