Mayor repeats name for police HQ, actual property inquiry; province hangs up once more

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman is once again calling on the province to call an inquiry into Winnipeg’s police headquarters project and major city real estate transactions.

Once again, Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative government is saying no.

Since 2017, city council has been calling on the province to call an inquiry into Winnipeg’s real estate, procurement and construction scandals that plagued city hall during the latter years of Sam Katz’s time as mayor.

City council voted 15-1 that year to formally request the Progressive Conservative government “conduct a broad systemic examination of all processes and procedures affecting the conduct of business between elected officials and senior public service members employed by the city and parties with whom the city may conduct business.”

Bowman said at the time he envisioned an inquiry that would compel people to testify but would not determine criminal liability.

Then-premier Brian Pallister rejected the request because the RCMP were still in the midst of a criminal investigation into the police headquarters, a $214-million purchase and renovation project that was already the subject of two city-commissioned audits.

On the floor of council in 2017, Bowman cited several examples of inquiries that ran parallel to criminal investigations, including Canada’s Airbus inquiry and the municipal-corruption inquiry in Quebec.

When the RCMP investigation wrapped up in 2019 without charges, Bowman repeated his call for an inquiry.

Pallister repeated his rejection.

Bowman made yet another call for the inquiry this March, after Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal determined former Winnipeg chief administrative officer Phil Sheegl accepted a $327,200 bribe from Armik Babakhanians, the main contractor on the police headquarters project.

Bowman, right, says Stefanson, left, knows he wants to see the province call an inquiry. He said he will keep pushing in his final months as Winnipeg mayor. (Ian Froese/CBC)

The mayor was rebuffed by Premier Heather Stefanson, who said inquiries can not proceed while civil court proceedings are underway.

Sheegl plans to appeal Joyal’s decision and the city is still proceeding with legal action against Babakhanians and dozens of other people and companies it claims, in court documents, conspired to defraud taxpayers.

The city’s decision to add more allegations and defendants to that lawsuit led Bowman to make what is at least his fourth call for an inquiry for both the police headquarters and real-estate transactions.

“One of the biggest and most powerful tools we have is a public inquiry,” Bowman said. “We had a near-unanimous support for a public inquiry, so our our position is clear.”

Bowman promised more transparency at city hall when he ran for mayor in 2014 and now has only five months left to serve in his second and final term. He said Stefanson knows he would like to see the province call an inquiry and pledged to continue to push the premier until he leaves office in October.

“We’re doing what we can to to defend taxpayers, demand accountability and for each day that I remain in office, I’m committed to continuing to do just that,”

During question period at the Manitoba Legislature on Wednesday, NDP House leader Nahanni Fontaine also called for a police-headquarters inquiry.

“The residents of Winnipeg lost millions of dollars in these schemes,” Fontaine said. “If this doesn’t justify a public inquiry, I don’t know what does.”

Progressive Conservative House leader Kelvin Goertzen said it would not be appropriate to have an inquiry while civil proceedings take place and said the city’s civil litigation is providing answers to questions about the police-headquarters project.

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