Manitoba

Provincial government wants independent review of Winnipeg's finances

The Manitoba government says it wants to help the City of Winnipeg find cost savings.

Premier offers to help rein in Winnipeg's expenses in ongoing dispute with city hall

Premier Brian Pallister speaks with reporters after announcing his government would like to help the City of Winnipeg find cost savings. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

The Manitoba government wants to help the City of Winnipeg find cost savings.

Premier Brian Pallister said his government would offer an independent review of the city's fiscal performance during an address to a crowd of business leaders on Friday morning.

He said city hall should be as committed to reining in spending as his colleagues on Broadway.

"I think there's a real opportunity here for the city to benefit from the tremendous work that the team has done at the legislature in terms of getting better value for money," Pallister told reporters after speaking at a Manitoba Chambers of Commerce breakfast at the RBC Convention Centre in Winnipeg.

City workers under scrutiny

Manitoba is willing to help finance the review with the city, but Pallister wouldn't say how much his government might offer.  

The premier said he plans to include Winnipeg in the province's review of how construction projects are approved and inspected, after hearing industry members complaints about delays.

The provincial government also wants to investigate the conduct of Winnipeg inspections staff, who have been accused of shopping and conducting personal business while on the job. (Submitted)

The undertaking would also include an evaluation of the city's planning department, after allegations recently arose of city building inspectors conducting personal business on the taxpayers' dime. The city is already conducting its own investigation.

Further, the premier said, the province is willing to share the expert advice it's received on cutting expenses and make it available to city hall, if Winnipeg wants it. 

"We paid millions of dollars for the studies," Pallister said. "We think the city would really enjoy having the chance to take advantage of the material."

City should be eager: Pallister

Despite an obvious rift between the two governments on their spending priorities, the premier expects the city to be a willing partner in these reviews and offers of advice.

"I'm not anticipating any reluctance," Pallister said. "Look, the mayor is doing the best he can, with the experience he has, with the situation that he is managing.

"We certainly think that this is a goodwill extension of an offer to assume costs the city won't have to assume, and to save money that the city won't have to spend unnecessarily and without good results for taxpayers."

In response, Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said he's asked for help cleaning up a mess he inherited when he came into office, but he's met inaction from the Progressive Conservatives.

"We've been pushing the broom with one hand behind our back," he said. 

Developers spearheading review: Bowman

He suggested the review into the city's planning department is being driven by developers, since the province's letter cited the concern of industry members. 

Bowman says he is open to an independent review of the city's fiscal performance, but he first wants a meeting with Pallister and for the province to commit to the public inquiry that city council asked for in 2017 to investigate the construction of Winnipeg's police headquarters and other matters. 

"Call a public inquiry before you call a provincial election," Bowman said.

The city has chided the province for weeks for its refusal to pay out $40 million for road renewal last year. The province says it's under no obligation to honour a funding commitment from the former New Democrat government. 

NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the province is overstepping its bounds by focusing on the city's fiscal performance, when it could be helping Winnipeg to fix potholes by providing more funding.

The Manitoba government and City of Winnipeg have been engaged in a protracted war of words over a $40-million hole in the city's road renewal budget. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Since Pallister was ushered into power in 2016, his government has strived to keep spending under control. 

The government is projecting a deficit of $360 million at the end of this fiscal year. The deficit exceeded $840 million when the NDP left office.

Read the province's letter explaining its offer to help:

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About the Author

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. He has previously worked for newspapers in Brandon and Steinbach. Story idea? Email: ian.froese@cbc.ca.

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