Manitoba political analysts and opposition parties say the departure of Heather Grant-Jury, a former principal secretary to Premier Greg Selinger, from her union job amid an internal investigation speaks poorly of Selinger's judgment and deals another blow to the embattled New Democrats.
The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 832 confirmed on Tuesday that Grant-Jury is no longer employed as its training centre director, and officials are "conducting an internal investigation."
While the UFCW said it won't comment on the investigation until it's complete, Selinger's office said the union has described the situation as a "serious matter" and an "internal human resources" issue.
"I think [the questions surrounding Grant-Jury's departure] speak very poorly of Mr. Selinger's judgment," Progressive Conservative house leader Kelvin Goertzen said Wednesday.
"It's speaks very poorly of his judgment that he would hire somebody into his department who is now the subject of very serious allegations."
Grant-Jury was seconded to the premier's staff as a senior aide during a cabinet revolt at the end of 2014 and beginning of 2015. During that time, several directors and senior officials had left Selinger's side, including then-chief of staff Liam Martin.
"There's been a long relationship between Mrs. Grant-Jury and the premier and this government, so he obviously knew what he was doing," Goertzen said of Selinger.
"It was something that he thought about and did it very deliberately."
The Tories say public account records show that the province gave $1.16 million to the UFCW training centre between 2008-09 and 2011-12.
"There are hundreds of thousands of dollars we understand that have gone from government — so, taxpayers' money — to the UFCW training centre over the last number of years," Goertzen said.
In an email to CBC News, UFCW Local 832 spokesperson Blake Crothers said, "All funding provided by both the provincial and federal government for programs offered at our training centre in Winnipeg and in Brandon have been utilized appropriately for the purposes requested."
Annual government payments to UFCW between 2005-06 and 2014-15 totalled $1.2 million, according to public accounts records.
The union said Wednesday afternoon that an audit is underway.
"Our government funding has always been subject to strict reporting that allows us to easily confirm that the money was spent for the purposes it was intended for. Our interim training centre director has confirmed this internally and we are confident that the auditors will also confirm this once their work is completed," it said in a statement.
No involvement with government files, money, Selinger says
Selinger told reporters on Wednesday that Grant-Jury had no involvement with government program files or public money.
Echoing a statement his office made the day before, Selinger said UFCW notified his chief of staff about "a serious matter" involving Grant-Jury.
"They simply alerted my chief of staff, who then discussed it with me about a review they were doing, and my responsibility is to ensure the public interest was protected, and we did that by ensuring that this individual wasn't involved in any government committees or appointments," he said.
Selinger added that the union has assured the government that no public money was involved in its review.
"There is no connection between the review being done by this organization on the matters related to their personnel and anything that was occurring while she served in government. We've been assured of that by the organization itself, and our staff have concurred with that."
When asked if he exercised poor judgment in hiring Grant-Jury, Selinger replied, "This person brings a strong history of community service to many organizations within Manitoba, and during her time here she fulfilled her duties in a way that there is no connection to the review going on by the organization that employs her."
In Tuesday's statement, Selinger's office says the premier's chief of staff requested Grant-Jury's immediate resignation from the re-election planning committee and board of Manitoba Public Insurance. Her formal resignation was received by MPI Jan. 4. Selinger appointed Grant-Jury to the board of MPI in October 2015.
'Bad news' for NDP, says analyst
The current situation does not bode well for the New Democrats as they head into a provincial election this spring, says Paul Thomas, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Manitoba.
"Bad news, like they didn't have enough bad news already: low in the polls, a number of senior cabinet ministers have announced they're not running in the next election in April," Thomas said Wednesday morning.
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"This raises questions about Selinger's judgment, about talent in his office. It also raises issues about the role that unions play in the NDP."