Manitoba Conflict Laws Are Absurd

Winnipeg Free Press, December 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Manitoba Conflict Laws Are Absurd


Is it absurd the popular mayor of Canada's largest city lost his job -- potentially triggering a $7-million byelection -- because he used his city council letterhead in order to raise $3,100 for a charity that helps at-risk boys play football?

Many in the Ontario government say it is.

Is it just as absurd Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz could lose his job next spring, also triggering an expensive byelection, because he spent $2,915 of public funds in 2010 on an event for city councillors, department heads and their families at his own restaurant?

Manitoba's Selinger government says it isn't.

Even before Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was removed from office, the government of Ontario was preparing for a drastic overhaul of that province's conflict-of-interest laws. It is widely perceived that they fail to address many forms of unethical conduct, that enforcement costs too much and takes too long, and that the inflexible penalties result in unreasonable consequences.

Far from being an effective deterrent against unethical behaviour by municipal and provincial politicians, the laws are being used by deep-pocketed partisans as proxies for recall legislation.

Though Manitoba's conflict-of-interest laws are almost identical to Ontario's, and the flaws equally serious, a spokesperson for Premier Greg Selinger told the Free Press earlier this week the Manitoba government has no plans to change our laws.

You don't need a telescope to see the potential politics at play here. Katz has been an ongoing irritant to the Selinger government. It might be that any law that could cost the mayor his job is a law worth keeping.

Would they take the same view, however, if one of their own was ensnared by the law?

Brandon East MLA Drew Caldwell is Selinger's legislative assistant. According to reports filed with the Canada Revenue Agency and available on the CRA website, he was also a member of the board of directors of the Brandon Folk, Music and Art Society Inc. during the period from 2007 to August 31, 2011.

Annual returns filed by the BFMAS with the provincial Companies Office confirm Caldwell's status as a BFMAS director, with the Jan. 2, 2008, return identifying him as the board chairman.

The BFMAS is seeking a total of almost $4 million from all three levels of government -- more than $1 million from the Selinger government -- in order to convert the former Strand Theatre in downtown Brandon into a performing arts centre. The project has the backing of the provincial government and was referred to in both the 2009 throne speech and the 2011 provincial budget. …

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