The Canadian Taxpayers Federation says the city is being reckless with Winnipeggers' money by forking it over to firefighters union leader Alex Forrest regardless of whether he shows up for work.
"Mr. Forrest seems to get his money whether he does anything or not; that’s not how life works in the real world and it’s certainly not how it works for taxpayers," said CTF prairie director Todd MacKay.
"It's wrong to take people's money and fail to do work for that money. Taxpayers work very hard for the money they pay into taxes and they deserve to get a return on it."
MacKay’s comments come in response to a Free Press exclusive revealing Forrest hasn’t attended a single City of Winnipeg and United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg joint safety committee meeting since December 2006, and possibly, before that.
“I think taxpayers are left to wonder what they’re paying for... Not only did he fail to deliver value at that committee, he failed to even show up. That's not right.” – Canadian Taxpayers Federation prairie director Todd MacKay
The committee is one of eight Forrest has pointed to in past interviews with the Free Press as justifying taxpayers picking up the tab for his salary — as stipulated under Article 20 of the City of Winnipeg and UFFW collective bargaining agreement.
"I think taxpayers are left to wonder what they’re paying for," MacKay said. "Taxpayers are sending Mr. Forrest a lot of money. When you pay someone to do a job, you’ve got the right to ask them what work they’ve gotten done.
"Not only did he fail to deliver value at that committee, he failed to even show up. That's not right."
On Monday, Mayor Brian Bowman reaffirmed his commitment to scrapping Forrest’s salary deal with the city, but was mum on news the union leader hadn’t attended a single joint safety committee meeting in at least 11 years. The Free Press has obtained documents going back only to December 2006, so is unable to confirm whether Forrest attended meetings prior to that date.
"I’ve been on public record saying the sooner we can end this arrangement the better, and I remain committed to that," Bowman said.
However, he acknowledged Forrest has indicated he won’t consider renegotiating the deal prior to the next round of collective bargaining in 2021.
"But, if we can do it sooner, great," Bowman added.
MacKay said city administration has demonstrated "pretty dramatic incompetence" on Forrest’s salary deal, and — with a municipal election in October — should be concerned with how that looks in the eyes of voters. The whole situation raises serious concerns about the administration’s credibility and commitment to transparency, he said.
"The city is doing a very poor job on this. They don’t know how they got into this deal. They don’t know what they’re doing in this deal. They don’t know what’s happening on this deal. And they don’t know how to get out of this deal," he said. "Which makes me wonder: what do they know?
"And when city hall is less than forthcoming in providing a lot of answers about this kind of thing, I think taxpayers, rightly, have questions about credibility and transparency. And when those questions aren't getting answered, it's trouble on a lot of fronts."
“The city is doing a very poor job on this. They don’t know how they got into this deal. They don’t know what they’re doing in this deal. They don’t know what’s happening on this deal. And they don’t know how to get out of this deal." – Todd MacKay
Forrest found himself in hot water in January when it was revealed the city had been paying 100 per cent of his salary, including benefits and pension payments, without reimbursement from the union, since he became UFFW president in 1997. He later admitted he also received a second paycheque — a top-up representing the partial wage of a city firefighter — from the union.
In 2014, that deal with the city — which appears not to have a paper trail — was renegotiated, with the city agreeing to pay 60 per cent of Forrest's salary for the remainder of his time as union president.
MacKay said Forrest needs to stop taking taxpayers' money and have the UFFW join the city’s other civic unions in paying their own bills.
"That’s the right thing to do," he said. "It’s very odd that the firefighters — and Mr. Forrest in particular — seem to think he should be getting paid from both sides of the bargaining table. The whole situation is ridiculous.
"Mr. Forrest’s arrangement means there’s no accountability for work that is — or in this case isn’t — being done."
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.