Canada

Liberal leader challenges Manitoba premier in court for failing to disclose real estate sales | CBC News

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson is fighting 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. The lawyers representing Stefanson said the premier would contest the matter. 

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont took the rare, if not unprecedented, decision of taking a legislative conflict of interest complaint to court.

Since Manitoba’s conflict of interest commissioner doesn’t have the authority to investigate or punish violations of the disclosure rules, private citizens can choose to file an affidavit with the Court of Queen’s Bench, at a cost of $300, to ask a judge for a hearing with another judge.

Lamont took that route to demand accountability from the government, he said. The party leader is representing himself in court. 

‘No one is held to account’

“What keeps happening in Manitoba is that no one’s ever held to account for their mistakes. There’s a long history of scandals, whether it’s the police headquarters or it’s Crocus …  No one is ever held to account and no one ever faces their consequences, so it fundamentally, for me, is a matter of justice,” he said afterwards.

Lamont said it is inappropriate of the premier to make these real estate sales and vote on matters that may impact property owners, without disclosing her own conflict of interest. 

Earlier this year, the premier acknowledged it was an “oversight” on her part to sell off $31.2 million of properties and not notify the clerk of the legislative assembly within 30 days, as required for the disposal of any asset, which her real estate properties would be considered. Stefanson said she corrected the mistake immediately. She had previously listed the properties as her assets. 

Lawyers representing Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson are challenging the formal complaint levelled by Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

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 fetched a combined sum of $31.2 million when they were sold in 2016 and 2019.

In 2019, the company sold the Ritz apartment 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 had confirmed that the property sales were disclosed through the submission of conflict of interest forms.

But she failed to submit a form that stated the sale had to be disclosed within 30 days.

“I apologize to Manitobans for my error in not filing my form … and disclosing the sale of these assets within the 30-day timeline,” her statement, sent via a spokesperson, said.

If the judge determines a legislative assembly member violated the conflict of interest act, an MLA may be ordered to forfeit all or part of the asset, 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 initially asked conflict of interest commissioner Jeffrey Schnoor for an opinion on Stefanson’s failure to disclose, but he said he couldn’t tell the MLA his opinion of another member’s obligations under the act.

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