Manitoba

Mayor's cabinet calls for public inquiry in wake of Winnipeg police HQ 'secret commission'

A motion calling on the province to hold a public inquiry into the Winnipeg police headquarters renovation project has been passed unanimously by Mayor Brian Bowman's cabinet.

Move comes after CBC investigative stories on breach-of-trust allegations against former CAO

A motion calling on the province to hold a public inquiry into the Winnipeg police headquarters renovation project has been passed unanimously by Mayor Brian Bowman's cabinet. 2:11

A formal request for a public inquiry into business at city hall is one step closer to being in the hands of the provincial government.

Mayor Brian Bowman's Executive Policy Committee unanimously passed a motion Wednesday calling on the province to hold a formal commission.

Bowman called the need for the inquiry "absolutely critical to public interest.".

The motion comes after a series of CBC investigative stories about breach-of-trust allegations against former Winnipeg CAO Phil Sheegl in connection to the new Winnipeg Police Service headquarters.

Mayor Brian Bowman says a public inquiry into decision-making at city hall is needed to restore public trust. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)
"The allegations that have recently become public are very damaging to public trust in city hall, and we need to restore that public trust and a public inquiry will help us achieve that," said Bowman.

The RCMP allege Sheegl was given a $200,000 "secret commission" by the owner of Caspian Construction for showing him favour in awarding the contract to transform a former Canada Post complex into the new Winnipeg Police Service headquarters. 

The Mounties are investigating whether Sheegl shared the money with the city's former mayor, according to an affidavit presented to a judge in 2016.

No charges have been laid and the allegations have yet to be proven in court.

Bowman's motion asks the Manitoba government "to conduct a broad systemic examination of all processes and procedures affecting the conduct of business between elected officials and senior public service members employed by the city and parties with whom the city may conduct business."

"The city is limited and restricted in its ability to conduct broad, systemic reviews, and a public inquiry is the single, most effective tool available to determine facts that can then assist us in strengthening and improving city processes and procedures at the City of Winnipeg," Bowman said.

"The ongoing RCMP investigation, as well as the many different audits already undertaken, does not broadly examine decision-making and other actions that led to and affected a number of significant civic projects of public interest.

"Many questions remain regarding the disclosure of results of such decision-making and activities, and a public inquiry can help determine these answers and help us improve our processes here at city hall."

Inquiry scope won't conclude criminal or civil liability

The motion passed Wednesday stops short of allowing the inquiry to recommend criminal charges or other legal action. 

Bowman calls the motion "step one" and told reporters the motion sought to avoid conflict with the current ​investigation into the police headquarters project.

"We are introducing this motion when there is an ongoing RCMP investigation and we are not specifically asking the province to initiate it at any particular timeframe," Bowman said.

Bowman was careful to leave the request general enough to give the province some flexibility in its decision. A statement last month from Attorney General Heather Stefanson was noncommittal.

 "While our government understands the concerns raised by the mayor of Winnipeg, it would be premature for the attorney general of Manitoba to comment on an issue that remains under active criminal investigation. This is vital to ensure the integrity of the process‎." 

Bowman, however, was resolute about the need for the commission.

"I for one would like it [to be] as exhaustive as possible; to look at all departments of the City of Winnipeg, any and all third parties and elected members," Bowman said. There are many instances across Canada where police investigations have taken place while there are active public inquiries, he said. 

Winnipeg's police headquarters opened in June. The purchase of the former Canada Post building and its renovation has cost $214 million to date. (CBC)

'Not elected to maintain status quo'

As convinced as he is for the need for a formal inquiry, Bowman acknowledged there are some that don't want one.

"My perception is, there are individuals and interests that are quite comfortable with the status quo, and I was not elected to maintain the status quo. I was elected to clean up some of the matters we are talking about. My mandate from Winnipeggers was crystal clear — introduce changes that can restore trust and faith at city hall," Bowman told reporters.

When pressed, Bowman would not elaborate on whether the pushback was coming from construction firms, the development community or former or current employees. But he said his office has certainly "heard that there are some people are not happy with a call for a public inquiry." He said he would not point fingers or name names in public.

Bowman was pressed for examples of what his administration has done since several damning audits pointed out proper practices weren't followed in several cases. No city employees have been terminated, although former acting CAO Deepak Joshi resigned in 2015 after he lost the mayor's confidence and was suspended. 

Bowman defended his record on making changes saying he'd hired a new CAO, created the role of integrity commissioner and started a lobbyist registry. Bowman said a public inquiry is the best way to get many questions answered.

"An inquiry cannot be used as a means to investigate and determine the criminal responsibility of specific individuals for specific offences," said a statement from the Progressive Conservative government Wednesday. 

The attorney general of Manitoba will not be commenting while this issue remains under active criminal investigation," it added. "As this issue requires, we will ensure appropriate and full consideration within the parameters of all applicable departmental processes and policies."

The motion calling for the public inquiry will now go to a vote at city council next Wednesday.