Manitoba Needs to Beef Up Conflict-of-Interest Laws

Article excerpt

Throughout his tenure as mayor of Winnipeg, conflict-of-interest allegations have dogged Sam Katz over dealings between the city and various friends and business associates of Katz. In the past few weeks, fresh finger-pointing has followed the disclosure of Katz's purchase of Duddy Enterprises LLC from City of Winnipeg CAO Phil Sheegl for $1.

The media coverage was intense but Manitobans should not think conflict-of-interest issues are a problem unique to Winnipeg. A search of media reports and court records reveals such allegations are made against elected officials throughout the province with surprising regularity.

A cursory online search finds judgments rendered by Manitoba courts in cases involving conflict of interest in the rural municipalities of Glenwood, Clanwilliam, Cornwallis and Whitehead in the past decade.

Each of these matters has raised the public's awareness of the ethical challenges faced by our politicians. They have also exposed the inadequacies of conflict-of-interest legislation that currently governs the conduct of Manitoba's municipal and provincial representatives.

Two provincial statutes are relevant here. The Municipal Council Conflict of Interest Act applies to all councillors, reeves and mayors who serve on various municipal councils throughout the province. The Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Conflict of Interest Act applies to MLAs, provincial cabinet ministers and senior public servants.

Though the two laws are largely identical in standards of conduct and enforcement procedures, it is difficult to understand why one law would include the conduct of senior public servants, but not the other. Neither statute prohibits elected officials from doing business with their staff, as in the Katz-Sheegl transaction.

A Free Press editorial Sept. 13 correctly complained "the municipal conflict rules are skeletal, relating narrowly to financial interests, prohibiting politicians from taking part in municipal decision-making that may affect those interests.

"They do not speak to the broad, complex matters of ethics, influence peddling and unbecoming conduct of politicians or senior officers and administrators."

The same could be also said regarding the rules governing the conduct of MLAs and cabinet ministers, but the flaws in both statutes go far beyond the narrowness of their scope -- to the point where it is appropriate to ask if the provincial government seriously wants to promote ethical conduct by our elected representatives. …