Federal government says Winnipeg Airports Authority can't speak on its behalf

The Winnipeg Airports Authority delayed a vote at Winnipeg's city council after it sent a request to move a dispute on development at Polo Park to the provincial municipal board, saying it was doing so "in the name of the government of Canada." But the government of Canada say the WAA can't speak on its behalf.

Statement from Transport Canada casts doubt on WAA's ability to force Polo Park dispute to municipal board

Transport Canada says the Winnipeg Airports Authority 'is not an agent of the Crown.' (John Einarson/CBC)

Transport Canada says the Winnipeg Airports Authority "cannot speak on the government of Canada's behalf" in a dispute between the airport and developers who want to build residential housing at Polo Park mall.

That appears to be a contradiction from assertions the airports authority made to Winnipeg's city council earlier this week.

The controversy is centred on changing a planning framework known as the Airport Vicinity Protection Area, which restricts residential development around the James Armstrong Richardson International Airport.

It pits the potential of hundreds of millions of dollars in development versus the 24-hour-a-day takeoff and landing status at the airport and its valuable cargo business.

Cadillac Fairview, the owner of CF Polo Park, and Winnipeg's Shindico Realty and Towers Realty Group, want to build apartment buildings around the mall.

On Tuesday, the WAA sent a letter to council asking for the matter to be referred to the provincial municipal board, invoking the name of the government of Canada in the request.

"In the name of the government of Canada, WAA objects to the proposed Bylaw No. 48/2019 to amend the Airport Vicinity Protection Area Secondary Plan Bylaw No. 6378/94 to redesignate from Area I to Area II the lands bounded by St. Matthews Avenue, Empress Street, Portage Avenue and St. James Street," the WAA wrote in its letter.

Under the Winnipeg charter, such a referral can only be made by a municipality, the board of a planning district adjacent to the area, or the governments of Canada or Manitoba.

The move by the WAA prompted council to delay any decision on the matter for a month, as the city's legal department asked for time to figure out if the federal government had actually given legal authority to the Winnipeg Airports Authority to make an objection to the proposed bylaw.

Letters on the side of a mall spell 'CF Polo Park.'
Developers call WAA's efforts 'delay tactics' with no authority from the federal government. (John Einarson/CBC )

A statement to CBC News from Transport Canada says the "the government of Canada has not taken a position on the matter currently being disputed between the Winnipeg Airports Authority and the City of Winnipeg. The Winnipeg Airports Authority is not an agent of the Crown and, therefore, cannot speak on the government of Canada's behalf concerning the City of Winnipeg's proposed bylaw."

A spokesperson for the WAA says it wasn't "speaking" for the federal government, just making the request "in the name" of the government of Canada.

"WAA is not suggesting we are an agent of the Crown or that we speak on behalf of the government of Canada. As such, there is nothing of surprise in the letter from the government of Canada," said the statement from the airports authority.

The WAA operates under a long-term ground lease with Transport Canada for the land at the airport.

The general counsel for Shindico Reality says the WAA's moves are an attempt to stall the development without a legal basis to do it.

"We're disappointed the airport chose to delay this process without having the authority to do so, and we look forward to this matter proceeding to council at the next meeting," said Justin Zarnowski.

A spokesperson for mayor Brian Bowman said "our office will wait for an update from the public service before providing comment."