Heather Stefanson ran afoul of the Elections Financing Act by getting a head start over rival Shelly Glover in the Progressive Conservative leadership race.
Manitoba’s elections commissioner formally cautioned the premier after she admitted she had claimed $1,800 in expenses before the campaign had officially begun on Aug. 23
The Tuxedo MLA didn’t mean to break the rules and apologized for her error, commissioner Bill Bowles said in a May 12 letter to the premier. It was also sent to Tim Johnson, provincial secretary of the NDP, who made the complaint on Sept. 27.
"Our investigation did not uncover any evidence to contradict the conclusion that Premier Stefanson breached (the Act) unintentionally," Bowles said in the letter attached to an NDP news release. He said it was his view that prosecuting the breach wouldn’t be in the public interest.
"Nevertheless, the early start to one leadership hopeful’s campaign may have resulted in the benefit to another candidate and I don’t believe it would be appropriate for me to entirely ignore this breach of the legislation."
Stefanson narrowly defeated Glover, a former police officer and Conservative MP, to win the leadership and become Manitoba’s first female premier.
Bowles formally cautioned the premier.
When asked to comment, Jordan Sisson, who was Stefanson’s campaign manager at the time and is now chief of staff, responded by email.
"The elections commissioner acknowledged the breach wasn’t intentional and Premier/MLA Stefanson has already apologized for the unintended error."
When asked to identify the $1,800 expense, Sisson replied it was for the campaign launch and announcement.
The breach shows a pattern of behaviour, according to the NDP.
"This isn’t the first time the premier has assumed the rules that everyone else abides by don’t apply to her," MLA Malaya Marcelino said in a news release.
"She failed to follow the rules as an investment adviser, failed to disclose $31 million in personal property sales and she broke election financing rules that are meant to keep elections fair and democratic."
In January, Stefanson admitted she failed to follow the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Conflict of Interest Act after the sale of three properties in 2016 and 2019, which were worth millions.
The law requires that MLAs file statements within 15 days of the start of a new session that list their and their spouses’ assets and any potential conflicts. If they acquire or dispose of assets afterward, they’re required to file a further statement that discloses them, and are to meet with the conflict-of-interest commissioner within 60 days to ensure that adequate disclosure is made.
Stefanson, who has been an MLA since 2000, had listed the $31 million in properties for several years among her assets and then stopped, but failed to file statements disclosing the fact they had been disposed of when they were sold.
In 1999, Stefanson was suspended for seven months by the Manitoba district council of the former Investment Dealers Association of Canada for "failure to meet educational requirements." Stefanson was found to have made 34 inappropriate trades while working as an investment adviser at Wellington West Capital Inc. The explanation provided was that she couldn’t keep up her credentials because she had to help care for her mother.
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.