Winnipeg golf course privatization plan OK'd by committee

A proposal to privatize City of Winnipeg golf courses has been approved by a committee, while controversy continues to surround a taxpayer-funded campaign promoting the plan.
City of Winnipeg faces more questions about advertising it has put out to convince councillors to vote in favour of privatizing city-run golf courses. 1:49

A proposal to privatize City of Winnipeg golf courses has been approved by a council committee, while controversy continues to surround a taxpayer-funded campaign promoting the plan.

A recommendation by city officials to lease four golf courses to GolfNorth Properties Inc., as well as sell the John Blumberg Golf Course, was unanimously approved by members of the alternate service delivery committee on Friday afternoon.

The plan will next be evaluated by council's executive policy committee next week. If it passes, it will face council as a whole for a final vote on May 29.

Ontario-based GolfNorth has expressed interest in running the Kildonan Park, Windsor Park, Crescent Drive and Harbour View golf courses, according to the city.

The company, owned by former BlackBerry CEO Jim Balsillie, would pay the city $100,000 to $150,000 annually for 20 years under the arrangement. And the city would still own the land.

In exchange, GolfNorth would operate the courses, invest about $4 million, and keep almost all the profit it makes.

Campaign 'unethical,' says critic

Meanwhile, Winnipeggers are still weighing in on a $90,000 campaign urging people to lobby their councillors to approve the golf course proposal.

A half-page, full-colour newspaper advertisement on Thursday, along with ads on transit buses and other locations, claimed to be from a group called "Responsible Winnipeg."

While it looked like a citizen group was behind the ad, it turned out the campaign was a city-backed initiative, paid for by the Office of Policy Development and Communications.

However, the advertisements that appeared on Thursday showed no visible references to the fact that the city had produced and paid for them.

"To put out an ad, to put out a website, to put out an entire campaign under the guise of an independent organization called Responsible Winnipeg, when it's really the City of Winnipeg, is deceptive and indeed unethical," said Ron Mazur of OURS Winnipeg, a group calling on the city to protect its green spaces.

"The problem is endemic to this administration, the Katz administration, in terms of a lack of transparency, a lack of openness and a lack of consultation."

Mazur said his group has been stymied in its attempts to be consulted on the golf course plan, and members will appear before city council to fight against it.

Billboard spotted at mayor's baseball park

On Friday morning, a billboard from Responsible Winnipeg appeared at Shaw Park, which is operated by Mayor Sam Katz and his management group. Katz owns the Winnipeg Goldeyes baseball team, which plays in the park.

A spokesperson for the mayor told CBC News the billboard was placed at the baseball park in error, and it has since been removed.

Yesterday, Katz told reporters it was a mistake that the City of Winnipeg's logo was left off the newspaper ad.

But Mynarski Coun. Ross Eadie said he doesn't buy the mayor's office's claims that the billboard and the missing newspaper ad logo were both mistakes.

"We have an error in the newspaper [and] the sign at the Goldeyes' stadium there. How many errors are there?" Eadie said.

"Like, this is a big monetary campaign. How come so many mistakes are being made? I think it's intentional."

Eadie added that spending taxpayers' money on an advertising buy going to the mayor's private business is an ethical lapse.

Officials with Direct Focus, the agency in charge of ad buys for the Responsible Winnipeg campaign, did not return calls seeking comment on Friday.

Deputy mayor Russ Wyatt said he approved the campaign copy, along with Katz and the city's chief administrative officer. He said Winnipeggers can expect to see more ads from Responsible Winnipeg.