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This article was published 28/8/2019 (554 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Independent investigations into two complaints that Premier Brian Pallister broke ethics rules — one in office and one on the campaign trail — are underway, the New Democrats announced Wednesday.
The Pallister government came under fire in June, after the Tory government issued a news release applauding a campaign promise from Conservative Party of Canada Leader Andrew Scheer. More recently, opposition parties criticized the Tory premier for filming an election campaign ad in his office at the Manitoba legislature.
The NDP filed a complaint with the Manitoba ombudsman about the June incident, and one with Elections Manitoba concerning the campaign ad.
Andrew Swan, a former NDP cabinet minister who is not seeking re-election, told reporters Wednesday the party received updates earlier this week.
The ombudsman has accepted the complaint, and opened an investigation into the premier’s office for having allegedly misused public government resources to promote a partisan agenda, Swan said.
Meanwhile, the commissioner of Elections Manitoba has retained a lawyer to investigate the allegations Pallister inappropriately and illegally used the premier’s office in a Progressive Conservatives ad, he said.
"Mr. Pallister seems to think he can operate by a different set of rules than hard-working Manitobans," Swan told reporters at the NDP headquarters. "We disagree."
The ombudsman's office told the Free Press it could not comment on any investigation, out of respect for the election blackout — even though it is an independent office and not part of any government department or agency.
Deputy ombudsman Marc Cormier said the office first reviews complaints to determine if they can be resolved informally. If not, the office assigns an investigator.
"When making decisions to investigate, we acknowledge that the allegations or complaints are not yet substantiated or proven. As such, we maintain a neutral approach throughout the assessment process," Cormier said.
Similarly, elections commissioner Bill Bowles said in a statement he does not comment on ongoing investigations, and would not confirm on whether any have been launched.
Since the PCs called an election 13 months ahead of schedule (as per fixed-date legislation), the campaign leading up to the Sept. 10 vote is not subject to a blackout under the Election Financing Act. Pallister, citing a desire to level the playing field for all parties, issued a self-imposed blackout June 12.
On Wednesday, Swan called the PC leader, who stands 6-8, "the tallest hypocrite in Manitoba."
In an emailed statement, the PC campaign countered, calling the complaints "a laughable stretch by the losing NDP campaign to make things up when there is nothing there."
"The real misuse of public resources is causing the ombudsman to waste money investigating a non-event," the Tory email says.
The campaign later informed the Free Press it had filed three complaints about the NDP to the commissioner of elections.
The PCs allege the NDP broke rules by campaigning in public spaces off-limits to candidates, including a public school appearance and an event at a university. The party also said private-sector union Unifor used the Manitoba legislature in a partisan announcement.
In a letter to Bowles dated Aug. 28, PC party lawyer George Orle suggests the PCs, NDP, the investigator and the commissioner meet to resolve the issue.
Orle added a solution could be the "mutual adoption" of a policy that allows candidates to use public and government buildings for advertising — as long as no government staff resources are used.
Royce Koop, an associate professor of politics at the University of Manitoba, said the self-imposed blackout rules have caused much confusion.
"No matter the merits of the case, if a party can say that its opponent is being investigated by the elections committee, it’s damaging," Koop said.
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.