The Black Rod

The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

Name:
Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

We are citizen journalists in Winnipeg. When not breaking exclusive stories, we analyze news coverage by the mainstream media and highlight bias, ignorance, incompetence, flawed logic, missed angles and, where warranted, good work. We serve as the only overall news monitors in the province of Manitoba. We do the same with politicians (who require even more monitoring.) EMAIL: black_rod_usher@yahoo.com

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Black Rod State of the City Address


Every year the Mayor delivers a State of the City address to the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce.  And every year a transcript is published on the Internet.

So, of course, given that, as usual, our invitation to the event was lost in the mail,  we went looking for the Mayor's address on the Web. Imagine our shock.

This was the State of the City address? It was a measley five paragraphs long.  It read as if it was cribbed from a city travel brochure. It looked like the Mayor dashed it off at the last minute on a sheet of toilet paper while sitting on the crapper.

Winnipeg is great, it's got a zoo, and some American stores, and (a white elephant, aka) a human rights museum, said Mayor Sam Katz. And there's some theatres, and restaurants, and a convention centre and "optimistic spirit." Okay? Gotta run...

According to reporters, Katz padded his delivery with extemporaneous comments about frozen water pipes, a pledge by Kinsmen to pay up to $1 million towards reopening Sherbrook Pool, and some concert in Central Park in the spring. Whoopee.

Katz also " then assured the business audience on hand the City of Winnipeg would not build a fire station on land not owned by the city ever again. (CTV)"  

He somehow forgot to mention that the person directly responsible for the firehall scandal that's going to wind up costing us millions of wasted dollars was Phil Sheegl, his best friend, and the man he personally vouched for and got hired as the city's Chief Administrative Officer with no experience and, obviously, no competence. Sheegl's responsibility for the bid-rigging that botched the firehall replacement project is Katz's responsibility as well.

But what do you expect from someone who, according to his own story, can reach into his back pocket and come up with a million dollars cash for a house.

In another city.
That he visits on weekends.
On the same flights as Phil Sheegl.

He just doesn't live in the same city as you do, never mind have a clue about what state your city is in.

Compare Sam Katz's city with the city that the rest of us live in. Let's start with the murderous attack on Sam Nemis, 31, 6-3, 300 pounds. It was a Sunday night, not late, the sun had barely gone down. He was cross-country skiing on the Red River just under the Forks, downtown Winnipeg's biggest tourist attraction. 

The first time he knew there was trouble was when someone plunged a knife into his kidney.  This wasn't a mugging. This was a cold-blooded murder in the making. The wounded Nemis, trained in conflict resolution as a security guard at the Health Sciences Centre, tried to reason with his attackers, only to realize they weren't listening. 

"I realized they were going to kill me, just to go through my pockets to find nothing..."That they were going to kill me for nothing, because I had nothing." he told the Winnipeg Free Press.  Nobody knows better than he.

They stabbed him in the back with his ski pole before he managed to break away and scream for help.  Their intent was clear. They intended to kill him and leave his body on the river.

What did they want, we've been asked.  They first demanded his wallet (he didn't carry one), then his cellphone, but ultimately they wanted his life.

This Saturday the Free Press did a follow-up story. It was headlined "This was no isolated incident."  It told the story of the gunpoint robbery of a 55-year-old woman in broad daylight at the Forks only a week before Nemis was attacked.  A Forks spokesman downplayed the incidents. "Isolated," she said.

That's the Winnipeg we live in. Where packs of potential killers roam, picking off the easy prey. And the talking heads hired to pretend downtown is safe turn a blind eye.

C'mon, Black Rod, you're going too far. Oh?  

Tell that to the unnamed man jumped by a mob along Main Street near the Disraeli Freeway, you know, a hop, skip and a jump from City Hall and the Centenniel Concert Hall. His story was also in Saturday's newspaper. He wasn't interviewed. He's in critical condition. 

Five people were arrested, one has already been released on a promise-to-appear. Expect the rest to be back on the street in days.

Or tell that to the security guard at the downtown Millenium Library whose life was threatened by 15 youths when he asked them to leave for causing trouble. His story is in a report obtained by the Winnipeg Sun, dated a month ago, detailing staff concern about the open drug dealing and disorder in and around the library.

 Police, who always seem to be the last to know what's happening in the city, acknowledge they're now aware of the situation that's been obvious to the public for weeks.  You have to wonder if their refusal to act before the security guard was attacked is due to Chief Hug-a-Thug's don't arrest anyone policy.  

That, too, is the city we live in, where the police have become social workers instead of working to enforce public safety.

At least they're out there driving around town and not getting paid overtime to, get this, deliver water.  Yep, our highly-trained firemen and paramedics are getting $60 an hour to bring jugs of water to homeowners whose waterlines are frozen and really heavy sheets of paper to other homeowners at risk of losing their water supply.

Read that again. Sixty Dollars An Hour to carry water jugs and deliver notices. 

We're betting the unemployment office could round up a hundred big, strong men in an hour who would love to make half that, $30 an hour, to risk life and limb carrying those heavy water jugs and those bundles of paper from door to door.

Then we could use those highly-trained firemen and paramedics to sit at desks and make phone calls to find de-icing equipment somewhere in North America that we could beg, borrow or buy.  The number of homes without water is fast approaching 900,  with 5000 other homeowners being warned they might be next. 

Some cities might call this a crisis. In Sam Katz's state of the city, it's called getting emotional.

But don't think the Mayor isn't showing leadership and taking action on all city issues.  While a thousand homes may be without water within a week at this rate, Mayor Sam Katz has called a council seminar for today---on bike lanes.
And that's the State of the City.

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

In the Olympics of Guilt and Recrimination, we have a winner



The 2014 Winter Olympics have ended and Canadians are still on a high.

We trounced the Americans in hockey (always a good thing) and our women's curling team set an Olympic record that can never be beaten (all wins, no losses).

All in all, we're betting Canadians will say they got their money's worth at these Olys. How much money?  The federal government kicks in $22 million a year towards winter sports. (Another $34 million goes to summer sports and $6 million to team sports.)

Canada sent 221 athetes to Sochi: 27 speed skaters, 25 men’s hockey players, 24 snowboarders, 21 women’s hockey players, 20 freestyle ski jumpers, 17 figure skaters, 16 bobsledders, 15 alpine skiers, 13 cross-country skiers, 10 curlers, eight lugers, eight biathletes, seven ski jumpers, six ski cross competitors and four skeleton racers.

They did us proud, each and every one of them, and that includes the coaches and parents of the athletes.

But while rooting through the numbers, we were struck by a sad fact.

The federal government is spending $22 million a year to support athletes and coaches
who leave us bursting with pride, win or lose, at their dedication and sportsmanship.  At the same time they are spending nearly the same amount, $21.7 million, on the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, whose only goal is to make Canadians hate themselves, to blames themselves for historical wrongs, to promote ideas that divide the people, to feel as bad as possible about their ancestors and their political leaders.

That's when we stumbled across another shocking fact.  Public support for the CMHR is almost non-existent, if you measure it by financial contributions.

Ever since chief promoter Gail Asper launched a smear campaign against all ethnic groups that oppose giving primacy to the Holocaust at the "rights" museum, financial donations have plummeted.

The fundraising arm of the CMHR, Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, headed by Gail Asper, announced that it had raised $4 million in 2013.  That's less than the amount the museum owes for city taxes (and isn't paying).

But what was striking is that the total amount raised came from ONLY THREE DONATIONS. 

Yep. You read right.  The "Friends" had to go hat in hand to rich people, some of whom had already signed cheques, for more money. Hardly anyone dug into their pockets.

* They got $2.5 million more from Michael and Amira Dan, of Ontario, who had already pledged $1 million.
* And they got $1 million from Alice and Grant Burton, also of Ontario. 
* The remaining $1.5 million came from the Manitoba Teachers Society, which overrode opposition within its ranks to give money to the museum.

The Friends of CMHR say they got donations from another 200 people in 2013, but the money raised from the little people was so paltry they don't even count it in their total.

The largest non-millionaire contribution was $68,000 from two auctions of guitars signed by famous people. But those people were buying guitars, not giving money to the CMHR, probably in the hope their purchases would go up in price because of the autographs. 

Even then, the Friends of CMHR couldn't be honest about the guitar money. Their news release said they raised $101,000 from the sales of guitars -- which was true only if you add the $32,000 raised in 2011.

You can already smell the desperation from the CMHR. In public statements, their spokesmen have backed away---far, far away---from initial claims that the Canadian Museum for Human Rights would attract a quarter of a million additional tourists to Winnipeg each year.  Now they deftly speak only about a report they were given (don't blame us it it's wrong) that claims 250,000 people will visit the museum (they're here anyway, so if they've seen the zoo already, why not the ugly museum).

And they're trying to hype the white elephant through "exclusive" peeks at the museum interior for various news agencies.  The latest was Global News, which got the skinny on the 11 levels of choking propaganda that will greet attendees.

Like:

2. Indigenous Perspectives
Aboriginal concepts of humanity and our responsibilities to each other are explored in one of the most dramatic spaces of the museum. The focus is a circular theatre of curved wooden slats representing the multitude of Canadian aboriginal traditions, which will play a 360-degree film and serve as a space for storytelling, performance and discussion. (2,700 square feet plus outdoor terrace)
 
 

So you will get to sit in a giant basket and watch a movie, half of which is projected behind your head. Pure genius. Or you can go on the terrace for a smoke (hey, you got rights).

Maybe you will stop at:
3. Canadian Journeys
Canada’s Journey will contain 18 “story niches,” most of them eight-by-eight-foot “boxes.”
 
You can explore the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike.  We're betting they skipped the admiration of the strike leaders for the Communist Revolution in Russia in 1917. And how if they got their way, we would all be enjoying the same rights that citizens of countries controlled by the Communists enjoyed for 50 years.

Oh, and there's the perennial favorite, the Chinese Head Tax. Do you think they'll mention how Canada fought a war with Japan to free China from military dictatorship? We repaid that head tax a thousand times over. 

Of course Japanese Canadian Forced Relocation gets a box. Will the Canadians captured at Hong Kong and tortured by the Japanese for four years get a mention here?
 
Where would you rather see your tax dollars go? 
Athletes?  Or sackcloth and ashes? 


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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The St. James Firehall stonewall crumbles under the facts


Drop dead, said the City to Colin Craig.

Oh, not so succinctly. But the message was clear---beat it, get lost, scram.
It took less than a dozen words to slam the door in Craig's face, lock it, bolt it, and hope he went away.
Craig, you see, is the local director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. And more than a year ago, he politely asked the City for briefing notes, memos, emails and any other documentation they had regarding the process by which Winnipeg's new Fire Hall No. 11 ballooned in size to it's present corpulent state.

Not that it's gargantuan in the way the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is -- four football fields of empty space enclosed within a steel and concrete skeleton. But it is almost half again as big as the other three firehalls built as part of the same infrastructure replacement program.

And Fire Hall No. 11 is the fishiest project of the entire Sheegl-Shindico Bid-Rigging Scandal that's consumed the public's trust in City Hall. Built without a contract, millions of dollars over budget, so big that nobody knew what to do with the extra space, it piqued the interest of the Taxpayers Federation. Hence the freedom of information request.

The city replied: "In this case the records you have requested do not exist."

That, in a word, is preposterous.

If the documentation is there, then Colin Craig is being stonewalled by a city administration that's hiding something far bigger than anybody has imagined so far.

If the documentation is not there, that means somebody has swept the records clean, wiped his fingerprints off and skipped,
confident that the city administrators will make no efforts to recover what they don't want anybody to see, anyway.

Didn't we say it's time to call in the cops?

We scoured the Ernst-and-Young audit of the firehalls fiasco, as well as our clippings file, for clues to what the City of Winnipeg administrators are hiding.

We uncovered the exact time period that should be flooded with the  documentation the Taxpayers Federation is looking for.
 

Why the city administration claims they can't find a thing becomes very, very suspicious.

*  In 2009 the Winnipeg Fire Department got the okay to build four new fire stations.  They went looking for a suitable design.

They found one in London, Ontario, and in January 2010 they signed a contract to use the design. But already there was distinction between the three firehalls they intended to build in Winnipeg suburbs and the one station going up in St. James.

*  The City issued a tender for fire stations based on the Ontario design. It was amended in March, 2010:
B2.1 The Request for Proposals (RFP) contained herein documents the City of Winnipeg’s (City) invitation to organizations (Bidders) to present Proposals in accordance with the requirements identified in this RFP for the development of up to four (4) newly developed Fire Paramedic Stations (“the Project” or “WFPS Station”) for the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service (WFPS).

Specifically, the City is requesting submissions from private sector firms, individually or in consortium, for:
(a) construction (inclusive of site work) Sections A and B; and/or
(b) design, and construction (inclusive of site work) Section C;
of up to four (4) 750-930 square metre (8,000-10,000 square foot) facilities for the purpose of providing fire and paramedic service operations.
 
“SECTION A.
One Suburban Fire Paramedic Station in the Vicinity of 5000 Roblin Boulevard
SECTION B.
Two Suburban Fire Paramedic Stations
- one in the vicinity of Grant Avenue and Waverley Street; and
- one in the vicinity of Bishop Grandin Boulevard and Lagimodiere Boulevard
SECTION C.
One Core Fire Paramedic Station in the vicinity of Portage Avenue and Berry Street

As the auditors noted:
"Within less than a month of issuing the...RFP, the City issued amendments ... that called for the construction of 3 suburban stations based on the M&M design and the design and construction of an urban station Portage – Station #11."

In short, the suburban stations would be built on the Ontario design while Fire Station #11 would be designed separately.

*  June, 2010.  Only Shindico bid on the tender, and their bid was way too high.  Shindico said that the Ontario design could not be built on the Winnipeg budget, but that they had a design of their own that could. 

Regarding Fire Station #11, here's how the auditors reported Shindico's position:
"With respect to the core or urban station... the response from Shindico stated:
“To replace the firehall located at Portage Avenue and Berry Street, Shindico’s proposing the new Fire Paramedic Station be incorporated into the green space located immediately adjacent to the west side of the southbound lane of Route 90 on the north side of Portage Avenue. The property is owned by the City of Winnipeg. .......The Cost to develop the Core Station on Portage Avenue is
$5,991,500 or $518.11 per square foot ....The Core Station is more complex than the Suburban Stations” Based on this statement the design for the Core station, as proposed by Shindico, was to be 11,564 square ft ."
 
The size of the St. James firehall was already growing.  The auditors note that this was before the city saw any design incorporating a hazmat unit (or fire museum). 

* The auditors continued to document the decisions regarding Station No. 11:
 
June 28, 2010
Material Management and WFPS decide to move forward with Shindico regarding development of their concepts for Portage Station # 11. (MC#17) Suburban stations are expected to be subject to public tender.

September 2, 2010
... Shindico notifies Chief WFPS, via email, that they are working on an alternative station design for suburban stations, based on a request from the City. Email notes Shindico’s belief that M&M design can’t be done for City’s budget . Chief WFPS cautions regarding this approach, but gives go ahead regarding
Station #11. Email exchange is forwarded to CAO by Shindico.
 
September 3, 2010
The Current Chief WFPS responded to (Shindico) indicating: I am only able to legally negotiate on the specification that was put out to all the bidders. That specification is the Murphy and Murphy specification for the 3 suburban fire paramedic stations. To do anything else at this time puts the city in a position of serious risk from the other bidders.
Station 11 is a different animal as it had not (sic) accompanying design and falls under its own category of negotiation. That is certainly open to further discussion.
I would suggest Bob that before your company expends a lot of time and energy designing a new building, we resolve some of these issues first.
Lets go full steam ahead on the 11 Station project though. I will meet with materials management on Tuesday to begin phase 2 of that process and let you know the result.
 
*  Here's where the St. James firehall story gains traction. This story appeared in The Metro, one of Canstar's weeklies:
 
Talk of new fire hall location heating up
Fire department eyeing spot near Route 90 for Berry St. replacement, deputy chief says

By: Matt Preprost  Posted: 03/23/2011 3:34 AM   March 23, 2011
Fire official are eyeing a two-acre plot of land at Portage Avenue and Century Street for the relocation of Station No. 11 on Berry Street.
 
The Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service is hoping to build a new fire and paramedic station and fire museum inside the cloverleaf just west of Century Street, Reid Douglas, the services deputy chief, confirmed in an interview.
 
The plan is not yet finalized, and needs to go through several civic committees and public consultation before being approved, Douglas said.
snip

If all goes to plan, a new $4 million, 12,000 sq. ft. station will be built in the northwest corner of the cloverleaf next to the St. James Hotel.
 
It's March, 2011.  This is the first time there's any talk about a fire museum.  And note the size of the station---12,000 sq. ft.  That's probably a rounding-up of the 11,564 sq. ft. of Shindico's station design. 

But this time round it's more than just the cost of the "core station"; it includes a museum.  Was that always the intent? Surely there must be some documentation explaining if it was.

*  In June, 2011, the city hired Williams Engineering to track the progress of the firehalls project.
 
July 7, 2011
 “Meeting of Progress Minutes” # 2 indicated that by July 7, 2011 the design to Portage - Station #11 was 90% complete.
 
October 14, 2011
William’s MPM of this date indicates that the cost estimate for Portage - Station#11 is $5.1 Million. 

Oct. 19, 2011   The City issues a foundation permit for Station #11.

January 27, 2012
The construction of Portage Station was awarded
based on two contracts. One contract for the foundation and one for the completion of the building. The commencement of the construction of Portage Station # 11 with a foundation only contract, effectively bound the City to the construction of a station with the size and resulting cost that was not within the approved Council approved budget.
 
February 6, 2012
 A meeting was held between Legal Services, the MRE, the Current Chief WFPS and the WFPS Project Coordinator. During the meeting the following was discussed:
► The builder, Pre-Con was going bankrupt and needed payment for the Taylor property.
► There was an understanding that the proposed land exchange transferred excess value to Shindico. Such excess value was to be dealt with via a price reduction on Portage Station #11.
 
February 23, 2012
William’s issued a(n) MPM which included a new cost estimate from Shindico for Portage - Station #11, at $5.7 million before signage and permits.
 
*  April 26, 2012
The Current COO and CFO approved the foundation only contract for Portage -Station #11.
 
July 7,  2012
 
The Metro
Fire hall changes irk residents
By: Matt Preprost    07/18/2012 1:02 AM

Recent changes to the site plan of the new Station No. 11 fire hall in St. James has left a ringing in the ears of nearby residents.
Last week, city fire chief Reid Douglas and Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service project manager Christine Friesen appeared before the Assiniboia community committee seeking approval to move the location of the station from the back end of the property near Century Street up to the front of the site near Portage Avenue.
The committee approved the changes following a two-hour public hearing, a move city officials say will increase visibility of the station, improve traffic sight lines and reduce the overall footprint of the station by about 600 square feet.

At the beginning of the hearing, a lawyer for the Viscount Gort Hotel argued the station’s construction was "unlawful" and it is being built without provincial approval.

Richard Good said Viscount owner Phillip Kives was not consulted, and the hotel could suffer a loss of revenue and reputation as a result of the decision.

The city proceeded with undue haste, Good said, calling for construction to be stopped until there was further consultation.

Coun. Scott Fielding (St. James-Brooklands) noted the WFPS held a public consultation about the station at the Viscount Gort in July 2011.

He also noted a letter sent by the hotel to the community about the hearing misled residents into believing the station was expanding in size and taking up more greenspace inside the cloverleaf when the opposite was true.
 
*  Fielding was 100 percent wrong. The station WAS expanding in size. He's since claimed somebody lied to him.  He's not named that "somebody."
 
*  The following month, August, 2012, the entire firehalls fiasco started to unravel.
CBC reporter Sean Kavanagh stumbled across Shindico floating a lease on the old St. James firehall, which was still owned by the city. That led to the revelation of a land swap with Shindico which had never been approved by city councillors and the fact that one firehall was now built on land the city did not own -- land owned by Shindico.
 
August 30, 2012
A meeting was held in the Current CAO’s office, where apparently the MMM informed the Current Chief WFPS that the WFPS were building the Portage Avenue station without proper award authorities in place.
 
The auditors elsewhere clarified that bafflegab in their report:

"It is unclear as to the point in time that the CAO (Phil Sheegl), COO (Deepak Joshi) and Legal Services were aware that Portage - Station #11 was being constructed without a contract and/or appropriate contract award authorities in place. MM, the CAO (Phil Sheegl), CFO and COO (Deepak Joshi)  were aware a contract was not in place by the end of August 2012 based on the content of the following email from the MMM:
 
For everyone’s sake and peace of mind, we need to determine the approvals that are in place, or not, for these Fire Stations.
This topic was briefly discussed at the CAO’s office today, but it is clear that the City is well underway building at least one $6 million dollar station with approval for only <$1 million."
 
*  To sum up, the budget was blown.  The city administration had the bright idea of spending the little bit that was left to dig the foundation for Fire Station No. 11, and to ask City Council for more money to finish the project the following year ( 2013).  In the meantime, Shindico would continue construction with the promise it would get paid.

The auditors observed:
 
► In respect to Portage - Station #11 contracting, we have been informed by both Williams and Legal Services that one of the reasons the contract was split into two components, the foundation and the remainder of the building, was because sufficient Council approved funding was not available to allow for an
award for the full value of construction costs. This would be against City Policy.

But note this odd -- and unexplained -- reference the following month:

September 19, 2012 
Corporate Finance sent email to CFO indicating:

Mike, here is an updated draft of the report. This considers the information provided in the spreadsheet and the information provided by Reid by way of email and meeting earlier today. It is a moving target - from what Reid is now saying, the budget for the three suburban stations construction was too low - he references $2 to $2.4 million in his email, based on the St. Thomas experience. Assuming he budgeted $2.2 million for these stations, the overall budget of $15.34 million works. This would also be supported by the fact at the same time, the City had received responses back from Shindico on 200-2009B that the buildings could be delivered for $275 per square foot ($6.1 million total). As the stations actually came in at, on average, $3.1 million each, that puts the budget $2.8 million shor
t.
 
...-what were the redesign efforts on 11 that took place to save $1.2 million?

* Here's where the trail of the change order for Station No. 11 gets hazy, in large part because there was no contract for its construction so nobody really knew what Shindico was building -- except Shindico.

Then-Fire Chief Reid Douglas told the auditors that the original design with the museum was rejected by Public Works as a traffic distraction.  When was that? Is there no documentation, especially since Douglas went on to state: 

Chief WFPS’s Comments Regarding Review of Ernst & Young Draft Report Dated September 5, 2013
"It was assumed the sq. ft. of museum elimination would translate to a 4th bay.  This requires additional accomodation in crew space as well thus increasing overall 3000 sf for apparatus bay and living space"

Here, definitely, is discussion of increasing the size of Fire Station No. 11.  This would require a change order.  Where are the emails, the memos, the documentation surrounding this discussion?
 
The auditors then complicated the story with this comment:

► The sizing of Portage - Station #11 did change significantly as a result of WFPS eliminating the museum component and adding space for the Hazmat unit. The original RFP specified a station of approximately 10,000 sq. ft. To meet the specification requested in the original RFP, Shindico’s response included a
station design that was 11,564 sq. ft. The final design for Portage - Station #11 was 14,459 sq. ft
.
 
Here is the first reference to a firehall that's 14,459 sq. ft. large. It's gone through two design changes, and city officials say there's no paperwork anywhere that discusses how and when the final size was reached.
 
And the mention of a Hazmat unit is new.  Once the museum was kiboshed, they obviously didn't know what to do with the space. So they began running with various ideas.  First was moving the Hazmat unit from St. Boniface into Station #11.
 
No way, declared United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg president Alex Forrest.

That idea was junked.  But the firehall was being built 3000 square feet bigger and something had to fill all that extra space.
 
By early October, 2012, we learned it would be the Hazmat unit from the Maples.
 
And one other thing got tossed along with the St. Boniface Hazmat--- the Fire Chief.  Reid Douglas was out of a job.
 
No sooner was his departure announced, than COO Deepak Joshi jumped to blame him for the debacle.
 
Chief thought bigger station would cost same
By: Bartley Kives    Posted: 10/26/2012 1:00 AM

FIRE Paramedic Chief Reid Douglas had the authority to supersize the new Station No. 11 because he believed he could add 33 per cent more space to the Portage Avenue structure without going over budget.



Winnipeg chief operations officer Deepak Joshi said Douglas had the authority to go ahead with the change because the chief believed the extra work could be done without exceeding his budget.

"He felt it was the right thing to do at the time," said Joshi, explaining the new station was still being designed after its concrete foundation was poured. There was no reason for the chief to believe his change order would result in such a cost increase, based on the information at his disposal, he added.
 
Joshi believed in October, 2012, that there was a change order. 
 
Today he says there's no record anywhere

We repeat, preposterous.
 
The city administration can start looking between March, 2011, when the Fire Chief said the new St. James station would be 12,000 square feet and July, 2011, when Williams Engineering reported that the design for the station was 90 percent complete. 

Somewhere there they'll find internal documentation discussing the scrapping of a museum, what to do with the extra space, the need for another 3000 square feet if a hazardous materials unit is to be shoehorned into the building.
 
The declaration that they can't find a single note, email, or document must be seen as part of the internal cover-up.

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Enough is enough. Only the police can unravel the Firehalls Scandal now.


It's time to call in the cops.

Talk to anybody in this city and they'll tell you the public perception is that the Winnipeg Firehalls Scandal has crossed an invisible line that separates collusion from corruption.
Credence in anything the city's administration says died a swift death when the Canadian Taxpayer's Federation revealed how city officials responded to their question of who supersized the new St. James firehall to become 40 percent larger than originally designed.

Er, said Winnipeg's senior civil servants, there's no documentation on that. Nothing. Nix. Not an email, not a note, not a scribble in the men's room.  Zip. 

Given that the Firehall No.11 (St. James) is being blamed for most of the $3 million cost overrun on the $15 million project to build 4 new fire stations, the city's answer is completely unbelievable.

Did somebody sweep the files clean of all references to Fire Station 11? CAO Phil Sheegl and the other top administrators were questioned by auditors and they had no paperwork?  Were the auditors even told that there wasn't a document anywhere to explain why one fire station was built so big, that nobody knew what to do with the extra space?

At this stage, only the police can get answers to that question and every other outstanding question about the firehalls debacle. 

City council spun off a legal review of one aspect of the project---whether the city can be sued for favoring one developer, Shindico, over other potential bidders by giving them privileged information the others didn't have. 

Is it too late to ask for a separate legal opinion of what potential breaches of the law might be the subject of a police investigation given all the chicanery conducted by Winnipeg's "civil service"?

Or should we skip jumping through hoops and just ask the police and Crown to give us an opinion?

We combed the Ernst-and-Young audit of the firehalls project for examples of fishy activity that should interest police investigators.  A sampling of what we found, including some of what we dug out ourselves:

* Shindico had an "inside man" who guided them on how to circumvent the public tendering process.  The company was given information that was unavailable to other potential bidders and which set up a situation where then-CAO Phil Sheegl could scrap the tenders and give the contract to Shindico. 

A Shindico spokesman admitted to the auditors that "somebody" within the city administration advised them to submit their own design for firehalls, even though none of the other bidders were advised they could do that.

Mr. X has never been identified.  He's still there, willing and able to tip Shindico off to inside developments.  The auditors didn't ask for his name or else Shindico refused to provide it.  They know perfectly well who their Deep Throat is.  Only a police investigation can demand that information.

* The bidding process was rigged to give the entire $15 million contract to Shindico without a fair and open bidding process.  That was the conclusion of the firehall audit.  But believe it or not, it might be bid-rigging, but it's not against the law.  The law only criminalizes bid-rigging if it's between competitors, not a civil servant and a potential bidder.

But remember the term "procurement fraud". 

* Sheegl arranged it so that Shindico could make an excess profit on the firehalls deal.  Shindico could submit an artificially low price for the new firehall on Taylor in River Heights because it didn't have to include a price for land.

The fire station would be built on land owned by Shindico, which would be swapped later for three other parcels of city land.  Shindico would make a profit on the construction of the firehall, and another profit on the development of the swapped land. 

* Only the Crown prosecutors can determine what constitutes an illicit favour.  Does Shindico's hosting of Phil Sheegl, the man who sole sourced their firehall contracts, at one or more Winnipeg Jets games count?  It was and still is the most valuable, hardest-to-come-by sports ticket in Winnipeg.

(The Black Rod,  September 14, 2012  Seen... Phil Sheegl sitting in Shindico's corporate seats. )

Four days after CBC reported on the secret and still-unapproved land swap (in August, 2012), Mayor Sam Katz bought a house in Arizona from the sister of a Shindico executive for $10 down.  He afterwards claimed he paid fair market value, but refused to answer any questions, like how much and when, saying it was nobody's business.

* Winnipeg's senior civil servants, such as current-CAO Deepak Joshi, who is deeply implicated in the firehalls scandal, have said everything was done by the book.  That raises the obvious question, how many other insider deals have been done by Sheegl, Joshi and others that they're not telling us because they, too, were done by the book?

* Why can't we get a straight answer about the St. James firehall? It was built in two stages to fool city hall about its real cost, it's way over budget, it was larger than the other three fire stations built as part of the same project, although nobody could say why? In fact, the scramble to find a use for the extra space was embarassing and very suspicious.

(More about the St. James station in days to come.)

Four years ago, Calgary had its own concerns about how contracts for construction projects were awarded.   Boy, a lot of their concerns sound familiar, don't they.

September 20, 2010
Calgary to probe construction procurement fraud

RICHARD GILBERT
staff writer

The City of Calgary has hired an accounting firm to look into allegations of fraud in construction procurement, but a candidate for mayor in the upcoming elections says the auditor isn’t independent enough to protect the public interest.

“Even though it may not be true, the perception is that they are being hired to audit their own work,” said Calgary Alderman and mayoral candidate Ric McIver.

Deloitte & Touche LLP will review the city’s procurement practices and address serious concerns about fraud. The company is already the city’s external auditor and has been for a number of years.

“Those people that chose this auditor are running the risk that something may not be fully disclosed. Whether it’s good, bad or ugly the public needs to know,” he said.

The firm will start work later this month.
“It’s less independent than it should have been and doesn’t meet the highest standard of independence,” said McIver. “They should have chosen one of the other consulting firms.”

In response to a Request for a Proposals (RFP), Deloitte & Touche was selected to determine if there is any substance to allegations of procurement fraud raised by the former city auditor.

In June, city auditor Tracy McTaggart was fired for heading a department that failed to meet international accounting standards.

The decision was made after a review into the auditor’s office by PriceWaterhouseCoopers found a wide range of inefficiencies.

McTaggart released an audit on May 20 which also revealed systemic problems in the way contracts for construction projects are awarded.

One of the main conclusions of this audit is that there is an increased risk of fraud through the use of change orders and non-competitive procurement.

According to McTaggart, change orders were issued on purchase orders over $25,000 that totaled $747 million in a three year period ending April 2009.

However, many change orders were missing from contract files and, as a result, she said it was not possible to assess the underlying cause for the change order.

There was also a disproportionate use of sole/single sourcing to procure goods and services, without evidence to support the rationale for the lack of a competitive process and to ensure compliance with the Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT).

In response to McTaggart’s findings, city manager Owen Tobert produced his own report.

His report stated that the administration conducted its own analysis and found that there have been no circumstances of procurement fraud.

The Internal Control Risk Management group reviewed almost 600 files representing a value of $600 million or about 80 per cent of the dollar value of all the procurement files.
The group found that change orders and documentation were authorized and adequate.

Given the contradictory conclusions of the two reports, Tobert felt it was necessary to hire an independent auditor to address any lingering doubt in the minds of the city council or the public.

At this time, Tobert said, the administration is seeking expert advice from Deloitte & Touche to undertake a more complete and risk-based review of procurement activities that occurred between 2006 and 2009.

The risk-based investigative review will focus on higher risk procurement activities that are estimated to have a greater likelihood of occurrence and a more significant impact.

Following council’s approval, administrative staff identified seven higher risk areas in the RFP, including files related to single source contracts, change orders and limited tenders.

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