Manitoba Tories guilty of vote rigging

Three Manitoba Conservatives broke the law with a scheme to split votes in the last provincial election, but an inquiry has cleared the premier and the party as a whole.

Justice Alfred Monin led Manitoba's election inquiry and released his report on Monday. He says Conservatives Taras Sokolyk, Alan Aikin and Cubby Barrett hatched the plot to induce aboriginal candidate Daryl Sutherland to run in order to draw votes from the NDP candidate.

"The attempt at vote splitting was in my opinion clearly unethical and morally reprehensible," Monin said.

That wasn't the only unethical conduct Monin mentioned in his report. In describing some of the inquiry witnesses, Monin concluded, "In all my years on the bench, I never encountered as many liars in one proceeding as I did in this inquiry."

The report says a fourth Conservative supporter, Gordon McFarlane, broke the law when he filed a false election return. McFarlane was the party accountant during the 1995 election.

Monin says Sutherland and his chief financial officer also filed false election statements. He said they broke the law by saying they hadn't received financial contributions when they had.

Premier Gary Filmon is cleared in the scandal. Monin says he believes Filmon's statement that he knew nothing about the vote-splitting plan hatched by members of his party until the reports surfaced last summer.

Monin said there was a cover-up involved to ensure the paper trail on the scheme didn't get out back in 1995, but he calls it improper, not illegal. He acknowledged that Sokolyk, the Conservative campaign co-ordinator, McFarlane and Julian Benson, the former secretary to the Treasury Board, were involved in the cover-up.

While Monin has named people who broke the law, they will not be charged. Manitoba's Elections Act says charges cannot be laid more than two years after a vote.

Monin recommended changing the act.

And the judge says all political parties should write their own codes of ethics to prevent such conduct from happening again.