Winnipeg to hire real-estate transaction watchdog

The City of Winnipeg is looking for an independent contractor to ensure municipal real-estate transactions are open, transparent and fair.

Job posting for independent fairness commissioner flows from 2014 real-estate audit

The aborted sale of the city-owned surface parking lot known as Parcel Four was rapped by a 2014 audit because the full valuation of the property was kept from city council and information about the property was provided to one prospective buyer. The city is now poised to hire an independent fairness commissioner to eyeball municipal real-estate transactions. (Neil Carleton/CBC)

The City of Winnipeg is looking for an independent contractor to ensure municipal real-estate transactions are open, transparent and fair.

The city has issued request for proposals for a fairness commissioner to review and comment upon city real-estate purchases, sales, leases, exchanges and expropriations.

The job posting comes nearly two and a half years after council voted to create the position of independent fairness commissioner to restore confidence in city's real-estate practices.

In July 2014, an EY audit of 33 major city real-estate transactions identified numerous problems with major transactions, including the purchase of the former Canada Post building, the sale of the Winnipeg Square Parkade and former Canad Inns Stadium site, the aborted sale of downtown surface-parking lot Parcel Four and the land transfer known as the Parker land swap.

That audit determined the city bought the former Canada Post building in 2009 without obtaining an independent appraisal or seriously considering anywhere else to serve as the new home for Winnipeg's police headquarters.

The real-estate audit also concluded information about the Canad Inns Stadium site, Winnipeg Square Parkade and Parcel Four was provided to some prospective buyers but not others. The audit also found city officials kept higher valuations of both the parkade and Parcel Four from elected officials.

The audit also concluded the 2009 Parker land swap was conducted without proper appraisals as a "rush job," an Osborne Village car wash was expropriated in its entirety for no documented reason and long-term leases were renewed at two Main Street office buildings without considering the long-term financial impact.

The 2014 real-estate audit also found the city failed to conduct appraisals of the unserviced Parker lands (above) before it engaged in a swap with a private developer who owned serviced land at the former Fort Rouge Yards. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)
Council voted on July 9, 2014 to create an independent fairness commissioner who would report to the city auditor, but didn't approve the hire until September 28 of this year.

According to the request for proposals, the commissioner would review the sale of city properties with a transaction price of more than $500,000 or are sold anywhere more than five per cent below their appraised values. The commissioner would also review sales made without a public offer, at a non-market rate or below market value to a non-profit organization.

The commissioner would also look at all land exchanges and any city land purchase above $100,000 or outside of a council-approved project.

Land expropriations involving compensation above $25,000, long-term leases worth more than $1 million and "encroachments of a commercial or unusual nature" would also be reviewed.

The commissioner will be expected to report to council on these transactions as well as a random sample of other city real-estate city transactions. The prospective contract has a one-year term, with options to renew for four one-year extensions.

About the Author

Bartley Kives

Reporter, CBC Manitoba

Reporter 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. His work has also appeared in publications such as the Guardian and Explore magazine.