Manitoba’s election watchdog investigating Manitoba NDP complaint over Tory ad

By | August 16, 2019

Manitoba’s election watchdog is investigating a complaint by the Manitoba NDP that the Progressive Conservatives violated election laws by using the premier’s office to film a party ad.

The scene is part of a folksy ad released by the Tories this month featuring leader Brian Pallister. The ad shows family home videos of Pallister and Pallister interacting with various people.

Pallister is seen in his office talking to several female Tory candidates for a couple seconds near the end of the ad. 

“This is deeply inappropriate, this is the premier using government resources for partisan reasons,” said NDP candidate Mark Wasyliw, who is running in Fort Garry-Riverview.

The Tories denied the accusation, calling the NDP’s complaint an effort to distract Manitobans “from their failed policies and lacklustre campaign.”

“No government resources were utilized in any manner and all rules were followed,” a spokesperson wrote in a prepared statement.

“Unlike the NDP who contravened the act by employing civil servant communications staff to invite media to the infamous Oswald birthing centre announcement.”

The party was referencing a 2012 decision by the Elections Commissioner that found the NDP broke pre-election rules when they used government staff to conduct a media tour of a new birthing centre in the blackout period prior to the 2011 election.

A complaint letter was sent to Manitoba’s commissioner of elections by the NDP, outlining their concerns with the advertisement, stating it is in violation of the Election Financing Act.

Using the premier’s office, which is located in the legislature, would constitute a “contribution” by government because it is government space, the NDP wrote to the commissioner on Aug. 8.

Under the act, a contribution can be money or “property or services provided free of charge.” The letter also points out that only individuals can contribute to a campaign, not an organization or government.

The commissioner of elections in Manitoba is an independent officer whose job is to ensure compliance and enforcement of the The Elections Act and Election Financing Act. 

 Wasyliw said the fact the clip is only a few seconds is irrelevant.

“That is like saying when you rob a store, but are only in the store for a second, it is not a big deal,” he said. 

Commissioner Bill Bowles wrote in an email statement that he does comment on investigations or confirm whether he is investigating a complaint.

In an email provided to CBC by the NDP, Bowles wrote that he has referred the matter to an investigator.

“(The investigator) may be in touch with you to obtain more details.  In any event, I will let you know as soon as the investigation is complete,” he wrote on Aug. 9.

After an investigation is complete, the investigator will write recommendations to Bowles. 

If the complaint is found to have merit, Bowles can choose to take no action, issue a formal caution, lay charges under the Act or enter a compliance agreement.