Premier Heather Stefanson is facing a stern warning from the province’s Liberal Opposition leader after she allegedly violated provincial conflict of interest rules. Dougald Lamont wants the Premier to receive an unprecedented three-month suspension from the legislature if convicted.
On February 13, Manitoba’s Court of King’s Bench will conduct a hearing to determine whether Stefanson contravened conflict of interest legislation over her repeated failure to disclose her directorship on a company with $31 million worth of real estate sales.
She also failed to disclose paperwork from the real estate holding company McDonald Grain Company Ltd., which sold three Winnipeg properties between 2016 and 2019.
Though those transactions took place before the Tuxedo MLA became Manitoba’s Premier, Lamont launched a civil lawsuit last year as the Premier failed to notify the legislative assembly clerk within 30 days if she disposed of an asset.
In January 2022, Stefanson told reporters she did not submit the necessary paperwork within 30 days. Court documents called her decision careless.
In an affidavit filed on November 21, 2022, Stefanson said, “I did not direct my mind to whether the act required a special filing in respect of this disposition. Any failure to comply with the act was inadvertent.”
The Premier also claimed in the affidavit that she lacked awareness of the property sales until the press raised questions about the matter last year.
“It is my recollection and belief that this was the first time it came to my attention that I may not have complied with filing obligations,” she said.
On Tuesday, Lamont’s legal counsel Dave Hill filed a brief which argued Stefanson should have known better, considering her more than 20 years of experience making these types of disclosures before becoming an MLA.
“The respondent is a member [of the Manitoba legislature] … [previously] employed in the financial services sector where regulation and disclosure are similarly of the utmost importance,” wrote Hill.
“The respondent had a responsibility to determine whether the dispositions of property would trigger the provisions of the act and to, after that, turn her mind to whether or not specified disclosure was warranted.”
Hill added that these responsibilities are magnified since the transaction value exceeds $30 million.
If found to have contravened the province’s conflict of interest legislation, Lamont states in the brief that he wants a three-month suspension and a $5,000 fine for the Premier.
“These penalties will serve as a reminder of the importance of integrity, independence and accountability in local government decision-making, and the importance of certainty in reconciling the public duties and pecuniary interests of members,” wrote Hill in the brief.
“If you can’t be bothered to do something which could lose your job, that is a huge problem,” added Lamont.
The Premier said her Progressive Conservative government bolstered accountability measures for government officials by modernizing conflict of interest rules during the current term.
“Our government has worked to strengthen conflict of interest legislation so that all elected officials in the province are held to the highest standard of ethics and accountability,” penned Stefanson in a statement.
She did not comment further on Lamont’s civil action.
“Everything I have to say on the matter before the courts were included in the filed affidavit,” she said.
Stefanson’s government is slated to face an election on October 3.