October 15, 2018

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Mayor passes firefighter union boss's buck, says he can't release Forrest's attendance record

Mayor Brian Bowman says he doesn’t have the authority to release United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg president Alex Forrest’s attendance records on city committees so that taxpayers can see what – if anything – they’ve been paying for.

When asked Wednesday if he would commit his administration to releasing Forrest’s attendance records proactively, Bowman pointed his finger towards the city’s corporate communications office, saying the decision doesn’t fall under his purview as mayor.

“It really is a question for corporate communications and probably our (Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act) office. I would ask that you speak to them.... It’s not something I have the authority to determine,” Bowman said.

When pressed on the matter, the mayor reiterated he’s on public record in saying he wants Forrest’s controversial salary deal scrapped, but that he can't intervene politically on the release of the attendance records.

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Mayor Brian Bowman says he doesn’t have the authority to release United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg president Alex Forrest’s attendance records on city committees so that taxpayers can see what – if anything – they’ve been paying for.

When asked Wednesday if he would commit his administration to releasing Forrest’s attendance records proactively, Bowman pointed his finger towards the city’s corporate communications office, saying the decision doesn’t fall under his purview as mayor.

<p>Alex Forrest, head of the local United Firefighter's Winnipeg Union.</p>

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Alex Forrest, head of the local United Firefighter's Winnipeg Union.

"It really is a question for corporate communications and probably our (Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act) office. I would ask that you speak to them.... It’s not something I have the authority to determine," Bowman said.

When pressed on the matter, the mayor reiterated he’s on public record in saying he wants Forrest’s controversial salary deal scrapped, but that he can't intervene politically on the release of the attendance records.

"Obviously, the more information that can be made publicly available would be something that I would welcome, but I respect the fact that it’s not something — that doesn’t fall on members of council, or me, to direct those decisions," he said.

"On the specific request you’re asking for, it’s one really where I’d direct you to corporate communications, as well as our FIPPA office. Hopefully they can help you out and hopefully they can make it available for you."

On Monday, the Free Press reported Forrest hasn't attended a single joint safety committee meeting since at least December 2006, and possibly before that. The joint safety committee is one of eight city committees Forrest has pointed to as justification for why the city paid the entirety of his salary, including benefits and pension payments, from 1997 to 2014.

In 2014, that arrangement was renegotiated, with the city agreeing to pay 60 per cent of Forrest’s salary for however long he remains union president. Other civic unions in the city reimburse taxpayers for their union president’s salary.

The city’s corporate communications office was informed of the mayor’s comments and a request was made for the release of Forrest’s attendance records from 1997 to the present. In response, a city spokesman said he was unsure whether that information could be made available or whether a freedom of information request would need to be filed.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Committee minute forms from between 2006 and 2017 that list members of the Fire Committee for the Manitoba Labour and Immigration Workplace Safety and Health Division and wither they were present or absent for each of the meetings.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Committee minute forms from between 2006 and 2017 that list members of the Fire Committee for the Manitoba Labour and Immigration Workplace Safety and Health Division and wither they were present or absent for each of the meetings.

Coun. Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan) said he sees no reason why the documents can’t be released, adding there’s obvious public interest in them being made available to taxpayers.

"I think the public has a right to that information. The city should be able to compile that information and provide it in a reasonable amount of time. It shouldn’t take months and months to release information like this that should be public," Browaty said.

"I think in some ways the mayor is hoping this story will just go away if he doesn’t comment. That’s my opinion. I’m hearing from taxpayers that they don’t think (Forrest's salary deal) is appropriate and this is the mayor who made no progress on this file in the last collective agreement."

Browaty added that if there are legitimate privacy concerns related to releasing the documents, then the city could withhold the minutes of the meetings while making the attendance records public. In addition, he claims the UFFW rank and file should be as interested in what Forrest has been up to as the average Winnipeg taxpayer. "If I was a union member I would be asking the question: what did my union trade off to basically set up the situation where Alex Forrest got this advantage?" he said.

Todd MacKay, prairie director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, says Bowman shouldn’t be directing people to file freedom of information requests when asking for information that should be publicly available in the first place.

"It’s unfortunate that the mayor isn’t more energetic in saying: ‘Yeah, we’ll get those for you.’ That should be the response. They shouldn’t be foot-dragging. It shouldn’t be a bunch of red tape or bureaucratic nonsense,’" MacKay said.

"If someone wants to know who’s at a committee meeting for the City of Winnipeg, the response should be: ‘Here’s the document.’ It shouldn’t be: ‘We don’t know. Talk to this guy. Fill out this form. Jump through this hoop.’"

ryan.thorpe@freepress.mb.ca

@rk_thorpe

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Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe
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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.

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History

Updated on Wednesday, April 25, 2018 at 11:11 PM CDT: Clarifies a date in the sidebar

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