Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Call in Mounties, police union says

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THE union representing Winnipeg police officers wants the RCMP to investigate the way the City of Winnipeg procures capital projects.

In the wake of the scathing review of Winnipeg's $18.3-million fire-paramedic station replacement program, the Winnipeg Police Association wants the Mounties to investigate the construction of four new fire-paramedic stations -- as well as any other major capital projects that may be of concern, including a Winnipeg police headquarters conversion that may cost as much as $211 million.

Police association president Mike Sutherland said Thursday only the RCMP can restore public confidence in the way the City of Winnipeg handles major construction projects.

"You know what Montreal has been dealing with for decades. It got out of control there," said Sutherland, referring to the ongoing inquiry into corruption in municipal construction in Quebec's largest city.

"Given the amounts we're talking about now missing from the public purse (in Winnipeg) and the belt-tightening that may have to occur as a result, the taxpayers are owed a full explanation."

Consulting firm Ernst & Young's review of Winnipeg's fire-paramedic station replacement program, released on Monday, found the construction of four new stations in this city was mismanaged, over budget and contracted out in a non-competitive manner. One firm, Shindico Realty, was given a competitive advantage, the review concluded.

That same review concluded nothing illegal took place. On Wednesday, city council voted unanimously to ask external legal counsel to ensure nothing illegal transpired.

Sutherland said the RCMP have more resources to conduct such an investigation -- at no cost to the city. The Winnipeg Police Service cannot conduct such an investigation because it's a department of the City of Winnipeg, he said.

"I have the utmost confidence in our own members do to it, but the apparent conflict would mean it would be a lose-lose for our people to get involved," Sutherland said. "That's why an independent agency has to come in."

Sutherland said the RCMP should start with the fire-paramedic stations but also look at other projects.

"If they find there's a reason to look into other places, then by all means," he said. "I don't want to put a limit onto anybody."

Coun. Scott Fielding, head of Winnipeg's police board and chairman of the civic protection committee, said he wants to hear the recommendations of the independent law firm that reviews the Ernst & Young review before he considers bringing in the Mounties.

"I'm not ready to go there yet," Fielding said. "I haven't ruled it out, though."

Three other city councillors have gone even further by asking the province to call a formal inquiry into the fire-paramedic station replacement program.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 25, 2013 B1

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