Eight years later, key “non-existent” police HQ meeting minutes magically appear Free Press obtains copies of revealing oversight committee records long after city staff threw auditors off troubling trail
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/07/2022 (205 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It took significantly longer than a minute for key meeting minutes relating to the controversial Winnipeg Police Headquarters construction project to emerge.
More than 4.2 million of them, in fact.
The Free Press has obtained copies of meeting records from the project’s oversight committee eight years after city staff told both internal and external auditors that the documents didn’t exist.
City council ordered two external audits in 2013 after learning the expected price tag to transform the downtown Canada Post warehouse into a new home for the city’s police department had skyrocketed.
On April 22, 2014, the accounting firm KPMG was paid nearly $200,000 by the city to conduct one of the audits, according to a review of publicly available tender documents.
The firm’s final report, released on July 14, 2014, noted the audit team was told the HQ oversight committee did not keep minutes of its meetings.
“We were told that minutes of the oversight committee meetings were not maintained and, as a result, there is no record of the discussions which took place or the recommendations and decisions made,” reads the KPMG report.
“In our view, this contributed to an environment lacking transparency and accountability for project outcomes, and also represented a significant barrier to gathering information during the execution of this audit.”
Key players on the oversight committee included former chief administrative officer Phil Sheegl, chief financial officer Mike Ruta, deputy CAO Alex Robinson and Deepak Joshi, head of the property, planning and development department.
Then-police chief Keith McCaskill, who retired in 2012 and was replaced by Devon Clunis, was also on the committee.
Bryan Mansky, the municipal auditor, was also told they did not exist, according to internal city emails.
“I have been advised that there are no minutes of meetings of the Major Capital Project Steering Committee, except the very last meeting,” Paul Olafson, the city’s corporate controller, wrote to Mansky in April 2014.
The Free Press, which obtained three sets of the supposedly non-existent documents, requested comment and explanation from the City of Winnipeg Tuesday. On Wednesday, Felicia Wiltshire, the city’s director of corporate communications, responded with a written statement.
“Due to the size and complexity of the project, as well as the ongoing litigation, we are not in a position to speak to each of these items you have flagged,” Wiltshire wrote.
“As we have previously said, there were many concerns raised regarding the WPS HQ project, many of which are still subject to ongoing litigation. The investigations and audits that have been conducted over the years have resulted in changes to policies and procedures to improve openness and transparency in the decision-making process.”
The meeting minutes obtained by the Free Press date to the early years of the project — beginning in 2010 and continuing into 2011. The oversight committee is reported to have met on a bi-weekly basis.
In minutes dated Feb. 3, 2011, the committee is reported to have discussed potential changes to the HQ design that could lower the project cost.
After city council was initially sold on the project with a $105 million price tag, councillors were later informed the estimates had risen to $155 million.
The meeting records make clear the committee wanted the price lower — $148 million. But despite the desire to reduce project costs, the various design changes discussed that day were rejected by the committee.
The minutes conclude: “Proceed with full project — no scope reduction based on the options presented.”
In minutes dated March 2, 2011 — at a meeting with Sheegl, Ruta, Joshi, Robinson and McCaskill present, alongside project manager Abdul Aziz, manager of capital projects Jason Ruby, and Iain Day from corporate finance — the committee discussed changes in the project’s reporting structure.
According to the notes, the oversight committee also discussed the city’s contract with Caspian Construction, the main building firm on the project. The minutes read: “Steering Committee wants GMP from Caspian of $148 (million) all in.”
“Steering Committee wants GMP from Caspian of $148 (million) all in.”
– Oversight committee meeting minutes
“GMP” is an industry term for Guaranteed Maximum Price, a form of construction contract.
Following the external KPMG audit into the project, the city forwarded the firm’s final report to Manitoba Justice, which then sent it to the RCMP — kickstarting Project Dalton, the multi-year, multimillion-dollar fraud investigation that closed without criminal charges in December 2019.
In January 2020, the City of Winnipeg launched civil litigation against Caspian Construction and dozens of subcontractors who were involved with the project.
In its statement of claim, the city alleges Caspian and its subcontractors used fabricated and inflated invoices that “misrepresented and overstated the true cost of the sub-trade work and/or materials and which wrongfully inflated the GMP Proposal and the overall budget for the project.”
The allegations have not been proven in court.
Caspian Construction did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.
Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.