Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson has been cautioned by the province’s elections commissioner for breaking election finance laws.
Stefanson illegally spent $1,800 in campaign funds prior to the Progressive Conservative leadership campaign officially beginning in August 2021.
Manitoba NDP provincial secretary Tim Johnson initially filed a complaint to Manitoba elections commissioner Bill Bowles a month later in September asking him to investigate the matter.
Bowles’ investigation, Stefanson acknowledged that she had spent funds prior to the PC leadership campaign.
“Premier Stefanson acknowledged that with the benefit of hindsight these expenses were incurred prematurely and apologized for her error,” Bowles wrote in a May 12 letter to Stefanson’s counsel and Johnson.
“She explained that she had failed to consider that spending money on her campaign at that time was prohibited.”
Bowles concluded that Stefanson did not intentionally break the law under the Elections Financing Act. The legislation outlines that no individual running a leadership campaign can accept donations or incur expenses prior to the leadership contest.
“In my view, it would not be in [the] public interest to commence a prosecution and I do not propose to do so,” Bowles wrote, adding that because the expenditure could’ve resulted in an advantage for Stefanson he would issue a caution to the premier.
Stefanson, who has held the Tuxedo seat for the PCs since 2003, beat challenger Shelly Glover by 363 votes in a tightly-contested race to become the next leader of the Manitoba Tories in October 2021.
In a news release, the NDP alleged that the premier was being represented by her brother-in-law, Grant Stefanson. Jordan Sisson, Stefanson’s campaign manager at the time said this is not true.
The NDP claim that this is not the first time Stefanson has assumed rules don’t apply to her.
“She failed to follow the rules as an investment adviser, failed to disclose $31 million in personal property sales and she broke election financing rules that are meant to keep elections fair and democratic,” said NDP MLA Malaya Marcelino in a news release. “Manitobans hold their political leaders to a higher standard – it’s clear Premier Stefanson can’t meet that bar.”
Stefanson has apologized for failing to disclose to the conflict-of-interest commissioner that her holding group, McDonald Grain Corporation, sold more than $31 million in property assets.