January 18, 2018

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Former mayoral candidate wants apology from firefighters union president

Former city councilor Paula Havixbeck says she'd like to see firefighters union president Alex Forrest apologize, claiming he lied to Winnipeg taxpayers in September 2014 after she went public that the city was paying his salary.

During her bid for mayor in the 2014 municipal election, Havixbeck put out a press release claiming the presidents of four civic unions were paid by taxpayers. That started a fight with the city's union leaders who all claimed she was mistaken.

Forrest, one of the leaders singled out by Havixbeck, flatly denied the claim in a United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg (UFFW) press release at the time.

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Wayne Glowacki / Winnipeg Free Press Files</p><p>Mayoral candidate Paula Havixbeck says Winnipeg firefighters union president Alex Forrest lied to Winnipeg taxpayers in 2014 after she revealed that the city was paying his salary.</p>

Wayne Glowacki / Winnipeg Free Press Files

Mayoral candidate Paula Havixbeck says Winnipeg firefighters union president Alex Forrest lied to Winnipeg taxpayers in 2014 after she revealed that the city was paying his salary.

Former city councilor Paula Havixbeck says she'd like to see firefighters union president Alex Forrest apologize, claiming he lied to Winnipeg taxpayers in September 2014 after she went public that the city was paying his salary.

During her bid for mayor in the 2014 municipal election, Havixbeck put out a press release claiming the presidents of four civic unions were paid by taxpayers. That started a fight with the city's union leaders who all claimed she was mistaken.

Forrest, one of the leaders singled out by Havixbeck, flatly denied the claim in a United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg (UFFW) press release at the time.

"As per Collective Agreement the United Firefighters of Winnipeg reimburses the City of Winnipeg for a replacement firefighter for President Alex Forrest when he is doing work as Union President. This is paid to the city annually. There will be no further comments on this issue because it is merely an attempt by Paula Havixbeck to acquire publicity for her campaign," read the press release.

In an interview with the Free Press at the time, Forrest claimed the union had historically reimbursed the city through a complicated process, but it was streamlined in the most recent collective bargaining agreement. In addition, he said he believed Havixbeck's accusations were politically motivated and prompted by his union's decision to endorse another candidate for mayor.

However, a city spokesman confirmed Thursday it's believed the city was paying 100 per cent of Forrest's salary between 1997 and 2013 without any compensation from the UFFW, and without a written agreement between the two parties. Beginning in March 2014, that deal was renegotiated so the city paid 60 per cent of Forrest's salary.

"I'm not surprised (by this news), because I knew the truth back then. It's just disappointing that there was nothing available to disprove what he was saying at the time. I wish I had made more of an effort at that time to disprove it. It was a lie and I knew it was," Havixbeck said Friday.

"They (a couple UFFW members) berated me and belittled me on social media. I feel like there was a lot of negativity at that time that I really didn't deserve. It sort of affected what went on during the election."

<p>Alex Forrest, president of United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg, said in a 2014 interview with the Free Press that he believed Havixbeck's accusations were politically motivated and prompted by his union's decision to endorse another candidate for mayor.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Alex Forrest, president of United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg, said in a 2014 interview with the Free Press that he believed Havixbeck's accusations were politically motivated and prompted by his union's decision to endorse another candidate for mayor.

A city spokesman has previously confirmed to the Free Press that the all other public unions — aside from the UFFW — reimburse the city at the end of each year for their presidents' salary.

While Forrest would not agree to a phone interview Friday, he did provide a short statement by text message.

"I will say I understand why Paula (Havixbeck) would want to get on board with this story as a way to get her back to some level of political relevance just months before the election. As the last time we saw Paula she received less than one per cent of the vote in the 2014 mayor race," the statement read.

"With Paula's injection into this issue, it shows again how these attacks upon the firefighters of Winnipeg are politically motivated."

When asked whether she believes the city when it says it's unable to track down any information on how much money it paid Forrest in salary between 1997 and 2013, Havixbeck said that information would be easy to find.

"They can find it, but they don't want to find it. It's covering something up. It would be a very simple procedure for the finance department...I don't know why that cannot be produced in 20 minutes," she said.

"These things all add up. This might look small in the grand scheme of things, but these sorts of expenses all add up."

ryan.thorpe@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @rk_thorpe

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Updated on Friday, January 12, 2018 at 9:20 PM CST: Adds photo

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