Winnipeg mayor surprised province by lifting lid on $300M road-renewal deal
Province says it had no notice and was planning announcement; Bowman's office said it had to publish details
Mayor Brian Bowman surprised the provincial government when his office announced a road-renewal funding deal for Winnipeg.
On Friday, the mayor's office issued a statement about a tentative deal reached between three levels of government to top up Winnipeg road-renewal funding by a combined $300 million over the next five years.
Details of the deal were also published by the city on Friday as part of a report that comes before the mayor's office on Wednesday.
A spokesperson for Brian Pallister's Progressive Conservative government said these moves took Manitoba by surprise, as the province and Ottawa were preparing a separate announcement about the deal.
"The province was not given advance notice the mayor was issuing a news release Friday," provincial government spokesperson Caitlin MacGregor said via email on Saturday.
"We are very pleased we can deliver on this important infrastructure investment to improve the roads. Winnipeggers and other Manitobans use every day," McGregor said.
"There are processes around multi-level government announcements, but we expect more news in the near future."
Announcement was planned for this week
An announcement that was planned for this week may not have included Bowman, said a senior provincial official with knowledge of the file.
"We were trying to be scrupulously fair and not creating a platform for the mayor to take advantage of this," the official told CBC News.
"We are trying to be neutral for every municipal campaign, including the campaign for mayor of Winnipeg."
The federal government declined to comment on the timing of the mayor's announcement.
Joseph Pickerill, communications director for Manitoba cabinet minister Jim Carr, said in a statement Ottawa will have more to say "on this important project for Winnipeg" at a later date.
Details of the deal were published Friday to give city "councillors as much time as possible to review the material," Bowman communications director Jonathan Hildebrand said in a statement, adding the report was placed on the executive policy committee agenda as soon as it was ready.
Hildebrand said the report could have been held back and walked on to the EPC agenda next week, but that would have given councillors even less time to review the details.
"Its contents can not be kept secret in the same way provincial and federal cabinet papers and reports are kept secret," Hildebrand said, noting city council has to approve the deal before Ottawa signs off on it.
"To meet this federal requirement, the report must be made public through the city's approval process. There isn't a way to achieve EPC and council approval without the report publishing.
"We try repeatedly to explain to other levels of government that our approval processes are not the same as theirs, but it's challenging to explain the city report system when the only system they're familiar with is the parliamentary system."
City councillors were briefed about the deal in July during a closed-door council seminar.
The report about the road-renewal deal — and the mayor's press release — were made public hours before mayoral candidate Jenny Motkaluk made a road-construction promise of her own.
Motkaluk alleged the timing was no accident.
"Clearly the mayor is blurring the lines between his day job and his campaign announcements, while upstaging our valued partners in the federal and provincial governments in the process," Motkaluk said Sunday in a statement.
"Winnipeg has undoubtedly lost trust with our government partners by rushing out this announcement purely as a campaign stunt. There should be clear campaign blackout rules that deter this form of political grandstanding."
Members of council are permitted to carry out government business during election campaigns. New rules prevent members of council from announcing funding through a trio of mechanisms: the city's land-dedication reserve, community incentive grants and per capita grants.