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Politics Unifor says Manitoba Tories’ claim of excess spending is false

Kelvin Goertzen, Manitoba Minister of Health, Seniors and Active Living responds to a reporter's questions during the Conferences of Provincial-Territorial Ministers of Health in Winnipeg, June 28, 2018.

JOHN WOODS/The Canadian Press

Manitoba Progressive Conservatives are accusing a union of breaking the spending limits for third parties in the provincial election, but the union says the accusation is false.

Kelvin Goertzen, a cabinet minister running for re-election in Steinbach, says Unifor has taken out at least seven billboards opposing the incumbent Tories, and has also produced brochures and bus-shelter ads.

Goertzen says he believes the cost of the union campaign exceeds the $25,000 spending limit under provincial law.

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The Tories have filed a written complaint with the provincial elections commissioner, in which they ask that Unifor be forced to pull its ads and be barred from any further election advertising.

Unifor’s regional director for Manitoba and Saskatchewan, Paul McKie, says the union is well aware of the spending limit and its campaign is below it.

Goertzen said his party has researched the costs of billboards and other advertising, and Unifor’s campaign seems expensive.

“At a time when free and fair elections are a concern in democracies around the world, we need to be vigilant when it comes to ours being undermined,” Goertzen said Friday.

The Unifor ad campaign targets Tory Leader Brian Pallister and includes the phrase “Don’t let Pallister wreck health care.” The Tories based their complaint on an estimate of what it would have cost them to rent similar billboards for the entire four-week campaign leading up to the Sept. 10 election.

“It’s not just the rental time that they’re there, but it’s also the production and the installation costs,” Goertzen said.

McKie said Goertzen and his Tory colleagues appeared desperate.

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“It’s a laughable distraction that the Tories are throwing out … and certainly it’s untrue,” McKie said.

“There’s a limit of $25,000 and we are under that limit.”

Under provincial law, any group that exceeds the third-party limits can be fined double the amount of their excess spending plus an additional $50,000.

Goertzen said fines after the fact are not enough, and the ads should be pulled immediately.

“If they are exceeding the limit, it can really have an impact on elections. And the ability to solve that and to have a recourse for that is simply a fine after … votes may have already been influenced.”

Provincial elections commissioner Bill Bowles does not comment on complaints or ongoing investigations.

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