Premier’s oversight undermines public trust

Premier Heather Stefanson appears to suffer from difficulty in accepting the rules that apply to everyone else. While her recently revealed missteps are not in the same realm as those of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who partied repeatedly with his entourage during pandemic lockdowns while ordering Britons to stay home alone, Ms. Stefanson might be well served by casting an eye across to pond to see where such difficulties can lead.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 31/01/2022 (313 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Premier Heather Stefanson appears to suffer from difficulty in accepting the rules that apply to everyone else. While her recently revealed missteps are not in the same realm as those of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who partied repeatedly with his entourage during pandemic lockdowns while ordering Britons to stay home alone, Ms. Stefanson might be well served by casting an eye across to pond to see where such difficulties can lead.

Leading Manitoba Conservatives should tell Ms. Stefanson that her repeated failures to disclose large transactions by her real-estate trading firm were not merely an oversight, as she called them last week in a written reply to this newspaper. They were an insult to Manitobans who conduct their affairs with care and follow the rules.

When you hold high office, the eyes of the community are upon you. You cannot lead merely by issuing commands.

When you hold high office, the eyes of the community are upon you. You cannot lead merely by issuing commands. You must earn the respect of the public every day so that they will give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you have their interests at heart, even when you are asking for sacrifice or choosing a difficult path for them to follow.

Why does this need to be said? Why is this not self-evident?

Ms. Stefanson, with others, owns the McDonald Grain Company. In 2016, the company sold a storage facility on Saulteaux Crescent for $1.78 million. In 2019 it sold The Ritz apartment block on Grosvenor Avenue for $7 million and Drury Manor on Pembina Highway for $22.5 million.

DAVID LIPNOWSKI / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES Premier Heather Stefanson, a member of the legislature since 2000, had complied with the disclosure requirements until it came to these large transactions which, through the aforementioned oversight, she forgot to mention in her disclosures.

Manitoba’s Conflict of Interest Act requires members of the legislature to disclose their assets to a public official at the start of each session of the legislature and promptly disclose subsequent purchases and sales of assets. Ms. Stefanson made no such disclosure of these large dispositions until the Opposition New Democrats complained.

Such transactions should be disclosed because governmental power could be used to enhance the value of an asset and because a sale could be used to provide a hidden benefit to a powerful person. Disclosure helps protect powerful people from suspicion of monkey business.

Once the Opposition party had revealed the 2016 and 2019 transactions on her behalf, Ms. Stefanson disclosed them and apologized for her oversight. She gave no sign that she recognized in herself a symptom of the Boris Johnson syndrome – the belief that the rules are meant for other people.

Once the Opposition party had revealed the 2016 and 2019 transactions on her behalf, Ms. Stefanson disclosed them and apologized for her oversight.

Ms. Stefanson, a member of the legislature since 2000, had complied with the disclosure requirements until it came to these large transactions which, through the aforementioned oversight, she forgot to mention in her disclosures. The case casts fresh light on Ms. Stefanson’s difficulties in 1999 as a registered representative for the investment brokerage firm Wellington West Capital. She was suspended by the industry regulatory body after a series of inappropriate trades. The two cases suggest an inclination toward carelessness.

Manitoba’s political structure has survived far worse shocks than this. The tender, newly sprouted relationship between Ms. Stefanson as premier and the Manitoba public, however, is not such a hardy plant that it can easily recover from such a disappointment.

The public is still getting to know her in her capacity as leader and is still looking for reasons to believe she is one of us and one with us. And now, suddenly, this pebble drops on the other side of the scale. It’s only a pebble, but when the balance is so obviously precarious, the tipping point is an abiding danger.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Premier Heather Stefanson listens in as Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba chief public health officer, announces further restrictions during the province’s latest COVID-19 update at the Manitoba legislature in Winnipeg Monday, December 27, 2020. Re: ?
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