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Audit aftermath

No map for course city hall taking

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So where do we go from here?

Actually, before we go there, an admission.

I didn't believe city council could summon the collective wisdom -- or the numbers -- to actually send the city down the historic, unmapped road rarely travelled that it's on. They wouldn't have if Mayor Sam Katz had got his way.

And they almost didn't.

On Wednesday, late in a marathon special session -- that climaxed with a motion by John Orlikow (River Heights-Fort Garry) -- city council voted 8-7 to send the recently tabled independent EY real estate audit to Manitoba Justice for review.

That's the report that led EY auditor Mark Single to describe its findings as "troubling and concerning."

Coincidentally, Orlikow's motion came the day after my column quoting a former Manitoba deputy attorney general. Bruce MacFarlane said judging by what he had read in the Free Press about the audit's findings, it should be "screened" by Manitoba Justice to determine whether there is sufficient reason to send the report to police for further investigation.

"It was very helpful," Orlikow said of the column. "I was considering it," he added in reference to the motion, "but that really helped."

MacFarlane, who offered the expert opinion, is really the one to thank.

He, and perhaps the nudge from provincial cabinet communications, which -- at the end of the column -- suggested since city council commissioned the audit "they have the ability to respond to the matters it identifies or refer it for further review."

Of course, there had been others before MacFarlane, and even before the audit arrived, who had suggested police should delve into the goings-on at city hall.

Even the police themselves.

As Colin Craig of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation pointed out in his submission to council Wednesday, last fall Mike Sutherland, the president of the Winnipeg Police Association, wrote that the RCMP should be called in to investigate city hall.

That may be the outcome of Manitoba Justice's review; a suggestion the Mounties take a more detailed look into what the audit was tasked to do.

That's far from a sure thing.

It found no evidence of illegality within "the scope" of the real estate transactions it was asked to review, but then, it wasn't a forensic audit. Even though a forensic accountant from EY's Ottawa office looked at the findings.

As lead auditor Single told council when asked about potential criminality in any of the transactions: "We're clearly not lawyers and this is a question best answered by legal counsel."

Yet, even after they heard that, the council vote was close.

It could even have been defeated if Justin Swandel (St. Norbert) had voted with Katz to make it 8-8.

But he essentially abstained by, mysteriously, not staying for the vote.

It also could have been defeated if all the members of the mayor's executive policy committee had voted against it, as Orlikow told me Katz tried to persuade them to at an EPC meeting Wednesday morning.

But Russ Wyatt (Transcona) and Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan) weren't persuaded and voted to send the audit for a legal opinion from Manitoba Justice.

The soon-to-be-former mayor, who has obviously lost his grip on council, still voted to block the road rarely travelled at city hall, and the motion that put us on it.

Still, earlier in the day, Katz put on a lawyer-like performance -- a well-prepared lawyer-like performance -- in an attempt to discredit the report and put references to his "good friend" and former chief administrative officer Phil Sheegl and former business partner Sandy Shindleman in proper context.

Two men who, through post-audit media interviews, have complained they were never interviewed by auditors.

So where do we go from here?

Well, after city hall's request formally goes to the province early next week, undoubtedly senior Manitoba Justice lawyers will give it a thorough and thoughtful review. And if they find good reason and decide to send it to police for investigation?

Well, the RCMP will do what the Mounties always do. They'll follow the evidence down whatever road it takes them.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 12, 2014 B1

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