Manitoba

Manitoba premier failed to follow disclosure rules on $31M in property sales

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson is apologizing for failing to follow the rules of disclosure on real estate sales worth tens of millions of dollars, in apparent violation of the province's conflict of interest rules for politicians.

Rental, commercial properties sold in 2016 and 2019

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson says the failure to disclose the real estate sales was an oversight that will be corrected. (David Lipnowski/The Canadian Press)

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson is apologizing for failing to follow the rules of disclosure on real estate sales worth tens of millions of dollars, in apparent violation of the province's conflict of interest rules for politicians.

The sales of three Winnipeg rental and commercial properties owned by McDonald Grain Company Ltd. — a real estate holding company that lists Stefanson as a director  — fetched a combined sum of $31.2 million when they were sold in 2016 and 2019,

In 2019, the company sold the Ritz apartment building at 859 Grosvenor Ave. for $7 million, and the Drury Manor apartment complex at 1833 Pembina Highway for $22.5 million.

In 2016, McDonald Grain Company Ltd. sold a storage facility at 351 Saulteaux Cres. for $1.7 million.

Manitoba business records, which list shareholders with 10 per cent or more of voting shares in a company, show Stefanson holds 20 common shares in McDonald Grain Company Ltd. 

On Wednesday, Manitoba NDP member Mark Wasyliw wrote a letter to Conflict of Interest Commissioner Jeffery Schnoor, telling him Stefanson had not disclosed the property sales.

"It is of the utmost importance for the elected leaders of our province to be transparent about their business transactions, as required by law, as those transactions can impact and influence their public decision making," Wasyliw wrote in the letter.

Manitoba's Conflict of Interest Act says MLAs must notify the clerk of the legislative assembly within 30 days if they dispose any asset.

In a statement to CBC News on Friday, Stefanson acknowledged that she had failed to follow that rule. 

"It was an oversight on my part. This is being corrected immediately," Stefanson said in the statement.

In a subsequent statement, Stefanson said the privacy commissioner had confirmed that the property sales were disclosed through the submission of conflict of interest forms.

But she failed to submit a form that stated the sale had to be disclosed within 30 days.

"I apologize to Manitobans for my error in not filing my form … and disclosing the sale of these assets within the 30-day timeline," her statement, sent via a spokesperson, said.

Stefanson's spokesperson did not answer a question about when the sales were disclosed.

The conflict of interest commissioner also advised Stefanson that she needed to file disclosure forms for a mutual fund purchased in November 2021, which the premier said she has now done.

Manitoba opposition leaders said Stefanson, who was first elected in 2000 and became premier last November, should know the rules.

"It's disappointing to see the premier didn't follow the rules around $31 million worth of property sales while she was an elected official," said NDP Leader Wab Kinew.

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said Manitoba has some of Canada's weakest conflict of interest rules.

"MLAs can legally vote on bills that benefit their businesses, they can take gifts, if they own property outside of the province they don't have to declare it ... and despite all those loopholes the premier still could not follow those rules."

In response to the letter from Wasyliw, the conflict of interest commissioner said he could not give him an opinion on the matter because it relates to another member.

The law does not give the commissioner the authority to investigate or punish violations of the disclosure rules.

A private citizen who suspects there may have been a breach can file an affidavit with the Court of Queen's Bench, at a cost of $300, to ask a judge for a hearing with another judge.

If that judge determines a legislative assembly member has violated the act, the MLA may be ordered to forfeit all or part of the asset, pay a fine of up to $5,000, face a suspension of up to 90 days or pay restitution to the government. 

"This is a matter that concerns the ability of Manitobans to trust their leaders are following the law and that the law applies to all Manitobans equally, regardless of their political position," Wasyliw said in the letter.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cameron MacLean

Online reporter

Cameron MacLean is a journalist for CBC News living in Winnipeg, where he was born and raised. He has more than a decade of experience reporting in the city and across Manitoba, covering a wide range of topics, including courts, politics, housing, arts, health and breaking news. Email story tips to cameron.maclean@cbc.ca.

With files from Meaghan Ketcheson, Bartley Kives and Joanne Levasseur

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