Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson is challenging a formal complaint against her in court for failing to disclose real estate sales worth tens of millions of dollars, in apparent violation of provincial conflict of interest rules.
On Wednesday, the case was adjourned to a later date. Lawyers representing Stefanson said the premier would challenge the case.
Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont took the rare, if not unprecedented, step of taking a legislative conflict of interest complaint to court.
Since Manitoba’s Conflict of Interest Commissioner does not have the power to investigate or punish breaches of the disclosure rules, citizens may choose to file an affidavit with the Court of Queen’s Bench at cost of $300, to ask a judge to hold a hearing with another judge.
Lamont took this route to hold the government to account, he said. The party leader is representing himself in court.
“No one is held responsible”
“What happens in Manitoba is that no one has ever been held accountable for their mistakes. There’s a long history of scandals, whether it’s at police headquarters or Crocus… ‘is ever held accountable and no one ever faces their consequences, so it’s fundamentally, for me, a matter of justice,” he said afterwards.
Lamont said it was inappropriate for the prime minister to proceed with these property sales and vote on issues that could impact landowners, without disclosing his own conflict of interest.
Earlier this year, the Premier admitted it was an “oversight” on her part to sell $31.2 million worth of properties and not notify the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly within 30 days, as required by the disposal of any asset, that his real estate properties would be considered. Stefanson said she immediately corrected the error. She previously listed the properties as her assets.
The three Winnipeg rental and commercial properties in question were owned by McDonald Grain Company Ltd. — a real estate holding company that lists Stefanson as a director. They grossed a combined $31.2 million when sold in 2016 and 2019.
In 2019, the company sold the Ritz building at 859 Grosvenor Ave. for $7 million and the Drury Manor apartment complex at 1833 Pembina Highway for $22.5 million.
In 2016, McDonald Grain Company Ltd. sold a storage facility at 351 Saulteaux Cres. for $1.7 million.
In a January 2022 statement, Stefanson said the privacy commissioner confirmed that property sales had been disclosed through the submission of conflict of interest forms.
But she didn’t submit a form saying the sale had to be disclosed within 30 days.
“I apologize to Manitobans for my error in not completing my form … and disclosing the sale of these assets within the 30-day period,” said his statement, sent through a spokesperson. .
If the judge determines that a member of the legislature has violated the Conflict of Interest Act, a member may be ordered to confiscate all or part of the assets, pay a fine of up to $5,000 $, face a suspension of up to 90 days or pay restitution to the government.
The opposition NDP first asked Conflict of Interest Commissioner Jeffrey Schnoor for an opinion on Stefanson’s failure to disclose, but he said he could not tell the MP his opinion on another’s obligations member under the law.