Mayor Sam Katz says he will meet with Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger to discuss the creation of an ethics commissioner for the City of Winnipeg.
In 2009, city council passed a motion to create an ethics commissioner position. But before that position was established, councillors, the mayor and city officials said changes to provincial legislation were needed.
The province disagrees. Late Wednesday, a government spokesperson provided CBC News with a 2009 letter to Katz, saying the city already had the authority to create an ethics commissioner position under the City of Winnipeg charter and therefore did not need approval from the province.
The spokesperson said there was no follow-up from the city after that letter was sent.
Dave Angus, president of Winnipeg's Chamber of Commerce, told CBC News earlier on Wednesday that having an ethics commissioner is the only way to restore public confidence in city hall.
And it's up to Katz to take responsibility and leadership in that regard, he said.
"He is the mayor, and right now this is the biggest issue facing our city," Angus said. "In sports, when a coach loses the room it's the beginning of the end of the team. We've lost the room here in Winnipeg. We need to resurrect that trust."
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Coun. Jenny Gerbasi asked Katz at Wednesday's council meeting to approach the province and speak to the newly-appointed provincial minister responsible for the city, Kevin Chief.
"Given this hopefully new chapter in city-provincial relations, maybe this dialogue can begin again and revisit that issue," she said.
"Will you, as the mayor, champion this issue to the province that we will create a meaningful ethics commission with teeth and powers that we need the province to give us?"
Katz, who said he would look into it, expressed hope the province would reconsider.
"We've asked the province on many occasions to move forward on that legislation and they have declined," he said.
"I will probably go back directly to the premier and I'd be certainly happy to ask once again and see if maybe there will be a change of heart."
Documents to be made public, lawyers called on
Council also decided that all documents related to the fire hall land deal will be made public.
“We really need to go further in restoring the trust of the public here,” said Coun. Ross Eadie.
But not all councilors thought revealing the documents was the right way to do it.
Coun. Justin Swandel stormed out of the vote, saying, “This is more for publicity, and it could cause harm to others, and I don’t want to be part of that harm so I am going to leave the floor until this is done.”
Councillors also voted to have another legal review done of the land deals, despite the Ernst and Young report finding nothing illegal occurred.
“If anything illegal occurred, we are going to find out from an outside legal source,” said Coun. Dan Vandal.
No support for whistleblowers
Currently, no member of the public or anyone else for that matter, has a neutral place to go at the municipal level if there are concerns or complaints, Angus said.
"How do you complain to the people you're complaining against?" he said.
Others that would be well-served with an ethics commissioner are businesses that rely on government contracts. At present, they are reluctant to come forward, Angus said.
"When you deal with government, and you rely upon government contracts, it becomes difficult for businesses to be a whistleblower," he said.
Angus said the need for an ethics commission has increased "dramatically" under Mayor Sam Katz.
"We do lip service to [being] open and transparent but it needs to be demonstrable. There needs to be measures in place that give the people … confidence that they're going to be treated fairly."
Gerbasi once again raised the issue of questionable ethics at city hall this past spring during the municipal golf course debate.
'In sports, when a coach loses the room it's the beginning of the end of the team. We've lost the room here in Winnipeg. '- Dave Angus, Chamber of Commerce president
Newspaper and billboard ads showed up around the city, claiming to be from a group called "Responsible Winnipeg."
The ads, which many believed to be from a citizen group, urged people to email their councillors and demand they vote to "get out of the golf business."
It turned out the $90,000 ad campaign was paid for by the City of Winnipeg, ahead of a May 29 council vote on the issue of privatizing municipal golf courses.
Gerbasi, at the time, said she was outraged and called it an apparent pressure tactic to get the public on the city's side ahead of the vote.
Coun. Paula Havixbeck at the time called the ad a misuse of taxpayer dollars, while Coun. Ross Eadie accused Katz and deputy mayor Russ Wyatt of promoting their personal opinions through the communications budget.
"It's baffling and there's a lot of questions that should be answered about whether this is ethical, whether this is appropriate, how much it's costing," Gerbasi said at the time.
"It's not as if there's some unanimous message that council wants to get across to the public," she added. "This is a political exercise with public money to convince, to put pressure on councillors to vote a certain way."
Manitoba government's 2009 letter to city
Below is the letter from the Manitoba government, dated Aug. 19, 2009, that said the City of Winnipeg already had the authority to create an ethics commissioner position and therefore did not need approval from the province: