Manitoba

Sterling Lyon Parkway audit clears Winnipeg CAO Doug McNeil, Coun. Marty Morantz

An audit of the Sterling Lyon Parkway extension blames public works officials for the public furor over the stalled project — and largely exonerates Winnipeg's top civil servant and the area councillor.

City auditor says officials in charge of the project should have been more clear about changes to the route

The Sterling Lyon Parkway extension is on hold. An audit blames officials for failing to make changes to the route more clear. (CBC)

An audit of the Sterling Lyon Parkway extension blames public works officials for the public furor over the stalled project — and largely exonerates Winnipeg's top civil servant and the area councillor.

In 2017, city council placed the proposed extension of the southwest Winnipeg road on hold after people living south of Wilkes Avenue objected to the preferred route, which would have run a new regional road through the semi-rural neighbourhood.

Angry residents complained they were not informed of changes to the route, which would have resulted in dozens of expropriations.

Coun. Marty Morantz (Charleswood-Tuxedo), who represents the area and chaired council's public works department at the time, called it a "rogue route" and claimed public works officials failed to keep him in the loop about the changes.

Winnipeg chief administrative officer Doug McNeil also said he was kept in the dark, despite receiving a briefing note one year earlier that included the new route among several attachments to the document.

Reports 'did not sufficiently describe' changes

In an audit published Thursday, City Auditor Bryan Mansky blames public works officials responsible for the Sterling Lyon Parkway extension for the communication failures with council, senior city officials and the public. 

"The reports for this project did not sufficiently describe the material changes to the project scope. Internal communications through a briefing note should ensure risks in a project are clearly communicated and highlighted," Mansky wrote in the summary.

"Critical information related to changes from what had been previously presented to the public resulting in material impacts to a new group of citizens should have been highlighted to ensure decision makers are clearly aware of all critical information."

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. The auditor says there is no evidence he knew. (John Einarson/CBC)

The audit states both Winnipeg's public-engagement office and private consulting firm WSP did what was asked of them on the project, which underwent a series of changes since its conception.

Since 2015, the city has been looking at several ways to better align Sterling Lyon with Wilkes Avenue and carry more motor vehicles between the South Tuxedo area and the Perimeter Highway. This is part of a broader plan to extend the William Clement Parkway south of Grant Avenue to complete another chunk of an inner ring road originally envisioned in the 1950s.

As part of the planning effort, the city contracted WSP to study three Sterling Lyon-Wilkes connections: one along Wilkes Avenue, a second a few hundred metres south of Wilkes and a third much farther south.

The city then pursued a modified version of the second option — which was the basis for the Wilkes South residents' complaints. 

Coun. Marty Morantz said while a 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. The auditor said there is no evidence he knew. (John Einarson/CBC)

Mansky does rap the city for failing to change the name of the project from the William Clement Parkway extension when the Sterling Lyon Parkway extension was added to the project's scope.

That meant it was probable fewer people living south of Wilkes Avenue paid attention to the project, he wrote.

"The name used in the public engagement materials focused on [the William Clement Parkway] and likely contributed to less attention from residents in the [Sterling Lyon Parkway] affected area," the auditor states.

As for the more substantive issue surrounding the changes to the Sterling Lyon Parkway extension route, Mansky notes senior public works officials were aware of them more than a year before that plan was made public.

"The identification of the preferred route was known by the steering committee and project management team at least as early as May 2016 upon completion of the value engineering sessions," Mansky wrote.

Former Winnipeg public works director Lester Deane said in December CAO Doug McNeil's claim he wasn't aware of the final Sterling Lyon Parkway extension alignment "strains credibility." (Gary Solilak/CBC)

In late 2016, former Winnipeg public works director Lester Deane sent McNeil a briefing note, urging the CAO to make the new route public. The actual route was included in the attachments, but Mansky states Deane could have been more clear about the changes.

"In November 2016, a briefing note was submitted to seek approval from the CAO to move the project forward for public engagement, but the note stated that the functional options for the [Sterling Lyon Parkway] realignment had already been presented to the public, and that the possible property impacts for all options had been presented," Mansky wrote. 

"The briefing note did not identify that the recommended road alignment had been altered from the options presented at the first open house and would now impact a different set of property owners."

Deane, who resigned from the city last year, told CBC News on Thursday he is reviewing Mansky's audit. He has previously claimed McNeil was well aware of the changes.

Former public works director Lester Deane sent this confidential briefing note about the Sterling Lyon Parkway extension to CAO Doug McNeil on Nov. 28, 2016. McNeil said on Oct. 31, 2017 there was no internal communication about the route. (CBC)

Mansky does state McNeil and Morantz "were kept informed on the development of public engagement materials throughout the project as well as the revised project close-out plan developed in July 2017," but could not say whether the CAO or councillor knew about the changes.

"We were not able to obtain any conclusive evidence that either [McNeil or Morantz] was aware of the refinement of Conceptual Option 2 as the preferred option until October 2017," Mansky wrote. 

Audit includes 15 recommendations

Public engagement for the project was planned for late last year, but cancelled after consulting firm WSP applied for an environmental licence, a move that resulted in the province making the plans public before the city approached affected property owners.

Anger from those property owners fuelled a series of debates at council's public works committee and executive policy committee last fall. Public works engineer Scott Suderman resigned from his position with the city during this timeframe, as did fellow engineer Steven Chapman.

Morantz resigned from EPC this spring and no longer chairs public works committee.

The audit comes before council's executive policy committee on Wednesday. It includes 15 recommendations for improving the way projects are disclosed.

In a statement, Morantz thanked the auditor for "recommendations which should lead to improvements in how material matters are reported to elected officials and to the public."

McNeil said he was pleased the audit focused more on city processes than it did on assigning blame.

"This is not about any single individual. I've said on the floor of council there was a group of people overseeing this project and they made a collective decision to move ahead," McNeil said Thursday afternoon at Fort Garry Place.

South Winnipeg-St. Norbert Coun. Janice Lukes, who joined Morantz in calling for the audit, said she was not entirely satisfied.

"Coun. Morantz was set on determining how this could have happened. It doesn't really determine how it happened other than blaming a lack of communication," she said. "It would have been nice to have an external audit."
An audit of the Sterling Lyon Parkway extension blames public works officials for the public furor over the stalled project — and largely exonerates Winnipeg's top civil servant and the area councillor. 1:40

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.