Public inquiry preferable to personal retaliation

It’s extremely unlikely Phil Sheegl will be nominated for entry to the Order of Manitoba, the honour bestowed on citizens for exemplary service to the province. Mr. Sheegl was tasked with serving the city during his time as chief administrative officer, but evidence presented in a recently concluded civil case suggests his inclination was to serve himself.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/03/2022 (190 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It’s extremely unlikely Phil Sheegl will be nominated for entry to the Order of Manitoba, the honour bestowed on citizens for exemplary service to the province. Mr. Sheegl was tasked with serving the city during his time as chief administrative officer, but evidence presented in a recently concluded civil case suggests his inclination was to serve himself.

Many Winnipeggers will suggest any future visits by Mr. Sheegl to this city are as welcome as a skunk at the Winnipeg Folk Festival, but it’s going too far to use such scorn as motivation for legislation that strips government pensions from officials found legally responsible for corruption.

Legislation should be based on careful consideration, not whipped up hastily as knee-jerk reaction to a single individual, even someone found to have accepted a $327,000 bribe from a company contracted to build a downtown police headquarters.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation called for such legislation last Friday after Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal ruled Mr. Sheegl must pay damages of at least $700,000, which include the $327,200 amount of the bribe, the cost of a severance package, punitive damages and the city’s court costs.

The dealings in question relate to the renovation of the one-time Canada Post facility at 266 Graham Ave. that was transformed into the police headquarters. The facility opened in June 2016 at a cost of about $214 million, well above its original $135-million price tag.

What particularly perturbed the taxpayers’ federation was the confirmation that Mr. Sheegl is likely still entitled to claim a city pension. City officials refused to disclose details of the pension, citing privacy legislation.

The CTF’s proposal may gain a certain amount of support from people repulsed by the idea that Mr. Sheegl will continue to draw from the tax-dollar stream, but several significant questions would need to be answered before the concept could be taken seriously.

As it’s worded, the CTF proposal would “strip employee pensions from any municipal or provincial official who is found legally responsible for corruption.” The vagueness of the word “officials” casts a wide net, presumably including everyone from the deputy supervisor in charge of municipal pothole repairs to the province’s assistant manager of video-lottery terminals.

Would criminal convictions be required before someone is found “legally responsible for corruption”? In this instance, Mr. Sheegl has not been prosecuted under the Criminal Code. The RCMP conducted a lengthy investigation into fraud and forgery allegations, but no criminal charges were laid. The ruling against Mr. Sheegl was in civil court, where the burden of proof is lower.

JOE BRYKSA / FREE PRESS FILES Phil Sheegl

How about the rights of people who believe they are entitled to the pensions they have paid into for years? Even when someone is convicted of a criminal offence, they don’t automatically forfeit legal rights in unrelated matters. Unless there are legal precedents that so far haven’t been presented by the taxpayers’ federation, a legislative attempt to quash pension payouts would seem ripe for overturning by subsequent court challenges.

Rather than pursuing wide-sweeping legislation in what seems to be little more than an attempt to block one individual’s pension, it might be more helpful for the province to heed the requests of those, including Mayor Brian Bowman, who have urged a public inquiry into the infamous construction project.

The mayor has quite properly called it “one of the biggest scandals in Winnipeg’s history.” An inquiry would have the power to peel back the layers of secrecy and would lead to measures that ensure such a scandal doesn’t happen again. That’s more important than vindictive retaliation directed at one individual.

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