Manitoba premier seeks to weed out conflicts of interest on pot

Premier Brian Pallister is asking every member of his cabinet to come forward to the ethics commissioner if they're investing in marijuana.

Brian Pallister sent note to cabinet urging members to disclose investments related to marijuana

Manitoba's premier is asking cabinet members to declare any conflicts of interest they may have regarding the upcoming legalization of cannabis. (CBC)

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister is asking every member of his cabinet to come forward to the conflict of interest commissioner if they're investing in marijuana.

On Wednesday, the premier sent a communiqué to cabinet members, advising them of a forthcoming memorandum on the importance of "immediately reviewing whether you have any conflicts of interest related to cannabis."

"Because of the far-reaching policy implications and impacts associated with the legalization of cannabis, it is imperative that all ministers and legislative assistants carefully review and disclose any real or potential conflicts of interest they may have related to cannabis legalization," the premier wrote in the document.

Those people will also have individual meetings with the commissioner, Jeffrey Schnoor, in the coming weeks, the premier wrote.

Legislative members are already required by law to disclose many financial interests, including most bonds and debentures, as well as holdings in investment or mutual funds, and any "beneficial interests" in the capital stock of corporations, bonds and debentures.

But Pallister said it's necessary to be proactive on marijuana as the industry takes shape.

"I just think it's very important that we make sure that if there is any possibility of conflict of interest, that has to be declared. Recusal has to be made," he told reporters after question period on Wednesday.

Premier Brian Pallister says it's necessary to be proactive on disclosure as the government reveals how the private sector may be involved in the sale of pot. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

The premier said he's not aware of any specific conflicts in his cabinet.

The federal government has announced intentions to legalize marijuana by July 2018, but left many decisions about how to regulate sale and distribution of the drug to the provinces.

Alberta has released a proposed framework to handle legalization, and public feedback on that plan closed at the end of October. Ontario introduced its own legislation for the drug on Wednesday, which would include 150 stand-alone stores run by a subsidiary of the Ontario Liquor Control Board by the end of 2020.

So far, Manitoba's government has been tight-lipped on how that will work here. But on Wednesday, Pallister promised an "exciting announcement" about the government's plans will be made next Tuesday on a request for proposals related to the issue.

'A distraction': NDP

NDP Leader Wab Kinew called the document a "distraction."

"My understanding of the rules is we'd already be required to disclose any holdings we would have in a business involved in cannabis," he said.

"So an announcement, a press release put out to direct cabinet members to make a disclosure that they probably should have already been making strikes me as odd."

But Kinew said he'd like to see Manitoba's conflict of interest laws updated to reflect modern financial tools and language.

The premier said he's asked for advice from the conflict of interest commissioner to improve Manitoba's conflict of interest legislation, which he said can be confusing.

"We want to see a better level of transparency. We want to see it not be so confusing that, you know, one member's interpretation of it is different from another member's, either," he said.

MLA Steven Fletcher, a former member of the Progressive Conservative caucus, has penned a lengthy 35-page conflict of interest bill that would extend rules to Treasury Board members and spouses of cabinet ministers, and would require much broader detail of assets.

Asked if he'd look to Fletcher's bill moving forward, Pallister said his first move would be to consult with the expert — that is, the conflict of interest commissioner himself.

With files from Sean Kavanagh and Aidan Geary