An online fundraiser by the losing candidate in the 2021 Manitoba Progressive Conservative leadership race did not violate any financing rules, elections commissioner Bill Bowles has ruled.
Bowles released his findings Tuesday on a complaint filed against Shelly Glover, who lost her bid to become leader of the governing Tories by a razor-thin margin to Heather Stefanson. Glover garnered 49 per cent of party members’ votes to Stefanson’s 51 per cent.
Glover challenged the results in court and launched an online fundraising campaign that raised roughly $45,000 for her legal fees. Her court application, which alleged voting irregularities, was unsuccessful as the judge ruled Glover did not provide evidence of any irregularities that might have affected the outcome.
Darren Penner, a longtime party member, filed a complaint with the elections commissioner, alleging that Glover’s GoFundMe page should be subject to rules that govern leadership campaigns – individual donation limits, a ban on donations from outside the province and disclosure of the names of donors who give more than $250.
Bowles rejected the argument and ruled that donations for a legal challenge are not subject to leadership-race rules under the existing provincial law.
“If it were otherwise, the practical effect would be to make it virtually impossible for candidates to challenge a leadership contest result,” Bowles wrote in his response to Penner.
“Your letter raised concerns about a lack of transparency if the donations made for the litigation were not reported and so not made public. Even if those concerns are legitimate ones, the (Election Financing Act) simply doesn’t make provision for legal proceedings arising from a leadership contest, and Elections Manitoba therefore has no authority to require disclosure of donations related to such litigation.”
Penner was disappointed.
“What they’re saying is that you can raise money for a legal challenge of a political party and not be subject to any donation rules that are required for every other aspect of the political process,” he said.
Penner said he’s also concerned that the lack of rules could allow someone in the future to raise money for a legal challenge and use some of the cash to pay leadership campaign expenses.
Penner is hoping the law will be changed so that rules are applied to fundraising for legal challenges of political contests.
Glover denied any wrongdoing from the start, and said she acted after receiving advice from Elections Manitoba.