Prime Minister Heather Stefanson broke election finance rule in her bid for PC leadership: commissioner

Heather Stefanson broke election finance rules in her bid last fall to be elected leader of the Progressive Conservative Party and, by extension, premier of Manitoba, according to Manitoba’s commissioner of elections.

Stefanson beat rival Shelly Glover in the PC leadership race which ended on October 30, less than two months after Brian Pallister stepped down as premier and party leader.

NDP provincial secretary and chief financial officer Tim Johnson later filed a complaint with Manitoba Elections Commissioner Bill Bowles.

Johnson accused Stefanson of incurring expenses for his PC party leadership bid before the official start of the contest period, which is an offense under the Election Finances Act, Bowles said in a statement. letter dated May 12.

Bowles said that during an investigation, Stefanson confirmed that she incurred $1,800 in expenses prior to the August 23 campaign period start date.

“Premier Stefanson acknowledged that in hindsight these expenses were incurred prematurely and apologized for her error,” Bowles writes.

“She explained that she did not consider spending money on her campaign at that time to be prohibited.”

His letter goes on to state that he found no evidence to suggest Stefanson’s campaign intentionally broke the rules.

As such, he deemed it would not be in the public interest to prosecute the Prime Minister for this offence. Instead, Bowles issued a formal warning to Stefanson.

“The early start of a leadership contestant’s campaign may have benefited that contestant and I do not think it would be appropriate for me to completely ignore this violation of the law,” his statement read.

In his formal warning to Stefanson, Bowles said it is the responsibility of leaders and their campaigns to know the rules governing campaign spending.

Jordan Sisson, Stefanson’s campaign manager, reiterated that the breach was unintentional.

“Premier/MP Stefanson has already apologized for the unintentional error,” read a statement from Sisson on Friday.

Sisson said the $1,800 expense was related to an Aug. 18, 2021, event at the Waverley Heights Community Center, at which Stefanson announced his intention to run for PC leadership.

NDP MP Malaya Marcelino accused Stefanson of not following the rules that “everyone follows”. She cited the prime minister’s failure to disclose $31 million in sales of personal property as an example.

“Manitobans hold their political leaders to higher standards,” Marcelino said. “Clearly Premier Stefanson cannot hit that bar.”

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