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City crackdown on Jets freebies

Councillors would have to declare gifts

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Winnipeg will consider a crackdown on city politicians who get free tickets to Jets games and other events.

Mayor Sam Katz said Wednesday city council will work with the city clerk's office to develop a policy on accepting free tickets to events. Katz said he approached the clerk's office earlier this week after the provincial government announced it wants to stop cabinet ministers and senior bureaucrats from accepting complimentary tickets to Jets games.

Members of city council have to declare gifts over $250, but there is no formal policy that governs whether they can accept free tickets to an event. City documents show Katz was the only member of council to declare a gift worth more than $250 last year -- a membership in the Manitoba Club received in 2004 that has never been used.

"As a result of everything that's been discussed, we're looking at putting some procedures in place," Katz said, following Wednesday morning's executive policy committee meeting. "What they're going to, be I have no idea. As you know, at city hall we have a very open and transparent way of doing things, so it will go through a process."

Katz said a formal policy will come before council's governance committee in the near future and he would like it to be broad enough that it covers "as much territory" as possible.

It's unclear whether the policy will include the use of taxpayer funds to buy season tickets.

Publicly posted expense reports recently revealed the mayor's office spent about $2,000 of its taxpayer-supported budget on two pairs of season tickets to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2012. Katz previously said his office will give the tickets to charities, or they will be offered to city politicians if no one is using them. The mayor has said he buys his own personal tickets to the Blue Bombers, Jets and the Goldeyes, which are not charged to City of Winnipeg accounts.

Governance committee chairman Coun. Grant Nordman (St. Charles) has attended a Jets game for free and said it should be up to councillors to decide if they want to go. Unlike provincial Crown corporations, Nordman said city agencies and departments do not advertise with the Jets and do not receive corporate tickets.

That means any time a councillor attends a game it's not with tickets purchased with public funds, he said. Nordman said he doesn't think there's anything untoward if an elected official accepts an invitation to a dinner or event from an outside organization or individual.

"If some kind of organization wants to invite me to a hockey game, they're welcome to do it," said Nordman, who declined to disclose who invited him to a complimentary Jets game. "It's up to me to decide."

"If my brother phones me up and says, 'I've got two tickets to the game tonight, do you want to go?' I'm going to go," Nordman said. "If a developer phones me and says the same thing and he's my friend, I don't see that there's anything wrong with that."

Three provincial cabinet ministers received free Jets tickets through sponsorship and advertising deals Crown corporations have with the Jets, it was revealed this week. The ministers paid back the money for their night out.

City of Winnipeg spokeswoman Michelle Bailey confirmed no city department or special operating agency has purchased tickets to the Jets, Bombers or Goldeyes. CentreVenture CEO Ross McGowan confirmed the city agency does not have corporate tickets to the Jets, and therefore doesn't share tickets with elected officials.

Canadian Taxpayers Federation Prairie director Colin Craig said he thinks it's a good idea for Winnipeg to draft a policy, but the city should consider seeking public input and adopting key parts of the provincial plan. Craig said the city could likely benefit from lowering the threshold for declaring gifts from $250.

"It's not a cut-and-dried issue," he said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 10, 2012 A3

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