Mayor says he remains confident in CAO Doug McNeil

Mayor Brian Bowman says he remains confident in the abilities of his chief administrative officer in the wake of concerns about the city's handling of the Sterling Lyon Parkway extension.

Closed-door council seminar on Sterling Lyon Parkway extension planned for Monday

Mayor Brian Bowman said he remains confident in Winnipeg's CAO. (John Einarson/CBC)

Mayor Brian Bowman says he remains confident in the abilities of his chief administrative officer in the wake of concerns about the city's handling of the Sterling Lyon Parkway extension.

City council has placed the western extension of the roadway on hold due to opposition from area residents who were angered the proposed route — which would result in property expropriations — was not one of three potential alignments presented to the public.

In October, chief administrative officer Doug McNeil said he was surprised by the new route, which he said was never reviewed by senior administrators.

A confidential briefing note obtained by CBC News through a freedom-of-information request revealed McNeil was informed about the route in November 2016, when former Winnipeg public works director Lester Deane told him about the need to expropriate properties and advised the city go public with the information or risk breeding mistrust among property owners living south of Wilkes Avenue.

McNeil said that briefing note failed to make it clear the route had changed and also said he was not sure whether he ever read attachments to the briefing note, which included a drawing of the impacted properties.

The disclosure of the briefing note led Coun. Janice Lukes (South Winnipeg-St. Norbert) to request an emergency closed-door meeting of city council to discuss the performance of the CAO.

"We have the CAO saying to council … that he did not know about this. And yet we see this in the report that he did. How am I going to make decisions on any report that I get, going forward?" asked Lukes, who previously questioned the CAO's abilities the wake of the collapse of a $20-million city lawsuit over problems at Winnipeg's water treatment plant.

Coun. Russ Wyatt, who has previously called upon McNeil to resign, is also calling for the CAO to be suspended with pay, while Coun. Marty Morantz (Charleswood-Tuxedo-Whyte Ridge) plans to call for an audit of the Sterling Lyon Parkway project.

Mayor Brian Bowman said Friday that while legitimate questions have been raised about the Sterling Lyon Parkway extension, he continues to trust McNeil.

"When he tells members of council that he was surprised, I think the majority of members of council take him at his word," Bowman said in an interview in his office.

"Right now, questions are obviously just being raised about who knew what, when. That's why Coun. Morantz has called for an internal audit. It's something I'll be supporting. I understand it's also being welcomed by our CAO."

On Monday, councillors plan to question McNeil during a closed-door council seminar. This is a less formal form of gathering than a special meeting of council, as no voting takes place at council seminars.

Winnipeg CAO Doug McNeil says while he received a briefing note about Sterling Lyon Parkway expropriations in 2016, he was not made aware the proposed route had changed. (John Einarson/CBC)

In addition to the briefing note obtained by CBC News, Wilkes South resident David Ames obtained email correspondence between McNeil and public works engineer Scott Suderman that references some aspect of the Sterling Lyon Parkway project that had yet to be made public in April 2017.

In this email, McNeil states "the public has yet to see the concept" and authorizes Suderman to engage in public consultations.

On Friday, McNeil said this correspondence did not pertain to the roadway alignment, which he maintains he did not learn about until this fall.

 ​"The email exchange between myself and Lester Deane in April of 2017 was directly in reference to Varsity View Community Centre and their concerns related to the redevelopment. They were specifically concerned with the intersection of Ridgewood Avenue and the William R. Clement Parkway and their alignments and how much land they would lose," McNeil said in a statement.

"As I have said before, I was not aware of the fourth option regarding the Sterling Lyon Parkway until it was brought to my attention this fall following meetings with landowners in the area."

Mayor's office: 'cease & desist'

Ames also obtained an email that shows the mayor's office asked the public works department to place public consultations about the William Clement Parkway and Sterling Lyon Parkway extensions on hold in 2015.

"I have been given official notification from the [chief operating officer] that the mayor's office has directed us to cease and desist regarding the open houses for the study," former public works director Brad Sacher told Suderman in July 2015.

Bowman said while his office has had conversations with city officials about the timing of public consultations, he denied his office is directing those consultations.


Bartley Kives

Senior reporter, CBC Manitoba

Bartley Kives joined CBC Manitoba in 2016. Prior to that, he spent three years at the Winnipeg Sun and 18 at the Winnipeg Free Press, writing about politics, music, food and outdoor recreation. He's the author of the Canadian bestseller A Daytripper's Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada's Undiscovered Province and co-author of both Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg and Stuck In The Middle 2: Defining Views of Manitoba.