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Wasylycia-Leis vows civic ethics watchdog

First promise aims to restore public trust

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Mayoral candidate Judy Wasylycia-Leis vows to clean up city hall.

Her first campaign announcement called for the creation of a watchdog office at city hall to root out unethical practices and behaviour by civic staff and elected politicians.

Speaking from the front steps of her North End home Thursday, Wasylycia-Leis said if elected mayor she would enhance the powers of the city auditor, giving that position the role of ethics commissioner and the authority to conduct value-for-money audits at the request of council, on the complaint of a citizen or on the auditor's initiative.

But Wasylycia-Leis stopped short of calling for an RCMP investigation into myriad allegations of impropriety and wrongdoing between administrators and politicians and the city's business community.

"People believe there's been a misuse of public office," she said. "That there is a perception of the use of public office for private and personal gain.

"There is a perception of collusion and nepotism between certain developers and city hall and the mayor's office."

'It will be our job to clean house, to bring some fresh air into city hall'

-- mayoral candidate Judy Wasylycia-Leis

Wasylycia-Leis said proper rules and procedures need to be put in place to eliminate public suspicion of city hall, adding giving the city auditor the watchdog role will restore integrity and accountability.

Wasylycia-Leis said people are outraged over the allegations of wrongdoing with the fire-hall replacement program and the cost overruns with the new police headquarters building, and are disgusted with the public displays of disrespectful behaviour by some councillors.

"This all must stop -- Winnipeggers deserve better," she said. "It will be our job to clean house, to bring some fresh air into city hall... and to restore the trust citizens should feel about their own city government."

Wasylycia-Leis proposes to convert the office of the city auditor into a new body she calls Accountability Winnipeg, giving it additional powers, including:

-- Authority to conduct value-for-money audits that can be triggered by council, an employee or a citizen complaint.

-- Oversight of a new lobbyist registry to make the public aware when businesses, unions or other organizations regularly meet with elected officials and civic management.

-- Administration over a more vigorous code of ethics and conflict guidelines.

-- Whistleblower protection; employees can bring to the office any concerns of misconduct at city hall without fear of workplace harassment or losing their jobs.

Wasylycia-Leis said she estimates it will cost an additional $300,000 to beef up the city auditor's office, adding she expects the money will be found through resulting savings or efficiencies in department budgets.

Wasylycia-Leis presented conflicting positions on how she would create an ethical and open civic government: She vowed to "clean house," but wouldn't say what she would be cleaning and went so far as to praise civic employees and senior administrators -- many of whom have been criticized by some members of council and the public for the problems that exist at city hall.

"It's not just me alone as a new mayor -- it's a new way of doing business, it's how you actually work together, how you draw on citizens' expertise and how you show nothing is more important that ensuring the public good matters above all else."

Meantime, in a surprise move, Wasylycia-Leis disclosed a financial statement, listing the value of her home and cottage, outstanding loans and mortgages.

She also disclosed the value of her pensions from her time as an NDP MLA and MP, which exceed $82,500 annually. She said she would donate her pension income to charity if elected mayor.

Wasylycia-Leis said she released her financial information so no one can accuse her of keeping secrets and to show she is no different than other Winnipeggers.

She said she's not challenging the other candidates to release similar information about themselves, adding that would have to be a decision they make.

Wasylycia-Leis said part of the new powers she would give Accountability Winnipeg were originally proposals made by Couns. Scott Fielding (lobbyist registry) and Jenny Gerbasi (ethics commissioner), adding many of the solutions needed to solve the problems at city hall are easily at hand and just need to be employed.

She also promised to make public her daily calendar as mayor, to open her office to the public one Saturday a month and to post all mayoral expenses online.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 13, 2014 B4

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