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This article was published 11/6/2015 (1594 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 11/6/2015 (1594 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Winnipeg will become the first city in the country to have whistleblower protection enforced by provincial legislation.
The enhanced protection to civic employees was part of a package of amendments to the Winnipeg Charter tabled by the Selinger government Thursday.
"It’s a big step forward for the City of Winnipeg," Drew Caldwell, Municipal Government Minister, said during a news conference outside the mayor’s office.
"Winnipeg will be the first municipality in Canada to be covered under the (provincial) whistleblower legislation. It’s a huge step forward in this country for municipal accountability."
Other provisions of Bill 39, made at the formal request of city hall, include requiring council to write a new code of conduct, and set out new rules governing the sale and purchase of land and the need for land appraisals — issues that surfaced in the past two years following a series of land deals and construction projects, one of which is the subject of an RCMP investigation.
The whistleblower legislation was cited by Caldwell and Mayor Brian Bowman as the most significant piece of the proposed legislative changes — the culmination of intense lobbying efforts by rookie St. Boniface Coun. Matt Allard to protect civic employees who identify incidents of fraud and other misdeeds within city hall.
"I’m pleased to see the provincial government move so quickly on new protections for whistleblowers at the municipal level," Allard said when he learned the provincial government tabled the amendments. "During the campaign, I heard that accountability was a top priority for Winnipeg voters and I think this is a significant step in the right direction."
Allard actively lobbied other councillors for their support for greater protection for civic employees who report suspected incidents of wrongdoing.
Allard proposed the City of Winnipeg Charter be amended to incorporate whistleblower protection for employees, similar to that given to provincial employees — which is exactly what these amendments, if passed by the Legislature, will do.
Allard said existing protocols to encourage civic employees to report suspected cases of fraud or improper behavior are weak and needed to be improved.
The city’s own whistleblower policy was first adopted in 2006 and it has operated a fraud hotline for employees for two years but only did so in secret, with the result that it only received 16 complaints.
Caldwell congratulated Bowman and other members of council for taking action so soon after the October election to ensure they have power to deal with the concerns that have dogged Winnipeg city hall for the past few years.
Bowman said council has been determined to put policies and practices into place that will help restore public confidence in city hall, following the damning audits into the civic land deals, the fire paramedic station replacement program and the police headquarters project, which is the subject of the RCMP investigation.
"We still have a lot of work to do to ensure all Charter changes are in place to ensure that the city....has a strong foundation to rebuild our trust with our citizens," Bowman said.
Council recently requested the province for authority to create a lobbyists registry and earlier, there have been repeated requests for an ethics commissioner.
Couns. Jenny Gerbasi (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry) and Ross Eadie (Mynarski) echoed their support for the changes but said the province needs to go further to restore accountability at city hall.
Gerbasi, the longest serving member of council who first called for an ethics commissioner in 2008, said the amendments introduced by the province are significant but more changes are needed at city hall.
"To deal with councillors’ ethical behaviour, we need more tools than what’s here," Gerbasi said. "We need the investigative powers and the ability to have disciplinary consequences that are really meaningful and a lobbyists registry. Hopefully, they are coming later."
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Caldwell said the changes outlined in Bill 39 are a first step, adding the province will consider further legislative changes.
While there are already policies in place at city hall addressing council conduct, land deals and appraisals, Caldwell said enshrining new rules in legislation will allow the current members of council to design a set of rules that will be effective and will have consequences if breached.
"Given the drama that has occurred at city hall over the last number of years and given the public scrutiny... I think we’ll see a very robust document," Caldwell said.
Aldo Santin Reporter
Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.