After admitting last week she did not follow the province’s conflict of interest rules in not disclosing the sale of properties worth millions of dollars, Premier Heather Stefanson now says she did disclose the transactions — just not to the public.
"To say that the disposition of the assets was not disclosed is wrong — it was," said the normally unflappable Manitoba premier, who was clearly annoyed by questions on the matter at a media briefing Wednesday to announce the loosening of public health restrictions.
Stefanson said she told conflict of interest commissioner Jeffrey Schnoor, who meets confidentially with elected members to advise them on any potential issues they may have.
She did not, however, file statements on the disposal of $31 million in property in 2016 and 2019 with the clerk of the legislative assembly — which is required by law. It is the only place the public can view an elected member’s disclosure statements.
The Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Conflict of Interest Act requires that, within 15 days of the start of a session, elected members must file a statement of their and their spouse’s assets, and any potential conflicts, with the clerk of the legislative assembly.
If they acquire or dispose of assets afterward, they must file another disclosure statement form with the clerk’s office and meet with the conflict of interest commissioner to discuss it within 60 days.
Stefanson did not provide the information in question to the clerk’s office.
Last week, when asked why she didn’t disclose she no longer owned the properties formerly listed as assets, Stefanson’s office issued a statement saying the information should have been submitted to the clerk’s office.
"It was an oversight on my part," the comment attributed to the premier said. Stefanson planned to correct the lack of disclosure "immediately," it said.
The Tory premier couldn’t, however, because the act requires the form is submitted within weeks of disposing of assets — not more than two years.
On Wednesday, when asked how she could overlook the multimillion-dollar sale of two Winnipeg apartment buildings in 2019 — when she was housing minister — the premier insisted she told the conflict of interest commissioner, and suggested that was sufficient.
Schnoor, who can’t disclose what he tells elected members, did not respond when asked if he advised Stefanson she needn’t follow the rules requiring members to disclose the disposal of assets.
“To say that the disposition of the assets was not disclosed is wrong — it was." — Premier Heather Stefanson
NDP Leader Wab Kinew questioned the premier’s reversal.
"Everyone in Manitoba would notice if they made $31 million off a few real estate sales," Kinew said in a scrum with reporters Wednesday.
"If she’s insisting today that there was nothing wrong, then why did she apologize for it (Tuesday)?" he said. "Why was she apologizing and then today coming out and doubling down and pulling a 180 and saying she did nothing wrong?"
The Opposition leader compared Stefanson to her predecessor, former premier Brian Pallister.
"This premier… not only gets angry and tries to go on the attack if you ask why they broke the rules, but they seem to believe there’s another set of laws and rules they have to adhere here to but they’re not the ones the rest of Manitoba has to live by."
“This premier… not only gets angry and tries to go on the attack if you ask why they broke the rules, but they seem to believe there’s another set of laws and rules they have to adhere here to but they’re not the ones the rest of Manitoba has to live by.” – NDP leader Wab Kinew
Also Wednesday, the premier was asked if she supports Tory MP Candice Bergen’s recent comments in the House of Commons comparing the toppling of statues at the Manitoba legislature on Canada Day 2021 with the actions of so-called "freedom convoy" protesters waving Nazi flags and desecrating the National War Memorial in Ottawa.
Pressed by reporters, Stefanson would not say one group’s actions were worse than the other’s, nor call out Bergen for saying they’re equivalent. The premier said she denounces all acts of vandalism and supports Indigenous reconciliation.
Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said there is no comparison:the "freedom" protesters are worse.
"This is a tiny minority who are a radical, fringe group and the premier keeps sucking up to them," Lamont said Wednesday.
Stefanson should stand up for what’s right and distance herself from "extreme views in parts of the conservative movement," Kinew added.