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What did Pallister know?

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18Aug

By Graham Lane
Winnipeg Sun, August 17, 2017

Blaine Pedersen, still a PC cabinet member after Pallister’s shuffle, recently engaged a lawyer to carry a message to family farmers dispossessed by Hydro’s BiPole lll expropriation. It suggested better terms were on offer. The only takers of that offer appear to be Pedersen’s own brothers. Ironically this came after a private member’s bill tabled by Steven Fletcher, which would have tightened up conflict of interest rules for MLAs, died on the order table.

Did Brian Pallister know Pedersen would give his brothers an opportunity to better their deal on the expropriation of their farmland? Did Pedersen oppose Fletcher’s bill when the PC caucus discussed an upgrade of conflict of interest law to cover MLAs’ families? Was Fletcher’s pursuit of tougher conflict of interest rules a factor in his turfing from the government party?
Pedersen, who is no more the Infrastructure minister, promoted a lawyer representing Manitoba’s largest power users at PUB hearings to suggest a better deal could be arranged for the farmers. Before the election, Pedersen opposed Hydro expropriating land to build Bipole III through the Red River Valley. After the election, the new government — with a seemingly mute Pedersen — allowed Hydro to plow through the prime farmland.

Pre-election, Pedersen promoted a landowners group to fight Selinger’s BiPole expropriation, but in power he now seeks to undermine it with his handpicked lawyer.

Was bullying Fletcher out of PC caucus, without even allowing him to go to bat for the group, done to gag him? To close the books on changing a weak conflict of interest law? Surely, Fletcher in caucus would have rung the alarm before Pedersen made his conflicted pitch.

Fletcher’s proposed bill, entitled The Conflict of Interest Act, never made it to second reading and a review by Legislative committee. Fletcher’s discarded Act provides much more protection from insider deals than the current Act. His bill would extend the prohibition to family members of MLAs gaining through MLA “insider” actions. Now, there is nothing to prevent gains by family members brought about by a MLA.

Avoiding perceived and actual conflicts of interest are of significant importance to the assurance of fair, workable and corruption-free provincial government. The provincial government is a major component of our Manitoba society. Not only do those who sit in cabinet and in the Legislature establish laws and manage a budget of $14 billion, but also control the policies and major actions of monopoly Crown enterprises. Accordingly, those who sit in the cabinet of the government should act in the public interest, and never for the financial gain of themselves or their extended family.

Pedersen’s questionable gambit follows four years of Hydro refusing financial fairness for BiPole afflicted family farmers. His brothers stand to gain if Hydro’s offer jumps. And why wouldn’t it — otherwise why bring in a new bargaining agent, one well known to government? An ugly spectre of conflict of interest yells out. But without Fletcher’s upgraded conflict of interest law. Why not?

The whole affair, from throwing farmers under the bus to handpicking legal help, potentially to benefit family, and thwarting enhanced conflict of interest legislation, suggests Pallister’s regime needs watching.

— Graham Lane leads Manitoba Forward (manitobaforward.ca).

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