May 24, 2015

By Bartley Kives


Where were the politicians?

Controversial Station No. 11 opens without fanfare

Given the way politicians take credit for even the most mundane functions of government, it's impossible to complete anything without elected officials showing up to hold some form of cheesy ceremony.

If there's a new splash pad in your neighbourhood, politicians will stand at a podium to explain precisely how they made it possible for your toddler to have an outdoor shower. If the entire playground gets redeveloped, representatives from at least two levels of government will speechify about the roles they performed in providing you with a new jungle gym and teeter-totter.

And if something as significant as a new bridge opens up to traffic, all three levels of government will arrive with enough aides and public-relations flacks to fill the seats in a movie theatre.

Just imagine Mayor Sam Katz and newly minted council protection chairman Coun. Brian Mayes (St. Vital) addressing TV cameras in front of a physical manifestation of everything that has gone wrong with the way the City of Winnipeg procures capital projects

This is the reality of retail politics, in which no governmental deed is too small or too routine for politicians to use to demand our gratitude.

Nevertheless, politicians have yet to stand at a podium in front of Station No. 11, the brand-new fire-paramedic facility that quietly opened in late October inside the cloverleaf at the northwest corner of Portage Avenue and Route 90.

Why? Well, no one at the city, the province, or Ottawa wants to be associated with a structure that will forever serve as a reminder of civic mismanagement, overspending and the unfair awarding of contracts.

On Oct. 25, the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service started moving equipment into Station No. 11, the last of four new fire-paramedic stations built in this city over the past three years. This $6.3-million station replaces the old Station No. 11 on Berry Street, which is slated to be sold after Friday, when the transition to the new facility is expected to wrap up.

Firefighters and paramedics, however, have already started responding to calls from the new Portage Avenue station, where contractors are applying some finishing touches. For now, there are no plans to hold a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony at the station.

"Possible opening-event discussions will begin once the station is turned over to the service," city spokeswoman Alissa Clark said in a statement, leaving the door open to what would be a most amazing ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Just imagine Mayor Sam Katz and newly minted council protection chairman Coun. Brian Mayes (St. Vital) addressing TV cameras in front of a physical manifestation of everything that has gone wrong with the way the City of Winnipeg procures capital projects.

The overdue, over-budget, and oversized Station No. 11 is the final facility to be completed under a program that saw contracts to build four stations awarded on a non-competitive basis to a single firm, Shindico Realty, says a scathing audit accepted by city council last month.

On the basis of a process the audit deemed unfair, a new Station No. 18 rose on the Roblin Boulevard site of the old Station No. 18 in Charleswood. A new Station No. 27 rose on Sage Creek Road as part of a contract awarded to Shindico after the city rejected bids obtained through an abandoned request for proposals, the audit found. And a new Station No. 12 rose on Taylor Avenue land owned by Shindico that was to be swapped for three city properties under a deal that would have benefited the private firm to the tune of $250,000 to $500,000, the audit said.

Work on the new Station No. 11, meanwhile, began "without appropriate contract award authorization" and was eventually completed by splitting the work into two components because there wasn't enough money in the council-approved project budget, said the audit.

This station also started out as a 10,000-square-foot facility but was completed at 14,500 square feet after former fire-paramedic chief Reid Douglas ordered changes to the design.

Why repeat all these facts, as reported in an audit that's not even a month old? Simply put, this information would have to be repeated if a ribbon-cutting ceremony is ever held at Station No. 11.

Katz has said repeatedly public safety and infrastructure are the municipal electorate's top two concerns.

That knowledge, gained through polling, is a big reason Winnipeg has four brand-new fire-paramedic stations, two new regional police stations, a police helicopter and a massive new police headquarters, itself over-budget to the tune of $76 million.

When politicians build things in an effort to gain our gratitude, they better stand up and be counted when the process gets screwed up. So in the absence of an opening ceremony for the new Station No. 11, please consider this column an appropriate form of publicity.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 12, 2013 B1

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