A labour arbitrator and mediator with more than 30 years experience said he believes Fire Paramedic Chief John Lane should resign and he’s surprised the mayor and senior city officials say they have confidence in Lane.
Alan Levy, an associate professor in the department of business administration at Brandon University, said the findings of an arbitration award last week show that Lane put his own personal ego ahead of the department and the city’s interests.
"I do mediation and arbitration work across the country and I was just amazed when I saw the facts of this particular circumstance," Levy told the Free Press. "It seems the fire chief has burned a lot of bridges in terms of people being able to trust him. How will he be able to do his job based on the harm and the question that has arisen due to his behaviour. How will the department have any faith in a person who behaved in such a manner.
"I think it makes perfect sense for the chief to resign based on the evidence and if he doesn’t resign, then the mayor and the city have an obligation to ensure he’s no longer there."
Levy was reacting to the findings contained in the ruling from fellow labour arbitrator Arne Peltz, involving a grievance that originated in a dispute between Lane and 156 EMS paramedics in his department who had filed a respectful workplace complaint against him.
An independent investigation upheld the complaint against Lane but when Lane did not issue a prompt apology, the paramedics’ union – the Manitoba Government and General Employees Union – filed a grievance. The matter went to arbitration, which was held in October and November.
In the award, Peltz was very critical of Lane, saying he could have avoided the fight with the paramedics had he simply apologized when required. Peltz said he found Lane’s testimony to be "constantly shifting," and wasn’t credible, found him to be evasive and questioned the truthfulness of some of what he said and rejected parts of it outright.
Peltz sided with the union and ordered city hall to pay about $115,000 in damages — $10,000 to the MGEU and an additional $300 to each of the about 350 EMS paramedics in the department. Peltz also required Lane and the union Local executive to meet with a facilitator within six weeks in an attempt to resolve the outstanding issues between them.
While some observers have questioned the financial penalty, Levy said Peltz had written a careful ruling with little chance for appeal based on an error in law. Peltz had cited several previous arbitration rulings that involved financial penalties and the MGEU had actually requested he impose a higher dollar amount.
Despite the financial penalty and the strong criticism of Lane, senior city officials — including Mayor Brian Bowman and some other councillors, and Lane's boss, chief corporate services officer Michael Jack — said they maintain confidence in Lane leading the department.
Levy said the support of Lane at city hall is surprising given Peltz’s assessment, adding that Lane’s actions leading up to the arbitration hearing clearly placed city hall in legal jeopardy.
"No senior city official should ever behave in a manner that an arbitrator has to come in and award very hefty, financial damages," Levy said. "The city is going to have to pay more than $100,000 – that’s a big mistake. It amazes me that (Lane) behaved in this very personal, egotistical way and there’s been no repercussion from the city related to his gross inappropriate behaviour."
Levy said Bowman and other councillors who support Lane could be placing their own political careers at risk.
"It seems odd that the (mayor) would just brush (the arbitrator’s findings) aside when it could place him in such political jeopardy if someone who was shrewd enough to want to use it for that purpose – they can make a good argument (Bowman) is being incompetent, he’s negligent and one hopes none of that is the case."
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.