2 Winnipeg councillors want city to renew call for inquiry into construction projects, real estate deals

Two city councillors want to renew a call on the province to launch a public inquiry into Winnipeg construction projects, procurement processes and real estate transactions.

Couns. Russ Wyatt (Transcona) and Ross Eadie (Mynarski) want their council colleagues to join them in asking the provincial government to launch an inquiry looking into the Winnipeg police headquarters, major real estate transactions flagged in a 2014 city-commissioned audit and other construction projects, including the expansion of the downtown RBC Convention Centre.

They also want an inquiry to examine rules governing conflict of interest and the disclosure of assets for elected officials and senior public servants, as well as business transactions between them.

Such an inquiry is “critical to the public interest” in order to uncover facts that “are not attainable using existing powers available to the city,” the councillors say in a notice of motion published on Friday.

In the notice, Wyatt and Eadie envision an inquiry that would not draw any conclusions about civil or criminal liability.

“An inquiry means that people can come forward and not be subject to civil action,” Eadie said Friday in an interview.

Wyatt declined an interview request.

City considering settlement

Their motion arrives as the city is poised to approve a $21.5-million settlement with most of the defendants in its lawsuits over fraud and deficiencies related to the construction of Winnipeg’s downtown police headquarters.

That project was a subject of two audits published in 2014 and a five-year RCMP investigation that concluded without charges in 2019.

The city’s civil action over the police headquarters project also led a judge to conclude in 2022 that former Winnipeg chief administrative officer Phil Sheegl received a $327,200 bribe from contractor Armik Babakhanians.

In January, Sheegl sought to have the decision, which ordered him to pay the city more than $1 million, overturned. Both he and city are now awaiting a decision from the Manitoba Court of Appeal.

Council will vote on a proposed settlement with the remaining defendants in the police headquarters lawsuits on March 23.

Former mayor Brian Bowman said this week the settlement proposal makes it even more important for the province to call a public inquiry, noting there will not be a full court hearing if it’s approved by council.

Bowman led a 2017 council effort to call on the province to launch an inquiry and repeated that call several times. Former premier Brian Pallister refused to launch an inquiry, initially citing the fact RCMP were still investigating the police headquarters and later because civil action was underway.

Pallister’s successor, Heather Stefanson, has also rejected an inquiry on the basis civil action is still underway.

A red commercial building rises above a field of weeds.
The sale of the former Canad Inns Stadium site was among the real estate transactions examined by a city audit. (Cliff Simpson/CBC)

Winnipeg’s 2014 city real estate audit examined five transactions in detail: the Parker land swap, the sale of the former Canad Inns Stadium site, the sale of Winnipeg Square Parkade, the aborted sale of downtown surface parking lot Parcel 4 and the purchase of the former Canada Post office and warehouse complex that was converted into the police headquarters.

Eadie said Wyatt chose to add the RBC Convention Centre expansion to the scope of an inquiry because there are weight restrictions in the main auditorium.

The councillors’ motion will come before council at its March 23 meeting.

Mayor Scott Gillingham’s office did not immediately respond to a question as to whether he would support the motion.

Gillingham supported council’s previous inquiry motion. This week, the mayor said he remains open to an inquiry but is concerned about the prospects of jeopardizing Winnipeg’s proposed police headquarters settlement.

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