Liberals accuse trio of landlord MLAs of violating conflict of interest law

Three ministers in the Manitoba government are refuting allegations they violated conflict of interest law by voting on a bill that will make it harder for tenants to complain about rent increases.

MLAs who own rental properties voted for bill that removes right to complain about some rent increases

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont believes three Progressive Conservative MLAs violated the province's conflict of interest legislation by voting on a matter that will concern them as landlords. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Three ministers in the Manitoba government are being accused of violating conflict of interest laws by voting on a bill that would make it harder for tenants to complain about rent increases.

Bill 12, the provincial government's omnibus red tape-reduction legislation, contained a clause that amended the Residential Tenancies Act to remove tenants' rights to complain to the residential tenancies director about a rent increase unless the increase exceeds the guideline set by the Residential Tenancies Branch.

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said a trio of Progressive Conservative ministers — Steinbach MLA Kelvin Goertzen, Tuxedo's Heather Stefanson and Gimli's Jeff Wharton — supported the red-tape bill despite previously self-disclosing rental properties they own as potential conflicts of interest. 

Lamont argued the MLA landlords are defying the conflict of interest legislation because they would benefit financially from that government decision.

"What's the point of even having conflict of interest forms if it makes absolutely no difference whether people can vote themselves benefits or not?" Lamont asked.

He intends to take the matter up with the conflict of interest commissioner.

A government spokesperson refuted the allegations on behalf of the ministers.

The province referred CBC News to some of the 84 recommendations that Manitoba's conflict of interest commissioner, Jeffrey Schnoor, has proposed to modernize the province's conflict of interest laws, which he has previously said are Canada's oldest and weakest.

Exclusion not necessary

The recommendations state members should not recuse themselves from matters common to many people — such as recusing themselves from a decision on automobile insurance because they are using their insurance to pay for vehicle repairs.

Lamont also took a shot at the provincial government for leaving the door open to dismiss Schnoor, the person behind the many recommendations yet to be enacted.

Conflict of interest commissioner Jeffrey Schnoor has previously said it is time to modernize the province's rules, which he called the 'weakest in Canada.' (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

The commissioner's tenure is set to expire at the end of the year.

His reappointment was put forth during a committee meeting but time ran out and it has not been considered since, Lamont said. 

"Reappointing the conflict of interest commissioner has completely disappeared from the agenda and he's been outspoken on this — he's the one who said this [legislation] is weak."

Among his recommendations, Schnoor wrote that the province's definition of conflict of interest should be expanded beyond solely financial concerns.

With files from Cameron MacLean

About the Author

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter at CBC Manitoba. He previously wrote about rural Manitoba for the Brandon Sun and the Carillon in Steinbach. Story idea? Email ian.froese@cbc.ca.

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