The Manitoba Liberals are calling for an investigation after alleging the Progressive Conservative government asked employees to spend time on the party’s re-election campaign during work hours.
The employment contract for two people cited in emails referring to the alleged directives — Michael Kowalson, former director of stakeholder relations, and Jordan Sisson, who is now the premier’s chief of staff — said they cannot be involved in a political campaign without the permission of their superiors.
The Liberals did not provide evidence that permission wasn’t granted, but emails from 2019, which the party obtained through a freedom of information request, appear to show government employees were told to assist with partisan efforts.
In one, an employee suggests another individual, which the Liberals identified as a northern Manitoba government employee, become a “direct resource” for two party candidates and, in another, an employee is seemingly dismayed a candidate is failing to identify the party’s vote while knocking on doors.
These emails were sent a few months before the 2019 election was called, which was won by the Progressive Conservatives.
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said the content of the emails are suspicious.
“They’re directing people who are working for government to go work on campaigns and using government resources to do so, doing it on government time,” Lamont said.
He wants the auditor general and public service commission to investigate if these employees broke the rules by allegedly working on partisan activities during work time.
One of those employees is Michael Kowalson, who was ordered to remit some of his salary by then-premier Brian Pallister after the Liberals exposed he was being paid to run the 2019 federal election campaign of Conservative candidate Marty Morantz while continuing to work for Pallister’s government.
Helping federal campaign a ‘mistake:’ province
The provincial government responded on Wednesday by stating Kowalson shouldn’t have assisted on a federal campaign while being employed provincially, but said it was “unaware of the alleged directives” of improper partisan activities that Lamont is claiming.
“As the Manitoba Liberals know, Mr. Kowalson no longer works for the government, has apologized and since paid back the money earned during the time he also spent working on a federal campaign. It was a mistake, and it shouldn’t have happened,” Deputy Premier Cliff Cullen said in a prepared statement.
“As a result, the Chief of Staff has issued directives to staff outlining the rules of conduct for Executive Council employees to ensure all protocols are followed.”
Kowalson is still part of Progressive Conservatives circles. The Tories confirmed he is working for the party as a consultant in the role of chief executive officer. He’s also on the transition team “as we look to reform our party.”
The PC Party said he declined to comment for this story.
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