Heather Stefanson breached election-financing rules in her bid last fall to be elected the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, and thus Manitoba’s prime minister, according to the Manitoba Elections Commissioner.
Stefansson defeated rival Shelley Glover in the PC driving race that ended on October 30, less than two months later Brian Pallister has stepped down as Prime Minister and Party Leader.
Tim Johnson, the regional secretary to the NDP’s chief financial officer, later filed a complaint with Manitoba Elections Commissioner Bill Bowles.
In a letter dated May 12, Bowles said Johnson accused Stephenson of incurring expenses for her attempt to lead the Computer Party before the official start of the contest period, an offense under the Election Funding Act.
During the investigation, Bowles said, Stefansson confirmed that she incurred $1,800 in expenses prior to the August 23 campaign period start date.
“Prime Minister Stefansson acknowledged that, with the benefit of hindsight, these expenditures were incurred prematurely, and apologized for their error,” Bowles wrote.
She explained that she failed to consider a ban on spending money on her campaign at the time.”
In his letter, he adds, he found no evidence that Stefansson’s campaign intentionally violated the rules.
As such, he decided it would not be in the public interest to prosecute the Prime Minister over the violation. Instead, the Bulls issued an official warning to Stefansson.
“The early start of an aspirant’s leadership campaign may have resulted in a benefit for that candidate and I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to ignore this violation of legislation,” his statement read.
In his official warning to Stefansson, Bowles said it is the responsibility of leaders and their campaigns to be aware of the rules that guide electoral spending.
Jordan Sisson, Stefansson’s campaign manager, reiterated that the breach was not intentional.
A statement from Sisson on Friday reads: “Premier/MLA Stefanson has already apologized for the unintended error.”
Sisson said the $1,800 cost was related to the August 18, 2021 event at the Waverley Heights Community Center, where Stefanson announced her intention to run for PC leadership.
NDP MLA Malaya Marcelino accused Stefansson of failing to follow rules “everyone adheres”. She cited the prime minister’s failure to disclose $31 million in personal property sales as an example.
“The people of Manitoba are putting their political leaders at a higher level,” Marcelino said. “It is clear that Prime Minister Stefansson cannot meet this limit.”