Coun. Marty Morantz to call audit into Sterling Lyon Parkway extension

A Winnipeg councillor plans to call for an audit of a project that would see a freeway run through a southwest neighbourhood. The announcement comes hours CBC News revealed senior city staff was told of plans to partly or fully expropriate nearly 100 homes as part of that project one year earlier than previously thought.

Briefing note said city CAO was told about expropriations in 2016, 1 year earlier than previously thought

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

The Winnipeg city councillor for Charleswood-Tuxedo plans to call for an audit of a project that would have seen a freeway run through a semi-rural neighbourhood south of Wilkes Avenue.

Mayor Brian Bowman said Thursday that Coun. Marty Morantz will call for a project audit of the extension of the William Clement Parkway and Sterling Lyon Parkway. 

Bowman made this statement after CBC News revealed senior city staff were told of plans one year earlier than previously thought to partly or fully expropriate nearly 100 homes as part of that project.

On Thursday morning, CBC News reported details from confidential briefing notes that show former public works director Lester Deane told current chief administrative officer Doug McNeil about plans to expropriate properties in the fall of 2016.

Some or all of 92 homes and buildings affected were in the way of extensions proposed for the Sterling Lyon Parkway and William Clement Parkway.

Property owners were notified of plans to expropriate homes this fall. Several homeowners located south of Wilkes Avenue were concerned about a freeway running through their properties.

Winnipeg CAO Doug McNeil says while he received a briefing note about Sterling Lyon Parkway expropriations in 2016, he was not made aware the proposed route had changed. (John Einarson/CBC)

Homeowners were also upset by the announcement because the project design was different from three other options made public in January 2016. The uproar led city council to place the western extension of Sterling Lyon on hold.

At the time, McNeil and Morantz said they only learned about the plans as of October 2017, but briefing notes dated Nov. 28, 2016, show Deane urged McNeil to reveal expropriation plans to the public as soon as possible. The note also suggests Morantz was "kept in the loop" on the project.

On Thursday, Coun. Janice Lukes (South Winnipeg-St. Norbert) said she has "grave and serious concerns" about McNeil as CAO in light of the CBC News story. She called for an emergency, in-camera, closed-door council meeting on Friday to discuss McNeil's performance, in light of the Sterling Lyon Parkway extension.

South Winnipeg-St. Norbert Coun. Janice Lukes says she has 'grave' concerns about city CAO Doug McNeil's performance. (CBC)

"We have the CAO saying to council, giving information to council that he did not know about this. And yet we see this in the report that he did. How am I going to make decisions on any report that I get, going forward?" she said in an interview.

"I and members of council have questions that must be answered to determine if the CAO should remain in his position."

Bowman said Morantz will call for an audit of the Sterling Lyon project at the next executive policy council meeting, in January 2018.

In the mean time, Bowman said McNeil will hold a council seminar to address those concerns. Council seminars are more informal than the in camera meeting Lukes had hoped for — council can't vote on the performance of senior staff at seminars.

Past criticism of McNeil

Councillors have been critical of McNeil before.

In September of this year, the city lost out on a chance to recover $20 million in a lawsuit over Winnipeg's water-treatment plant because of a missed deadline to take legal action. Lukes and others tabled a motion to in October demanding accountability and asked for a review of where things went wrong under McNeil's watch.

Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt called on McNeil, who has run the city's public service since 2015, to resign in March. He cited accountability concerns and the CAO's involvement in city real-estate deals, among other issues.

It isn't clear whether Bowman will grant Lukes' request for an emergency meeting.

The city wants to extend Sterling Lyon Parkway as a means of easing traffic on Wilkes Avenue.

A confidential briefing note obtained by CBC News casts doubt on claims that senior city officials didn't know about a plan to run a freeway through a southwest Winnipeg neighbourhood. 3:33

With files from Bartley Kives