Amber Flashing Lights, Leadership & Governance

Photo Credit: Brett Purdy/CBC

The loss of a $1.7M gift of amber flashing lights is representative of a far greater problem at City Hall. This is just one example of many that has resulted in a negative impact on the tax payer. (list below)

In my short time at City Hall, I’ve seen tens of thousands of dollars pulled by private donors due to onerous bureaucratic red tape and political indecisiveness.

The negative impact on taxpayers are a result of the combination of two things:

  1. A lack of strong political & administrative leadership
  2. An outdated governance model


Strong leadership is key in any organization BUT an election doesn’t always guarantee strong leadership. Not many people who run for the position of Mayor come to the role with leadership skills strong enough to run a City.  The structure of the City’s current governance model has two key leaders:

  • A Mayor: who is elected by ALL of the citizens to lead and work with Councillors, and to set a direction for administration to follow
  • A Chief Administrative Officer: who is directed by the Mayor and six members of Council (Executive Policy Committee (EPC) to deliver on the direction, by utilizing a staff of 10,000+ public servant


  • Many organizations update their governance models every 3-5 years.  The City of Winnipeg has not updated its governance model in over 20+ years. So today, we are sharing information, and making decisions in the best interest of taxpayers – based on a model that is 20+ years old. A lot has changed in the way we share information over the past 20 years.
  • The current governance model allows a Mayor to provide information to select Councillors and restrict information from other Councillors. This is allowed under the outdated governance model and creates a ‘two tier’ system of information sharing. Restricting information does not enable well informed decisions.
  •  A 2019 access to information request by the Winnipeg Free Press revealed that in a 10 month period, there were 58 closed door meetings held by the Mayor, with the 6 Council members of the Executive Policy Committee and administration staff. The other half of Council did not receive the information that was shared in the 58 meetings and were not able to form informed opinions in discussion with the Mayor and all Council members. These meeting continue to be held.
  • Councillors are elected equally to represent their constituents. When Councillors are restricted from information – decisions are made that are not in the best interests of all residents.


  • Strong administrative leadership + strong political leadership + current robust governance model = better decision making.
  • For over 1.5 yrs, the City has been looking to hire a CAO – and search still continues. We can reflect on many administrative decisions since 2014 (list below) that when combined with restricted access to information – have not been good for the taxpayer.
  • Is strong political leadership present? In my opinion, the withdrawal of a gift of $1.7M reflects that both administrative and political leadership failed taxpayers.
  • We are making decisions based on an outdated 20+ year governance model.

We can get into the weeds of mountains of details on what caused the withdrawal of the $1.7M gift, but I ask you to look at the bigger picture – and do two things:

  1. Reflect on leadership and the impacts to taxpayers when you vote in 2022
  2. Demand that your City Councillor pressure leadership move forward on updating the current governance model

Impact to taxpayers under current leadership and governance model:

  • 2020 – $1.7M gift of amber flashing lights withdrawn
  • 2020 – $30M+ in impact fees to be returned due to improper due diligence in determining and applying fees
  • 2019 – Court of Queen’s Bench Madam Justice Grammond finds City of Winnipeg and the City Center Committee in contempt of a judicial order
  • 2019 – Director of City’s property and planning department says he had “no clue” city inspectors weren’t doing their jobs
  • 2018 – Audit finds failures in ‘the current systems and processes in place’ to support City staff and Council for identifying and communicating relevant and material information to decision makers through the City of Winnipeg report process (Sterling Lyon Parkway)
  • 2018 – Audit of the City’s legal department find department did not have the  appropriate systems and processes in place to mitigate the risks of file management errors, including missing critical deadlines in legal processes (Water Treatment Plan).
  • 2017 – $30M Statement of Claim deadlines missed  – Winnipeg’s Deacon Water Treatment Plant
  • 2016 – CAO admits to not reading pertinent briefing notes for $2M Sterling Lyon Parkway project.
  • 2016 – City pays almost $16 million more than expected for Hydro land because no formal agreement was put in place by public service
  • 2014 – Between 2014 & 2018 the City’s legal department has had a turnover rate in excess of 50 per cent

Please know I have been aggressively involved in calling both audits, the governance review, calling for a CAO, and working with Councillors to change the system. Changing a system like City Hall – means power will shift. Shifting power is not often welcomed by those holding the power.