Dougald Lamont raised concerns about Conflict of Interest with respect to Conservative MLAs who own apartment buildings and are voting on a bill to give financial benefits to apartment owners. Dougald's questions and the Premier's responses are below.
Bills Before the Legislature - Members' Conflict of Interest
Mr. Dougald Lamont (Leader of the Second Opposition): Madam Speaker, we know from the Conflict of Interest Commissioner that Manitoba has the lowest standards for conflict of interest in Canada. They have not been updated since 1985.
As a new MLA, I was told that I should–if I should face a vote on a matter of conflict of interest, I should declare it and recuse myself.
Bill 12, the red tape reduction act, includes a clause that weakens the rights of tenants to appeal rent increases. For a landlord to vote in favour of undermining tenants' rights is a self-evident conflict of interest, and we know that specific ministers own apartments because they declared it on their conflict of interest forms.
Will the Premier instruct his Cabinet and caucus to follow the rules, weak though they are, and to refrain from voting on bills like Bill 12 in which they have a declared conflict?
Hon. Brian Pallister (Premier): The member is right and he's wrong in the same preamble, which is typically a Liberal trait.
He's right in the fact that we do need to upgrade our conflict of interest standards in Manitoba, that they have been neglected for a long time, and he's correct in that assertion. I hope all members of the House will engage together in that exercise over the next while and we can come up with something that won't lead to false or misleading accusations like the second part of his question.
When issues are a broad application, when they apply to thousands of Manitobans, a farmer, for example, is not in a conflict of interest for voting on a piece of legislation that impacts agriculture generally, and he has highlighted a case which does not apply in terms of the present or likely future conflict of interest rules of any kind.
Madam Speaker: The honourable Leader of the Second Opposition, on a supplementary question.
Mr. Dougald Lamont (Leader of the Second Opposition): Well, that speaks to the weakness of the conflict of interest rules, Madam Speaker.
Madam Speaker, the Legislative Affairs Committee met with one item on the agenda this summer: reappointing the current Conflict of Interest Commissioner who has recommended 83 changes to update Manitoba's conflict legislation. The meeting was called in the middle of summer. It was chaired by the current Justice Minister. But the reappointment of the commissioner came with a hitch. The government wasn't appointing the commissioner for three years, they left in a loophole where they could fire him.
Madam Speaker, Manitoba needs an independent Conflict of Interest Commissioner, a watchdog with bark and bite, and central to being independent is security of tenure so that that watchdog is free to speak without the threat of dismissal hanging over his head.
Will the Premier commit to reappointing the Conflict of Interest Commissioner to his full three‑year term without conditions and without delay?
Hon. Brian Pallister (Premier): I had previously committed to reviewing the act and the legislation will be reviewed with all members of this House entitled, as well as the general public, to participate in such a process.
But I reiterate, the member for Elmwood (Mr. Maloway), for example, has ownership in an insurance brokerage and is not in any way, shape or form in a conflict in voting on a piece of legislation affecting, broadly, the insurance industry. The member for Minto (Mr. Swan) is a lawyer and he is not restricted in any way, shape or form from voting on legislation impacting all lawyers.
So the member's assertion is a false one and he'll need to regroup and research to prepare a better preamble next time.
Madam Speaker: The honourable Leader of the Second Opposition, on a final supplementary.
Members' Conflict of Interest
Mr. Dougald Lamont (Leader of the Second Opposition): Madam Speaker, Bill 12 is one of many bills that has impacts related to conflict of interest. The BITSA bill also makes cuts specifically for small businesses or, more technically, Canadian‑controlled private corporations, to be able to save $7,000.
I will point out again, as the First Minister has mentioned, a number of MLAs and ministers own corporations such as these. While this proposal is being presented as defending small businesses, some such corporations employ no one and some don't even have revenue.
For example, Madam Speaker, it is a misconception that the Premier owns personal vacation property in Costa Rica. He owns a corporation with no revenue that owns his property.
What the purpose of a 'corpuration' without revenue would be is one of the great mysteries of modern capitalism, Madam Speaker, but the Premier's conflict of interest declaration is opaque. It does include a family trust–[interjection]
Madam Speaker: Order.
Mr. Lamont: –and other businesses.
So my question is whether any of the Premier's business holdings stand to benefit from this tax break and, if so, he will refrain from voting on it.
Hon. Brian Pallister (Premier): I've referenced to other members of the House, Madam Speaker, there are many who have involvement or have had involvement in various occupations and various backgrounds of various kinds. They are not disqualified in any way, shape or form from voting on issues of broad application.
I'm not sure of the member's employment background or history. This, perhaps, is his first full‑time job. But the fact remains that he–neither is he restricted in any way, shape or form from voting on such legislation.
I should also note that his attempt, veiled as it was, Madam Speaker, to go after small-business people is a parallel to Ottawa-east's strategy of going after the small-business people–[interjection]
Madam Speaker: Order.
Mr. Pallister: –of our country. [interjection]
Madam Speaker: Order.
Mr. Pallister: And I would encourage him to depart from Ottawa-east policies just once and support our call to have fair tax structures nationally, as we do provincially, for small-business people. They are, after all, Madam Speaker, the engine of Manitoba's growth.