WINNIPEG – After much debate, Winnipeg city council has voted to buy land from Manitoba Hydro for $19-million.
The clause passed by a vote of 11-5, with Councillors Shawn Dobson, Scott Gillingham, Janice Lukes, Jason Schreyer and Russ Wyatt voting against.
The city needs the land to complete Phase 2 of their bus rapid transit (BRT) plan.
Two motions were presented today as possible solutions: Lukes and Wyatt wanted to suspend the deal and send the talks to a mediator. Another motion from Jeff Browaty and Dobson wanted to cancel the plan altogether. Both received just four votes.
In response to the first motion, council asked to recess to talk about the deal behind closed doors. It was in this meeting that councillors were asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement surrounding information related to the deal. Some speculated it may have something to do with the BRT running under budget.
But eight different councillors walked out of this meeting, each citing their own reasons.
“This is not the way you run a city. Members of council are being treated like children by this mayor, it’s really unfortunate,” fumed Russ Wyatt. “It doesn’t do anything to build trust and confidence. If we’re going to make these decisions, we need the information. Why was this not shared early on if this was so important? This is a ploy, this is a tactic to intimidate members of council.”
Lukes also walked out of the meeting, and explained why she wanted to see the deal put off.
“It really isn’t a fair and equitable process. I would like to know how the Pallister government feels on this and if they don’t want to do arbitration, then we know and we proceed. Rapid transit is very important to me, I do not want to cancel it but I don’t want to see this kind of precedent set.”
Other councillors to walk out include Dobson, Ross Eadie, Jason Schreyer, Brian Mayes, Devi Sharma and Browaty.
“I get the impression, without them saying so, that it looks like the numbers for BRT, things are positive in that regard. But I’m still not supportive,” Browaty explains. “I just don’t think it’s even that relevant to the Hydro land acquisition.”
In the end Browaty did end up voting for the land deal to go through.
Mayor Brian Bowman says there will be no discipline coming to those who left the meeting, but did vent frustration at how late the information came available.
“I believe there are ways to improve the process, to improve the flows of information from administration. We would like to get more information sooner from the public service.”
Bowman says he will introduce a motion at the next Executive Policy Committee meeting that would require the city’s CAO to provide more frequent status reports on this project.
The common thread from many councillors was that they knew some would be upset by the decision, but they felt it was necessary as a part of their vision of Winnipeg’s future. They believed a vote against rapid transit would push Winnipeg further behind other cities in Canada.
Bowman admitted the deal was an expensive one, but felt it was necessary still to go through with it.
“I think it’s an acceptable deal. Obviously, the city would like to pay much less, I’m sure Hydro would like the city to pay a lot more. I’m pleased that council proceeded to make the decisions that we made today.”
In other city hall news, a motion put forward by Wyatt and Eadie asking for extra money to be spent on construction was automatically referred to committee.