Manitoba's conflict of interest legislation 'weakest in Canada' and needs overhaul: commissioner

Manitoba's conflict of interest commissioner says it's time to modernize Manitoba's conflict of interest legislation, which he calls the "weakest in Canada."

Jeffrey Schnoor makes 84 recommendations to reform rules governing MLAs

Conflict of Interest Commissioner Jeffrey Schnoor says it's time to modernize the province's rules. He made dozens of recommendations in a 53-page report released Tuesday. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

Manitoba's conflict of interest commissioner says it's time to modernize Manitoba's legislation, which he calls "the oldest and arguably the weakest conflict of interest legislation in Canada."

Commissioner Jeffrey Schnoor made a total of 84 recommendations Tuesday to reform the laws that govern the conflict of interest rules for MLAs.

Recommendations in the 53-page report include expanding the definition of conflict of interest, which Schnoor argues the current legislation, The Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Conflict of Interest Act, defines too narrowly.

"The current Act restricts conflicts of interest to situations in which the member has a financial … interest in the matter," Schnoor's report says.

"This is a narrow definition that leaves out situations in which a member has a non-financial or private interest. Most other Canadian jurisdictions have much clearer statements of what constitutes a conflict of interest and when it can arise."

The report recommends cabinet members "not be allowed to engage in employment or self-employment, or the management or ownership of a business." They would also not be allowed to own securities that aren't publicly traded, or be an officer or director of an organization.

Schnoor also recommends that MLAs should have to disclose their assets and liabilities — as well as those of their immediate families. Family members would also have to disclose all their sources of income.

The report is critical of the current act, noting there are no restrictions on receiving gifts for MLAs or their families — they must only disclose gifts worth more than $250.

"The report recommends that members and their immediate family not be permitted to accept a gift that is connected with the performance of their duties of office," said Schnoor.

The current act also notes that individual voters have to take any conflict of interest complaints to court, rather than have a commissioner investigate. 

"Complaints should go to the Commissioner, who should have full powers to investigate, including the power to compel testimony and the production of documents," Schnoor said.

Manitoba is currently the only Canadian jurisdiction where the commissioner does not have this power, Schnoor said.

He recommends his new rules be put into effect within the next 12 months. 

Crown Services Minister Cliff Cullen said the government is happy with Schnoor's work on the report and plans to set up an all-party committee to look at the recommendations. 

"And I think this would be a good opportunity for all parties to have a voice at the table, to review these recommendations and to make a recommendation back to government, to the legislature, in terms of legislation," he said. 

Cullen wouldn't speak to any of the specific recommendations, saying he prefers to hear from the committee first.

NDP leader Wab Kinew was more direct. 

"I think they got a very detailed set of recommendations to improve conflict of interest issues here in Manitoba and they should just bring a bill that enacts those recommendations," said Kinew.

Kinew said he liked the recommendations of a higher standard for cabinet ministers and the premier over "the average MLA."

"I think also giving the conflict of interest commissioner the ability to investigate, is an important one."

Cullen said he'd like to see the committee's recommendations be turned into legislation before the next election.