Winnipeg committee OKs report recommending snow-clearing status quo

A Winnipeg council committee has approved a city report that recommends sticking with private contractors for most of the city's snow-clearing work, but not without a lot of debate on the issue.

Recent city administration report said current model most cost-effective option

A Winnipeg council committee has approved a city report that recommends sticking with private contractors for most of the city's snow-clearing work 1:50

A Winnipeg council committee has approved a city report that recommends sticking with private contractors for most of the city's snow-clearing work.

The public works committee approved the city administration report on Tuesday, following hours of debate among councillors and between private operators and the union that represents many city employees. The report now goes to the city's executive policy committee. If approved there, it goes to council as a whole.
A report released Friday by City of Winnipeg administration said the current model of snow clearing, using mostly private contractors, is the best option on the table for a variety of reasons. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

The city report recommends staying with the current division of labour — private contractors doing 80 per cent of snow-clearing work, with city employees responsible for 20 per cent.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees, the city's largest union, wanted public workers to take over a greater percentage of the work. It released its own report a week ago, saying its members could clean the streets much better and at a lower cost than private contractors.

As the committee met on Tuesday morning, Mynarski Coun. Ross Eadie said he wanted the city report sent back to administration to figure out a way for public workers to take over a greater percentage of the work.

Eadie suggested city crews should take on at least one-third of the work.

But private contractors represented by the Manitoba Heavy Construction Association blasted CUPE's numbers, telling the public works committee the union's report is "fundamentally flawed" and "should be dismissed."

"They do, in our opinion, [a] disservice to the notion of frank public policy discussion," association president Chris Lorenc said of the union's recommendations.

"If implemented, they would harm the best interests of Winnipeg taxpayers, who would bear the entire burden of some of the recommendations that they make."

The city administration report, which was released on Friday, said the current 80-20 split is the most cost-effective and efficient model.

The report also said maintenance costs would be high if the city bought its own snow removal equipment.

Councillors disagree

But Eadie disagreed with that math and calculated the city would save $1 million by using more public workers, which would help offset a subsidy given to private companies for equipment purchases.

"Our Winnipeg public service is telling us that it is better to pay the private sector's equipment bill instead of paying for city equipment to save money. This weird decision might make sense if we were saving money on private-sector construction contracts, but the city continues to pay more for construction contracts every year," he said in a written statement.

Coun. Janice Lukes, chair of the public works committee, agrees with the administration's assessment that the current 80-20 split is best, adding that Winnipeg's plowing strategies go beyond what other cities provide in terms of snow removal services.

"We have a very, very broad range. In many other cities … they do not do sidewalks, they do not do residential — we do it all," she said.

Still, Lukes admitted that the volume of complaints flowing into 311 about damage left by plows, public or private, should be brought down.

"I think what has jumped out at me is really the role of the supervisors and the inspectors," Lukes said.

"We have to make sure that they are doing their jobs, because it appears there are some quality control issues."

Lukes said she plans to work with Take Pride Winnipeg to find volunteers to clear windrows for elderly and disabled people.

Eadie said while he supports CUPE's position, it's a shame that all sides couldn't come together to study the issue as a group.


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