Manitoba

Former public works director breaks silence, calls Sterling Lyon Parkway claims 'laughable'

Winnipeg's former public works director says he "found it laughable" to hear senior city officials describe a now-abandoned freeway plan as a "rogue route" devised in secret by engineers and a private consulting firm.

CAO, councillor say they weren't aware of proposed changes Lester Deane described in briefing note

Former public works director breaks silence, calls Sterling Lyon Parkway claims 'laughable'

5 years ago
Duration 2:23
Winnipeg's former public works director says he "found it laughable" to hear senior city officials describe a now-abandoned freeway plan as a "rogue route" devised in secret by engineers and a private consulting firm.

Winnipeg's former public works director says he "found it laughable" to hear senior city officials describe a now-abandoned freeway plan as a "rogue route" devised in secret by engineers and a private consulting firm.

In his first interview since he left the city in May, former public works director Lester Deane said he has trouble believing Winnipeg's chief administrative officer Doug McNeil and Coun. Marty Morantz were not aware of amendments made to a plan to extend Sterling Lyon Parkway until this fall.

In October, McNeil and Morantz (Charleswood-Tuxedo-Whyte Ridge) said they were surprised the freeway-extension route was different from three potential alignments presented to Wilkes South residents in early 2016.

Both officials stuck to their guns earlier this month when CBC News obtained a confidential briefing note about the parkway extension, authored by Deane and sent to McNeil in November 2016, which included drawings of the recommended route as well as a claim that Morantz was kept in the loop about the project.

McNeil, Morantz and Bowman have all described the alignment in question as a "rogue route" at some point, suggesting project manager Scott Suderman and consulting firm WSP failed to inform senior managers about changes to the parkway-extension plan.

Deane said the changes were made to reduce the number of property expropriations that would be required to extend Sterling Lyon Parkway through the Wilkes South neighbourhood — at the behest of the CAO's office.

Winnipeg chief administrative officer Doug McNeil said he did not read attachments to a briefing note sent by Lester Deane in November 2016. Those attachments included a drawing of the recommended Sterling Lyon Parkway extension route. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

"I want to be clear that any authorization to change the alignment was done so at the direction of the CAO's office," Deane said Thursday in an interview at his home in the R.M. of Cartier, contradicting the "rogue route" characterization.

"I found it laughable. There is no way an engineer in the employ of the City of Winnipeg would take it upon themselves to draw up some alternative alignment without some instruction to do so," said Deane, who worked for the City of Winnipeg for 13 years before his departure this May.

"Even further, no consulting firm working for the City of Winnipeg would undertake that work for free. They only would have done it after receiving direction."

Deane left the city in May, after McNeil stated the public works director did not meet expectations and also suggested Deane lacked political acumen.

Deane said he was not dismissed, but left on his own accord. He said although he signed a non-disclosure agreement with the city in August, he felt compelled to respond to claims made by McNeil about what he knew about the Sterling Lyon Parkway extension and when he knew it.

"I find it very hard to believe that Mr. McNeil did not read the [November 2016] briefing note or look at the attachments and didn't understand the ramifications of what we were providing," Deane said.

McNeil's office declined to comment.

"The CAO has already addressed questions surrounding this issue, and has nothing further to say," Winnipeg communications director Felicia Wiltshire said Thursday via email.

Coun. Marty Morantz said while a 2016 briefing note says he was 'kept in the loop' about the Sterling Lyon Parkway extension, he said he was not made aware the route had changed until this fall. (John Einarson/CBC)

Mayor Brian Bowman's office also declined to comment.

​"This is a discussion between a former employee and the chief administrative officer," Bowman communications director Jonathan Hildebrand said via email.

Deane also took issue with Morantz's assertion he too was unaware that the Sterling Lyon Parkway route had changed.

"I find that stretches credibility," said Deane, insisting Morantz was provided with the information. "Anybody who's been around knows Coun. Morantz took an interest in projects in his ward and all projects and insisted on seeing and vetting all the open-house material."

Morantz said Thursday this is not the case and he was not made aware of the recommended alignment for the Sterling Lyon Parkway extension until this October, when Wilkes South property owners were informed about the route.

"Any statement that suggests otherwise is simply false," Morantz said via email.

Mayor Brian Bowman said he remains confident in Winnipeg's CAO in the wake of the Sterling Lyon Parkway revelations. (John Einarson/CBC)

Deane said he is concerned about the departure of skilled engineers from the City of Winnipeg. Former transportation engineer Luis Escobar resigned in September, while Suderman and fellow transportation engineer Stephen Chapman, who worked on the reopening of Portage and Main, resigned in November​​​.

Deane said all three now work for private firms that do business with the city and thus can not speak critically about their former employer.

He said he loved working for the city but believed "McNeil was under pressure to, by either the mayor's office and/or Coun. Morantz, to replace me as the director of public works."

Deane said McNeil called him into a meeting in early May and told of his shortcomings.

"I told him, 'Doug, I don't want to hear this any more. You'll be hearing from my lawyer.' I walked out of that office and I never went back," he said.

Lester Deane said he left the City of Winnipeg and was not dismissed. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Deane said while the Portage and Main file was a source of conflict, he did not consider the Sterling Lyon Parkway extension a high priority.

"I thought it was more an academic exercise," he said, noting there were many other projects ahead of it in line for funding. 

Nonetheless, he said he urged McNeil to go public with the final freeway alignment in November 2016 to ensure property owners were aware of the route and reduce the cost of potential expropriations in the future.

"The last thing you want is to issue building permits and improving land that you require for a major route," he said, insisting he was trying to protect the city's interests. "Unimproved land is X dollars an acre. Once you put a building on it, it's 10 times X."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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.

now