Renewed calls for inquiry into police HQ
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Calls for a provincial inquiry into massive cost overruns for construction of the Winnipeg police headquarters grew louder Thursday as city council considers an out-of-court settlement.
“There aren’t any more excuses for the premier to avoid calling a public inquiry,” NDP leader Wab Kinew said during question period.
After receiving unanimous approval from the executive policy committee, city council will vote March 23 on a multimillion-dollar settlement offer to resolve lawsuits it launched for cost overruns linked to the Winnipeg Police Service headquarters project.
“Winnipeggers and all Manitobans deserve to know what happened with the construction of police headquarters and other real estate deals in our city,” Kinew said in the legislative assembly.
The Progressive Conservative government has said it won’t call an inquiry that might potentially interfere with court proceedings or a potential settlement. The legal case has not been resolved, Premier Heather Stefanson said.
“This is exactly why we allowed the process to take place, so that they can look at these kinds of settlement arrangements,” the premier said. “There are parts of this that do remain before the courts now, and we will continue to allow that process to take place.”
A separate court case involves former city chief administrative officer Phil Sheegl, who was ordered to pay the City of Winnipeg $1.1 million after a judge ruled in 2022 that he accepted a bribe from the owner of the project’s major contractor. Sheegl has appealed the decision.
“We think when the former CAO of the City of Winnipeg takes a bribe of more than $320,000, the people of Manitoba deserve to have answers,” Kinew said in the assembly. “When there are cost overruns of more than $100 million on a City of Winnipeg-funded, taxpayer-funded project, there should be answers.”
The government has not ruled out a provincial inquiry, Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen said after question period. It is waiting to see what happens and for all legal proceedings to conclude, he said.
“Let’s see how the rest of this plays out,” the attorney general said.
Unanswered questions surrounding the cost overruns warrant a thorough examination, said the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
“Calling an inquiry is definitely important for accountability,” Prairie director Gage Haubrich said. “We need to look into this and leave no stone unturned to figure out all those unanswered questions.”
Former mayor Brian Bowman called for an inquiry multiple times while in office.
When asked for comment on the need for one now, Bowman said he’s pleased council will consider a settlement, though that process alone could leave many questions unanswered, he said.
“If the settlement is approved and a full court hearing does not proceed, the need for a public inquiry will be even greater… A public inquiry remains the most effective tool available to put facts on the public record to assist in further strengthening and improving processes and procedures at the City of Winnipeg. That’s why a public inquiry should be called without further delay,” he said in a written statement.
A Manitoba political expert wonders if an inquiry would be worth it.
“I once favoured an inquiry, but as ongoing events occur, such as court cases and reforms within the city’s administrative processes intended to prevent a recurrence, there are diminishing potential returns from an expensive and lengthy inquiry,” University of Manitoba political studies professor emeritus Paul Thomas said.
Calling an inquiry might not be a wise move for the governing Tories, he said.
”Politically, the governing party at the provincial level would thereby assume some amount of ownership of the HQ scandal, which would not be a good political move,” he said.
— with files from Joyanne Pursaga
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.
Updated on Friday, March 17, 2023 12:58 PM CDT: Updates with comment from Bowman