May 25, 2019

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Pallister defends review into city amid concerns of bias

<p>Premier Brian Pallister was criticized for using provincial civil servants in the Treasury Board to conduct a review which he characterized as an independent process.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Premier Brian Pallister was criticized for using provincial civil servants in the Treasury Board to conduct a review which he characterized as an independent process.

Premier Brian Pallister is defending his handling of a review into how the City of Winnipeg and other Manitoba municipalities approve and inspect construction projects.

Pallister was criticized after it was learned this week that provincial civil servants in the Treasury Board secretariat would be conducting the review, which he had once characterized as an independent process.

On Wednesday, the premier told reporters the review will be carried out by “neutral civil servants” whose job is to analyze financial issues.

“They’re smart people and good people, and we need to get to the bottom of how we can do a better job of permitting and inspections,” he said. “It’s been a problem of long standing.”

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Premier Brian Pallister is defending his handling of a review into how the City of Winnipeg and other Manitoba municipalities approve and inspect construction projects.

Pallister was criticized after it was learned this week that provincial civil servants in the Treasury Board secretariat would be conducting the review, which he had once characterized as an independent process.

On Wednesday, the premier told reporters the review will be carried out by "neutral civil servants" whose job is to analyze financial issues.

"They’re smart people and good people, and we need to get to the bottom of how we can do a better job of permitting and inspections," he said. "It’s been a problem of long standing."

Pallister announced the review at a Manitoba Chambers of Commerce breakfast last month. At the time, Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman expressed concern it was merely a "partisan, politically motivated" attack, after months of feuding between the province and city hall.

The Opposition NDP grilled the premier in the legislature Wednesday about his decision to assign government staff to the job.

<p>NDP MLA Andrew Swan: ‘political exercise’</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

NDP MLA Andrew Swan: ‘political exercise’

The Treasury Board secretariat reports to the province’s finance minister, a cabinet committee and, ultimately, to the premier himself.

NDP MLA Andrew Swan predicted the review would be "nothing but a political exercise," just as Bowman had warned would happen.

The premier responded by saying the Treasury Board is well-equipped to conduct research and analysis on this issue.

"There’s absolutely no benefit to be derived by sweeping these important issues of permitting and inspections under the carpet," he said in the legislature.

Later, Pallister said the City of Winnipeg is not the only target of the review. Other municipalities can participate as well, he said.

Entities such as Manitoba Hydro and the Office of the Fire Commissioner, which also issue permits and carry out inspections, will be involved in the review.

The premier said the issue is bigger than "workers’ time off spent at Tim Hortons," a reference to a series of Free Press reports about city inspectors allegedly doing personal errands during work hours and taking extended cigarette and lunch breaks.

"It’s a much bigger issue that needs to be addressed — how to make sure that people who want to invest in Manitoba and create opportunities for jobs here have a chance to do it. That’s a big deal and we want to make sure we get it right."

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature Reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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