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This article was published 17/8/2018 (365 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Winnipeg taxpayers have been footing the bill for fire and paramedic Chief John Lane to hit the books for the past three years as he pursues a master’s degree.
The city confirmed on Friday it has paid $19,800 of Lane’s post-secondary education costs so far, "in fulfilment of a mutual commitment... in his employment contract." That works out to $6,600 per year.
Salary - $171,011, plus unknown pension payments
Arbitration ruling - $115,000
Travel expenses – $15,483
School - $6,600
Total - $308,094
When added to Lane’s salary, trip expenses and the fine levied after an arbitrator determined he breached respectful workplace policies, the chief cost taxpayers $308,094, plus pension payments, in 2017 — roughly $46,000 more than the top-earning civic employee.
The city declined to make Lane available for an interview. In a written statement, a spokeswoman said the city considers it important to "invest in developing our employees and highly skilled leaders."
A source told the Free Press Lane is pursuing a master’s in business administration. While the city did not confirm that specifically, the spokeswoman said Lane was pursuing a master’s degree.
The only MBA available in the province is from the University of Manitoba Asper School of Business. That program costs $31,863, the U of M’s website says.
The city said Lane has only received "partial tuition reimbursement." It’s unclear when he’s expected to finish the degree, and what the final cost to taxpayers will be.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s prairie director Todd MacKay said the news should be contextualized within other recent revelations about the spending habits associated with the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service and the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg.
"It’s really concerning to see, because in this case you have story after story coming out of the Winnipeg fire department this year where taxpayer dollars are being spent without much respect for taxpayers. To me, context is really important in this case," MacKay said.
"I’m skeptical, to be honest with you. It looks like he’s maxing out every taxpayer dollar he has access to. If this is necessary, he needs to come out and justify it to the public and explain why."
Lane has often been in the headlines since the end of 2017, thanks in part to his frequent out-of-town trips and a labour arbitration hearing into his conduct after 156 members of his department filed a workplace grievance against him.
The crux of that grievance stemmed from an August 2015 presentation he delivered on the city’s integrated fire-paramedic service model at a conference in Maryland. The brochure for the presentation contained a statement widely seen as disparaging to the city’s paramedics and their union.
That led 156 of the city’s paramedics to file the grievance. The city then hired an independent investigator, who determined that Lane violated respectful workplace policies. While Lane apologized in November 2016 — more than a year after the presentation — arbitrator Arne Peltz said the apology was "unreasonably late, insufficient and insincere."
All told, the situation cost taxpayers $115,000 after Peltz ruled in favour of the city’s paramedics.
It was also revealed earlier this year that Lane has been racking up frequent flyer miles. In 2017, he attended 12 conferences, spending 43 days out of the city and costing taxpayers $15,483 in expenses. Since being named chief in March 2014, Lane has attended 39 conferences, with 34 of them being out-of-town affairs. The total cost incurred for travel and expenses is $51,408.
That’s all on top of his $171,011 salary in 2017. In total, Lane cost taxpayers $308,094 last year alone — plus unknown pension payments.
MacKay said paying for an employee to advance their education isn’t unheard of in either the private or public sector. Nonetheless, he said the key question is: what value is being delivered to taxpayers?
"Maybe he has a very good explanation. Maybe he’s got a cost-benefit analysis that tips the balance in the taxpayers’ favour, but I’m skeptical. I’m not going to do the math for him and I’m not going to give him the benefit of the doubt. A free ride at school shouldn’t be automatic," MacKay said.
"There seems to be an awful lot of money allotted to him each year and it seems like there isn’t much restraint. And this comes at a time we see city hall struggling with budgetary issues and taxpayers who, every time they open up their bill, their taxes have gone up."
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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.
Updated on Friday, August 17, 2018 at 7:08 PM CDT: A previous version of this story included a headline erroneously referring to the cost of John Lane's education.
August 18, 2018 at 7:59 AM: Final.