Elections Manitoba sinks in NDP's rebate scandal quicksand
Gary Doer painted a bullseye on himself Wednesday afternoon.
Then he gave the Opposition all the ammo it needs to shoot holes through his vaunted teflon reputation for personal integrity.
Opposition Leader Hugh McFadyen asked Doer a simple question five times during Question Period: who told you?
Doer has said he learned in 2001 that the NDP falsified election expenses in 1999, to trigger unwarranted rebates from the public purse. But he refuses to give so much as a hint to when and how he was told. Five times he was asked, and five times he refused to answer.
However, his deliberate silence on the issue constitutes an answer in itself.
Gary Doer, the Premier of Manitoba, is obviously protecting someone.
More to the point, he protecting himself.
Because if the truth comes out, the electorate will see the Premier is a co-conspirator in the cover-up of a major election fraud, and is likely the instigator of a campaign of harassment and intimidation of the forensic auditor who uncovered the scheme in the first place.
And it gets worse.
The timeline tells the story.
Using testimony from Chief Electoral Officer Richard Balasko plus memos and letters on file at Elections Manitoba we've been able to reconstruct the basic elements of the election finances scandal that's engulfing the NDP.
* In the spring of 2000, Manitoba's political parties filed their annual returns, including their financial statements for the 1999 provincial election.
"So some time later that spring of 2000 there would've been work under inspection and audit authorities on the transactions, which would then, over time, once that progressed, if there was a basis for an investigation, as there was in this case, then would've proceeded to investigation, but that would've taken some time." Balasko told the Legislative Committee this year.
And take some time it did. Forensic auditor David Asselstine uncovered the organized scheme by the NDP to submit falsified election returns to Elections Manitoba in order to get rebates worth $76,000 for the 1999 election. The NDP was not happy, and a memo in the Elections Manitoba files, dated Oct. 2, 2001, states that the party secretary Tom Milne was complaining about Asselstine's tactics and threatening that the NDP would make sure he never made another cent from the government.
Note the date.
Gary Doer never misses an opportunity to say that the NDP cooperated with Elections Manitoba and refiled their election finances once "an accounting error" was identified. But here we see that almost 18 months after the phony election returns were filed, the NDP was not only disputing the auditor's findings, but was threatening to punish him for investigating them.
We can safely say that Gary Doer had been informed prior to October, 2001---September at the very latest----that the forensic auditor had caught on to the NDP's scheme to defraud the public.
And can there be any doubt that he authorized the campaign of intimidation against David Asselstine.
That's what he's hiding by refusing to answer the simple question: Who told you?
* And as we dig further through the timeline, we see what else he's hiding.
The next reference to the scandal in the Elections Manitoba files which have been made public so far appears in a letter dated Sept. 9, 2002, from party secretary Tom Milne to Scott Gordon, an Elections Manitoba official. In the letter, Milne says he's taking Gordon's advice to put in writing his complaints that Asselstine is biased against the NDP and the insistence by the NDP that Asselstine have no part in auditing their 2001 annual report.
An excerpt from the Milne letter:
"It's become quite clear to the NDP that Mr. Asselstine is firmly of the view that the party has conducted itself improperly in that matter. Whether or not Mr. Asselstine's views result in charges being laid remains to be seen. However, it is clear that he believes that we have in some way, shape or form violated The Elections Act for the 1999 election. Accordingly, it would be inappropriate on the basis of a perception of bias to have Mr. Asselstine assigned to the review of our 2001 party annual return and we would ask that Elections Manitoba please assign someone else to that function."
Again, pay close attention to the date. September, 2002! We see that the NDP had been complaining about Asselstine for a year or longer.
And was now escalating its campaign against him by demanding he be removed from any dealings with them---because he caught them red-handed defrauding the public.
Remember this when Doer claims the NDP cooperated with Elections Manitoba.
Here's how Attorney General Dave Chomiak, himself a prime suspect in organizing and operating the fraud scheme, described the NDP's cooperation to reporters:
"We filed a return. When we found out Elections Manitoba had questioned it, we returned the money and refiled. End of story."
Can anyone believe that a low level NDP operative would approach Elections Manitoba to remove the auditor without approval in advance from the leader of the NDP, Gary Doer?
But you can believe that from here on in, the story gets even dirtier.
* Asselstine wrote to Elections Manitoba lawyer Blair Graham where he referenced this:
"On January 14, 2003, at the request of the CEO, I attended a meeting to discuss the apparent negotiations that you and the CEO were having with the Manitoba NDP concerning the findings of the investigation."
Kelvin Goertzen asked Balasko about that meeting.
"Can you indicate when those negotiations, as he describes them, would have begun with the NDP on this matter?
Mr. Balasko: Once again, thanks for the question, because I can put some context to it. I would not, myself, accept the word "negotiation;" that would be Mr. Asselstine's characterization of it. But I cannot comment on matters that were the subject of an investigation.
After demanding that Elections Manitoba remove the forensic auditor who uncovered the altered election finances scheme, the NDP and Elections Manitoba CEO Balasko enter negotiations, a term Balasko rejects but without saying what his private, behind the scenes talks with the NDP were about.
Did Balasko meet privately with the Progressive Conservative and Liberal Parties before charging their candidates for 1999 election finace infractions?
If not, then this alone is reason for a public inquiry.
* Note once again that these negotiations are taking place almost three years since the 1999 election returns were submitted to Elections Manitoba. How did the NDP cooperate with the investigation exactly?
We get a glimpse of that "cooperation" three months later.
On April 16, 2003, the NDP called a special meeting of 13 official election agents at NDP headquarters. This is the meeting attended by Finance Minister Greg Selinger, whose agent also filed a report containing falsified election expenses.
At this meeting the agents and candidates were told that they were in trouble with Elections Manitoba. This is the first time that the agents, including whistleblower Jim Treller, learned that the NDP's central auditor had falsified the election returns that they signed in good faith. Now they were being told that unless they amended those returns, they faced being charged by Elections Manitoba.
Note that the NDP was giving their agents the 'heads up.'
Just over a week later, April 15, 2003, Elections Manitoba formally wrote these same agents and candidates and told them about the infractions and that amended financial statements had to be submitted. But their letter to the agents and candidates contained a fascinating admission:
"We've been advised that it's possible that neither you nor your candidate were aware of this at the time form 922 was filed, as matters concerning the revision of some campaign workers was apparently handled through the central office of the NDP."
The reason this admission is so damning is that Richard Balasko has at all times insisted that Elections Manitoba holds the agents, and only the agents, accountable for the accuracy of the election financial statements provided. They sign the papers and they are responsible in law.
Yet here Balasko admits he knows its not their fault.
And did he mislead the Legislative Committee last month when he gave this answer:
"I wouldn't have a knowledge of how the NDP internally would've managed the returns. Our point is that returns are publicly filed with Elections Manitoba signed by the official agents, and that's where we begin our review, and at the end of the day when returns were refiled with Elections Manitoba, again, they were filed by the appropriate-signed, sorry, by the appropriate officer of the campaigns and the central political party. So, from our perspective, Mr. Goertzen, we're dealing with the return before us, the publicly disclosed return, which is signed by the appropriate officer."
But we know that Elections Manitoba never took the next obvious step, to prosecute the individuals who altered the financial statements and who tried to deceive Elections Manitoba into giving the NDP rebates they weren't entitled to.
Why? The answer may lie in the next stops on the timeline.
* On May 2, 2003, the NDP called an election. The vote was held June 3, 2003.
The NDP’s revised 1999 election finances reports were provided to Elections Manitoba on April 30, 2003. The law requires revised financial statements to be audited, but these were not.
The Opposition in Question Period asks why not? But Balasko has answered that questions in committee in 2008.
“In this case, the auditor had resigned between the time of the initial return and the audited return. So, in addition to that, our practice is to go back to the initial auditor to provide another opinion. The auditor was no longer on this file."
The NDP had been successful. They had achieved the removal of forensic auditor David Asselstine from their file before the 2003 election.
Was that part of the “negotiations” between Balasko and the NDP? And was it coincidence that the amended returns were provided two days before the election call?
Or should we call it what it obviously was---coordination between the NDP and Elections Manitoba.
* Our timeline ends with a final letter dated June 23, 2003, from Asselstine to Elections Manitoba lawyer Blair Graham in which the auditor writes:
"I understand both you and the CEO agree that the Manitoba NDP was not entitled to the public funds that they had received since the mid-1980s that were generated as part of what the Manitoba NDP now refer to as a long-standing practice."
There it sits, like the 500 pound gorilla in the corner of the room.
The Manitoba NDP "was not entitled to the public funds that they had received since the mid-1980s." The Chief Electoral Officer and his trusted legal advisor agree. The rebates were "generated as part of what the Manitoba NDP now refer to as a long-standing practice."
And Elections Manitoba turned a blind eye.
Gary Doer has not only tied himself into the long-standing election fraud and the attempt to intimidate and eventually remove the auditor who dared to reveal the fraud. He's also managed to entangle Elections Manitoba into the coverup of the scheme.
- They knew the NDP had been taking money illegally for more than a decade.
- They knew how they did it.
- They allowed the investigation to drag on for two and a half years, as Richard Balasko met privately, secretly, with NDP reps to decide how to handle the scandal.
- The forensic auditor was removed from the NDP file just as the NDP wanted.
- The NDP paid back the money they got for the 1999 election, but was allowed to keep the tens of thousands of dollars they got illegally for years earlier.
- Elections Manitoba withheld any news about the overpayment prior to the 2003 election.
They "publicized" the payback in a tiny note four days before Christmas when as few people as possible would notice it.
The Chief Elections Officer now deflects all questions by saying he's legally bound not to discuss investigations.
Now do you see why a public inquiry is imperative?
Since Dave Chomiak, the co-chairman of the NDP's 1999 election campaign and a prime suspect in the election fraud, maniacally blubbers "as many liars" at every opportunity, we'll give the final word to today to author Doug Smith, who wrote the book As Many Liars about the 1995 Manitoba vote-splitting scandal:
From Page 160-161:
NDP lawyer Mel Meyers had his guns trained on Elections Manitoba's chief Richard Balasko, who was the first witness to appear before the inquiry. Myers wanted to know why Elections Manitoba dropped the inquiry without answering the obvious question, how did Darryl Sutherland, a person with no visible means of support, contribute over $4000 to his own election campaign, more than any other candidate in the election contributed to his own or her own campaign.
In response to criticism from Myers, Balasko argued that Elections Manitoba had been crippled from the outset by a lack of authority. "The investigators," he said,"did a good job with the tools they had at the time. The decision on prosecution, however, is not one that we take lightly. A decision on prosecution is something that we consider very carefully. And we determine that based on facts. We laid the facts out clearly before two independent legal counsels,…I made the decision that no charges would be laid consistent with all that legal advice."
(Boy, that's almost word for word what he and the NDP say today….ed.)
In response, Myers said that Balasko should have gone to the government and asked it to convene an inquiry that had the requsite power to get to the bottom of the affair. Balasko said that this option was not considered at the time."
Ten years later, will Balasko get it right this time?