Manitoba elections commissioner investigating concerns around Tory membership sales

·2 min read

WINNIPEG — Manitoba's elections commissioner is investigating sales of Progressive Conservative memberships during the party's leadership race.

The Opposition New Democrats have filed a complaint about social media posts last month that offered to buy $20 memberships for people who would support Ken Lee. The offer was later changed to an interest-free 100-year loan, but then deleted.

The NDP said both offers violated the Election Financing Act, which says memberships count as contributions to a political party and people can only make contributions with their own money.

While there is no evidence that any Tory official was connected to the financial offers, NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the party would still benefit from any wrongful membership sales.

"That means that the PC Party of Manitoba could be sitting on tens of thousands of dollars, and thousands of memberships, that it knows are wrong," Kinew said Thursday. He based his math on media reports that said Lee sold well over the 1,000-membership minimum required to enter the race.

"We are calling on the PC Party of Manitoba today to announce explicitly that they will reject all of these fraudulent memberships and return all of the money."

It's not clear how many memberships may have been sold using the offers of subsidies or loans. The party had encouraged people to buy memberships on its website with their own credit cards.

Lee, who opposed COVID-19 public health orders and was supported by members of the People's Party of Canada, was barred from running by the Tories. No reason was given.

The leadership contest is between former health minister Heather Stefanson and former Conservative member of Parliament Shelly Glover. Party members are to select the new leader and premier on Oct. 30 by mail-in ballot. The winner will become Manitoba's first female premier.

Party spokesman Keith Stewart said the Tories called in the elections commissioner when they found out about the financial aid offers last month.

"We filed a complaint ourselves with Elections (Manitoba) on Sept. 22, asking them to investigate and providing all the information we had," Stewart wrote in a statement.

"The leadership election committee has no jurisdiction to make a ruling on the legality of this situation but, despite that, it is not prepared to condone or accept that type of behaviour," he said.

"We have sent this matter to our credentials committee to deal with the individuals that we have been able to identify as being involved in this matter. We have recommended ... that these individuals be removed as members."

Stewart also said the Tories have faced an unprecedented number of membership applications that are still being vetted, and that preliminary numbers show more than 23,000 people eligible to vote for the next leader.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 7, 2021

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press

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