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Manitoba’s Liberal party has called on the province’s ombudsman to investigate a high-level bureaucrat, alleging he violated his employment agreement and conflict-of-interest rules by running private businesses and Conservative party campaigns.
Michael Kowalson, the province's director of stakeholder relations, was paid for work on Conservative MP Marty Morantz's 2019 campaign through companies registered in Kowalson's name, according to documents filed to the ombudsman Thursday by Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont.
"When you work as a public servant, you are supposed to be impartial. These are conditions of employment," Lamont said Thursday.
"If you've got a situation where the Pallister government was effectively funding Marty Morantz's campaign, that is extremely serious."
A spokesperson for the premier would not comment on whether Pallister had been aware of Kowalson's campaigning at the time, but noted he has faced consequences.
"The premier has instructed Mr. Kowalson to immediately remit the equivalent of his salary to the Province of Manitoba as compensation for any involvement and time spent by Mr. Kowalson in the last federal election campaign, and he has done so," the spokesperson said in an email statement Thursday.
"Furthermore, Mr. Kowalson has apologized to his caucus and colleagues."
Elections Canada documents filed in the complaint show Morantz's campaign paid Kowalson $7,970.47 in expenses and wages from Sept.12 to Oct. 21, several months after Kowalson was promoted from manager to director of stakeholder relations.
Several reimbursements were made to Kowintco Inc. — a company Kowalson owns — for meals, entertainment and election-night events, as well as personal expenses, including travel, to Kowalson himself. Another Kowalson-owned company, North American Franchise Sans Group Ltd., was paid more than $5,000 in salaries, wages and consulting for campaign management.
In addition to his paid work on the Morantz campaign, documents identify Kowalson as the owner of several Subway franchises and note that Conservative MP Joyce Bateman's campaign expenses show a one-time meal expense of $1,500 at Subway.
"This is the Pallister government not knowing where the Manitoba government ends and the PC party begins," Lamont said.
"You have someone who is a senior bureaucrat who's now been appointed director of stakeholder relations; this is a guy who makes more than most MLAs and he’s not supposed to be moonlighting (as) a campaign manager for conservative campaigns."
Manitoba's conflict of interest rules say provincial employees must not "undertake outside employment, a business transaction or other private arrangement for personal profit or have any financial or other personal interest that is in conflict with the performance of their duties."
The policy further outlines that "employees are expected to place the public interest first" including "avoiding or effectively resolving conflict of interest situations where private or personal interests improperly influence... the performance of their duties and responsibilities."
Though the complaint is focused on one civil servant running private businesses and being paid to campaign for a particular party, Lamont said the implications are far-reaching. He expects accountability for all involved.
"The fact is, if you have somebody in this very high-up position, who signed off on this and who knew about it?" he said.
"Who else in the provincial government and what other members of the PC party knew this was happening? Because it means they were all complicit."
Julia-Simone Rutgers is a general-assignment reporter.
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