Winnipeg real estate audit: 5 questions councillors may ask

Winnipeg city councillors will get to ask detailed questions today about Ernst and Young's audit of the city's real estate transactions. Here are some of the things from the report that they might want to consider.
Winnipeg city councillors will get to ask detailed questions on Wednesday about Ernst and Young's audit of the city's real estate transactions. (Bert Savard/CBC)

How much information does a city councillor need before voting on an important decision?

That's one of the key questions arising from an audit of 33 Winnipeg property deals examined by consulting firm Ernst and Young (EY) in an extensive real estate management review report released last week.

In several cases, the consultants say councillors didn't get the full facts.

Those same councillors will finally get a chance on Wednesday to ask detailed questions about the audit.

Here are some of the things they might want to consider:

  1. Parcel 4 is the nondescript name given to a piece of land near The Forks that the city proposed selling in 2012 for a hotel and water park. There were two appraisals of the land value, one for $10 million and another for $5.9 million. The higher value of $10 million was not included in the report that civic administrators provided to councillors, EY said.
  2. When the city went to sell the Winnipeg Square parkade in 2009, there were several valuation reports prepared for the property, but one had a value much higher than the others. The value that was $20 million higher than the sale price was not included in the administrative report, EY found.
  3. Councillors might also want to find out why they weren't told by the administration that the real estate broker advising the city on the sale of the parkade subsequently represented the buyer in the transaction, according to EY's review.
  4. Councillors might also want to consider why memories appear to be relatively short at city hall.  The city's own real estate audit report from 14 years ago scrutinized leasing the historic office building at 457 Main St. — the Confederation Life Building — and warned that a long-term lease for it was costing more than it should. Then, the EY report said the city later renegotiated the lease too early, incurring $1.2 million in extra rent, and never negotiated a cancellation clause on what would be another 25-year lease.
  5. A final question might go to representatives of the consulting firm themselves, who will be present at Wednesday's council meeting. Councillors may want to know why the firm chose not to interview some key players: former city chief administrative officer Phil Sheegl, who resigned last October, and Shindico Realty president and CEO Sandy Shindleman, whose firm was involved in several transactions examined by the review.

There are many more questions that could be asked. The EY report is 192 pages long and the consulting firm offers 17 specific recommendations.

You can read the full report below.