WINNIPEG – Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger has been cleared of any wrongdoing in an election campaign promise involving the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets.
A report from Commissioner of Elections Bill Bowles, obtained by The Canadian Press on Wednesday, rejects a complaint from the Liberal Party that Selinger broke the law by making a government announcement in the middle of a campaign.
“It appears … the After School Matters program was nothing more than a campaign promise. It was not a program or activity of a government department,” Bowles wrote.
“Even if this were a government program, there was no publication or advertisement by a government department … no government employees or other resources were used.”
Selinger found himself on the defensive on Sept 16, 2011, when he announced an after-school program for inner-city youth in conjunction with the Jets’ charitable foundation.
The press release made no mention of the election campaign, which was well underway, and made no indication that the program was merely a promise. Instead, it referred to “Premier Greg Selinger” and said he “announced a new partnership … to support at-risk high school students in Manitoba.”
The wording in the press release painted the program as a fait accompli, touting it as something that “will provide apprenticeship and mentoring opportunities.”
The Liberals complained that the announcement violated Section 56 (1) of the Elections Finances Act, which says no government “shall publish or advertise any information about its programs or activities in the last 90 days before polling day, and on polling day” except in the case of an emergency such as a flood or forest fire.
Bowles ruled that because the press release and news conference were done with NDP staff and volunteers — not government workers — there was no violation.
Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard was not pleased.
“I’m disappointed in the result, but I think at this point, we have to accept it,” he said.
“Hopefully, governments in the future will be very careful about this so they are clearly making promises and not talking about programs.”
Selinger, meanwhile, was happy.
“We’re just pleased that we’ve been cleared so we can get on with this program and … create a lot of opportunities for young children and youth.”
The NDP have already been found guilty of one violation of election law in the 2011 campaign. Last year, Bowles ruled the NDP was wrong to organize a media tour of a new birthing centre in south Winnipeg just days before launching the campaign.
In that case, government workers were used to help Health Minister Theresa Oswald highlight the new facility, Bowles ruled. But he also said the violation was inadvertent and the NDP suffered no penalty.
Selinger said at the time his government accepted “full responsibility” for the breach, but did not hand out any consequences to Oswald or others.