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Friday, August 28, 2009

Gary Doer's ethics cabinet

It was all he could do to keep from laughing out loud.

But Gary Doer was laughing up his sleeve every minute of it.

The time: Jan. 30, 2001
The occasion: Manitoba's Standing Committee on Privileges and Elections

The NDP was taking another opportunity to humiliate and torture the Tories over the scandal that cost the Conservatives the 1999 election.

Leading the hectoring was Steve Ashton, then the Minister of Highways, who took aim at what he called the win-at-all costs school of ethics.

I want to ask some questions that directly follow from some of the aspects we have seen in the last number of years in terms of elections, sort of, if one was to describe it, the lack of ethics that seems to have characterized the Conservative Party's approach in both the '95 and the '99 elections...

There was a cover-up engineered by senior PC Party officials of that specific incident. I think we are going to be asking today some questions as to whether there was a cover-up on a further matter, in this case the overexpenditure by the Conservative Party in the 1995 election.

Monnin was very clear. I mean, he referenced specific cover-ups by senior PC Party officials in regard to the running of the three candidates in Dauphin, Interlake and Swan River, and I guess I think it stretches credibility to suggest that it was somehow an honest mistake made by a party that managed to lose all of its records in a warehouse as part of the cover-up during the Monnin inquiry, records that were then found, and then were found to have exceeded the limit by more than $13,000.

Gary Doer must have been chewing his lower lip to control himself. Even as he listened to Ashton's tirade, Doer knew that the NDP was guilty of even worse.

They had cheated the public treasury of $76,000 in the 1999 election campaign and probably an equal amount in 1995. In fact, their election fraud scheme had been operating for almost 15 years, raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars illegally.

The refunds were put in a slush fund to be used secretly on the next campaign. After all, there would be no need to account for it to Elections Manitoba since it wasn't donated by anyone, except the duped taxpayer.

The fraud scheme run by his election team, which included Dave Chomiak as co-chairman, was started under Doer's predecessor Howard Pawley, then continued under Doer's watch.

Unions donated workers to the NDP and the party paid their salaries during the campaign. The unions then kicked back the exact amount of those salaries to the party, so that the cost of union help was zero. But the NDP insiders handling election finances would claim the union workers as paid help on their final election returns, and the party would collect partial reimbursement from the public trough.

I think the obvious questions have to be asked about the degree to which the overspending was, according to the Leader of the Opposition, a misunderstanding when everything else related to the financial statements in that election involved cover-up, deception, dishonesty. You know, the words that I used are understatements relative to what has happened.

We have the Conservative Party, and I mean this has got to be the ultimate oxymoron, sort of a Conservative Party code of ethics. We see a situation where they have been caught, their fingers in the cookie jar again. It has been demonstrated that they had a whole pattern of cover-up in this particular place. Now, what do we find in terms of the public of Manitoba? The Conservative Party says, oh, it was a mistake.

The violation of the elections law in 1995 cost the taxpayers of Manitoba money. It was not just the question of the Conservatives spending more money than they were supposed to. It cost taxpayers for the investigation. Let us not forget these investigations, whether they be in Interlake or the Monnin inquiry, have cost taxpayers a lot of money. When it came to the Leader of the Opposition, clearly his party having ducked this one because of the statute of limitations, he basically said, well, it was a misunderstanding, it was a mistake and that is the end of it.

The NDP fraud was finally uncovered by an Elections Manitoba audit in 2001, the same year as this committee meeting. But it wasn't raised in the Legislature until this year, 2009. The NDP continues to dispute the findings of the forensic auditor who red-flagged the practice in 2001 and who was removed from the file at the insistence of the NDP. It was an honest mistake, a difference of interpretation of the law, Gary Doer told the Legislature over and over again.

I want to ask the Chief Electoral Officer how we can develop a system that can bring people responsible for this kind of cover-up, this kind of obstruction of the democratic process, to account, because we are faced in a situation here where we have the statute of limitations on the one hand and the new Leader of the Conservative Party, who, and I have to take him at his word as a member of the Legislature, says he was not involved in the specific transactions, was part of the campaign.

How do we get some accountability for this kind of action? By the way, I want to put on the record, this was no misunderstanding. A party that lost all of its electoral records in a warehouse as part of a cover-up is quite capable of trying to cover up what in this case was a clear violation of The Elections Act in overspending.

They have twice since failed the test in terms of electoral ethics. I want to know if they do not learn the lesson internally how we make sure we have a better system that can bring the people responsible for this kind of, I believe, deliberate obstruction of the democratic process and deliberate overspending to justice.

Doer, Ashton, Chomiak and rest of the NDP caucus have refused calls for a public inquiry into the 1999 election fraud.

But in 2001, Gary Doer couldn't resist getting into the fun.

My concern is, and when you read your report that is before this committee today, the '99 report, on page 55, the last sentence: "there was a cover-up engineered by senior PC party officials" and on the top of page 56, "that the PC party comptroller caused a false statement to be filed with Elections Manitoba contrary to Sec. 81 and 83(b) of The Elections Finances Act."

Then if you look at the review you find that on the one hand there was a cover-up and the materials and statements were not available and on the other hand the overspending, contrary to the act, that took place of $13,600 was not eligible for prosecution because of the time limits. Now it seems to me an act that was criminal, or certainly contrary to the law, illegal act as cited on page 55 and page 56, allows for a time for a separation from the '95 election by a cover-up, and then the Conservative party is therefore not subject to a prosecution because of time limits.

So, on the one hand, there was illegal activity in terms of the cover-up engineered. There was a breach of the laws in terms of the overexpenditures dealing with the $13,000, but the one act of the cover-up contributes to a lack of prosecution on the other illegal act. Then I read legal advice about the time limits. It seems to me, if somebody does not follow the laws in terms of disclosure, how then can a time limit let somebody off on breaking another law based on a technicality?

That to me is counter-intuitive to what the Legislature is trying to do with the public, what we are trying to do with each other, what society really believes, that justice should not only be pursued but be perceived to be pursued, and so the inescapable logic of the two conclusions of breaking the illegal act is if the one act contributed to the other act not being prosecuted.

So, in other words, one prosecution did not proceed because of another situation. If the records were available fully to you properly and legally in '95, '96, then the issue and I guess my question is this issue of the overexpenditure then would be on the public record and therefore subject to the prosecutions pursuant to the act. Would it not, Mr. Balasko?

The NDP stalled the investigation of the 1999 fraud for 2 1/2 years, then struck a secret deal with Balasko to pay back the money. The payback went on the public record---in an obscure mention in an obscure public document released three days before the 2003 provincial election.

But I am just wondering to the Chief Electoral Officer,... how we can put much faith into a system whereby the people that have been responsible for the breach of ethics not just on the one issue but here time and time again are then going to be again in the position of investigating, in this case making one phone call-this is the new Leader of the Opposition-and then saying: Oh, well, it was a misunderstanding; there was a mistake.

How can we have any faith in that sort of process and how can we restore some faith, because quite frankly when we have a situation like we have here, where once again, the Conservative Party, not only breached any sense of ethics, to my mind they broke the law.

Chief Electoral Officer Richard Balasko sang one tune in 2001 and quite another this year.

I am sure that everybody shares the common goal that the election law is upheld and that people who break the law are brought to account, and I have not heard anyone say anything other to me about that.

When the scandal broke this spring, Balasko said he was never interested in going after the party insiders who altered the NDP's election records. He was only concerned that the agents who signed the papers, not knowing they had been altered, did the right thing and signed corrected financial statements that could be put in the record.

And for the record, 13 NDP election candidates were informed in 2003 that their official financial statements were phony. Greg Selinger, the Finance Minister, was one of them, and he kept the secret for six years. Another one was Nancy Allan, who now holds the Labour portfolio.

Ashton, Selinger, and Allan are on the pundits' list of potential candidates to replace Gary Doer as leader of the NDP and Premier of Manitoba.

To understand Gary Doer's sudden recollection of the promise he made to himself to leave politics after 10 years, read this story in The Black Rod:

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