In what appears to be the first direct response to Winnipeg's request for a public inquiry into the city's real-estate and construction scandals, Manitoba's premier has told the mayor the province isn't prepared to call an inquiry "at this time."
Since February, when city council voted 15-1 to request a provincial inquiry, Premier Brian Pallister and Justice Minister Heather Stefanson have both told reporters it would be premature to call an inquiry before the RCMP wraps up its investigation into the procurement and construction Winnipeg's police headquarters.
Mayor Brian Bowman has since been asked repeatedly whether the premier ever responded. On Tuesday, Bowman's office said the premier wrote the mayor a letter, reiterating the Progressive Conservative government's position.
"I can confirm the premier has responded via letter to the mayor indicating his government's position remains that it is not prepared to call an inquiry at this time," Bowman communications director Jonathan Hildebrand said via email.
The mayor will continue to press the Pallister government to commit to an inquiry, Hildebrand added.
"The city is limited and restricted in its ability to conduct broad, systemic reviews, and a public inquiry is the single, most effective tool available to determine facts that can assist in strengthening and improving processes and procedures at the City of Winnipeg," he said.
City council called for an inquiry after CBC News reported RCMP allegations of a $200,000 secret commission paid to former Winnipeg chief administrative officer Phil Sheegl by Armik Babakhanians, the owner of police-headquarters contractor Caspian Construction.
No charges have been laid as a result of the police-headquarters investigation, which formally started in December 2014, and none of the allegations against Sheegl or Babakhanians has been proven in court.
That investigation followed the July 2014 release of a KPMG audit into the police-headquarters construction project. That audit, in turn followed the July 2014 release of an EY audit of major Winnipeg real-estate transactions and the October 2013 release of a separate EY audit into Winnipeg's fire-paramedic station construction program.
The city council motion calling for an audit was very broad. It called for the Manitoba government "to 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 in February he envisioned an inquiry that would require people to testify under oath, but would not draw any conclusions about civil or criminal liability, duplicate the work of previous audits or hamper the ongoing RCMP investigation into Winnipeg's police headquarters.
The Pallister government has been asked to comment.