The Manitoba government’s investigation into how the City of Winnipeg and other municipalities handle planning, zoning and permitting is getting mixed reviews from politicians and industry stakeholders.
The 200-page report, which was released Tuesday, says the city has a "broken culture" that leads to losses in development opportunities and "significant anger and frustration" among users.
Coun. Brian Mayes (St. Vital), who serves as the chairman of the city’s property and development committee, slammed the report as "ridiculous" in an interview with the Free Press.
"I thought it was a very shoddy report. To actually say in there, ‘Well, this isn’t based on real evidence,’ as if why would we have to rely on real evidence? It’s just a collection of anonymous anecdotes and no one is quoted by name," Mayes said Wednesday.
"There’s no evidence provided. I mean, people are entitled to their opinions, but if you’re going to be making broad accusations, show some proof."
While the report highlights years of regulatory delays and alleged mistreatment of business applicants, it relies heavily on anecdotal evidence.
More than 50 people were interviewed for the review — including developers, representatives of large corporations, provincial public servants, and current and former city officials — but none of whom were named.
Since Premier Brian Pallister announced the review (conducted by Manitoba’s Treasury Board Secretariat) six weeks ago, Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman has consistently characterized it as a "political" stunt.
Mayes said the proof is in the pudding, and the results prove Bowman’s suspicious were right all along.
"Give us some documentary evidence, instead of using anonymous complaints. How can we respond to a bunch of anonymous complaints when you’re not giving actual examples of anything? It’s ridiculous," Mayes said.
Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce president and chief executive officer Loren Remillard said he wishes the review had employed a "more thorough and traditional methodology," but the results are nonetheless consistent with what he hears from industry stakeholders.
"As a chamber, we’ve communicated to the city a number of concerns and challenges and potential solutions to what is an ongoing concern within the community in regards to our ability to get development from start to finish in a timely and efficient manner," Remillard said.
"We believe strongly that there is work that needs to be done. A bit of retooling of the department is needed.
"That culture shift is so critical in getting done what we need to get done. This is systemic and the fixes are not going to be short term."
Remillard said his organization would like to see a number of changes brought to the city’s property, planning and development department, beginning with the establishment of a planning commission.
The Winnipeg Construction Association released a written statement Wednesday, saying it welcomes the results of the review and feels it can serve as a springboard for improvements across Manitoba.
"Now that the initial findings have been released, we can get to the important part of this review: identifying and delivering improvements to the early stages of construction," WCA president Ron Hambley said.
Meanwhile, Winnipeggers are still waiting on the findings of the city’s internal probe into allegations of widespread workplace misconduct in the PPD department.
Mayes said he didn’t have an update Wednesday on when those results are expected.
"There certainly was an investigation. I’m not sure if it’s concluded. I don’t have anything new on that. I think we’d all like to see a report fairly soon," he said.
"That will be made public. We will have disclosure... I just don’t know when."
— with files from Larry Kusch
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.