Manitoba

Pallister staff member remits salary after conflict of interest raised

A member of Premier Brian Pallister's senior staff is returning some of his salary after the Manitoba Liberals raised concerns regarding his private businesses and paid involvement in a federal election campaign.

Liberal leader calls for investigation into Kowalson's federal election work

Michael Kowalson is facing consequences from the provincial government for his participation in the federal election campaign of Marty Morantz. (Michael Kowalson/Facebook)

A member of Premier Brian Pallister's senior staff is returning some of his salary after the Manitoba Liberals raised concerns regarding his private businesses and paid involvement in a federal election campaign.

Michael Kowalson, director of stakeholder relations, was paid last fall by the campaign of Conservative candidate Marty Morantz, according to documents the Liberals filed in a complaint to Manitoba's ombudsman.

Party leader Dougald Lamont is asking for the ombudsman to investigate Kowalson. The party alleges he violated the conditions of his employment agreement and conflict of interest rules.

While the government wouldn't confirm if he violated any rules, he has been disciplined.

"The premier has instructed Mr. Kowalson to immediately remit the equivalent of his salary to the Province of Manitoba as compensation for any involvement and time spent by Mr. Kowalson in the last federal election campaign, and he has done so," a spokesperson said in an email late Thursday.

"Furthermore, Mr. Kowalson has apologized to his caucus and colleagues."

Conflict of interest questioned

Manitoba's conflict of interest rules state that an employee must not "undertake outside employment, a business transaction or other private arrangement for personal profit or have any other financial or other personal interest that is in conflict with the performance of their duties." 

Elections Canada documents state that Morantz's campaign paid a company belonging to Kowalson, North American Franchise Sans Group Ltd., $5,250 in salaries, wages and consulting.

Another of his companies, Kowintco, Inc., was reimbursed $2,440.39 by Morantz's campaign for meals, entertainment and election night events. He was personally reimbursed $280.08 for other expenses.

Michael Kowalson, far left, is seen at the election night party with Marty Morantz, centre, and deputy premier Heather Stefanson at Morantz's campaign headquarters on Portage Avenue in Winnipeg on Oct. 21, 2019. Kowalson has been punished for his role in Morantz's campaign. (Ian Froese/CBC)

Morantz unseated federal Liberal Doug Eyolfson last October to become the member of Parliament for the Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley riding.

Lamont said he's not satisfied with the punishment that Pallister doled out.

"You don't get to take government money you're not entitled to, give it back and get to keep your job," he said in a statement.

"Brian Pallister and the PCs are using public money to fund Conservative campaigns. We are going to need an investigation to see who was involved and whether this violated campaign finance law."

The Liberals said in a news release on Friday that many high-level conservatives knew about Kowalson's involvement. 

The party released a video from Alberta Premier Jason Kenney's visit in which Kowalson introduced deputy premier Heather Stefanson and commended the work of provincial finance minister Scott Fielding.

In his capacity with Morantz's campaign, Kowalson spoke to CBC News last September concerning the election signs of People's Party of Canada candidate Stephen Fletcher. He was identified in the story as a spokesperson.

Kowalson was promoted to the position of director of stakeholder relations this January, with a salary range between $141,262 to $170,502.

He did not respond Thursday to a request for comment.

About the Author

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. He has previously worked for newspapers in Brandon and Steinbach. Story idea? Email: ian.froese@cbc.ca.

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