This week, news broke about one of the biggest political scandals in Winnipeg’s history. A judge ruled that Phil Sheegl, Winnipeg’s former chief administrative officer, accepted a $327,000 bribe from Armik Babakhanians in order to award Babakhanians’ company, Caspian Construction, the contract to build the new Winnipeg Police Service headquarters.
Sheegl will have to pay the amount of the bribe to the City of Winnipeg, as well as the $250,000 severance package he received when he resigned in 2013, $100,000 in punitive damages and some amount of the City’s court costs. The fiasco could end up costing Sheegl more than $700,000.
There’s a lot that’s galling about Sheegl’s misconduct. But that $250,000 severance package looks particularly egregious. When Sheegl resigned in disgrace in 2013, the police headquarters bribe wasn’t even the scandal that undid him. The screw-up that cost him his job was one involving the construction of four new fire halls, a deal that involved unexplained cost overruns and a shady land deal.
Given the amount and scope of Sheegl’s corruption, it’s hard to think of any legitimate reason he should ever have received a quarter-million-dollar payout. It would be hard to come up with a less valid use for public money. But it’s especially frustrating when considered as part of a larger picture of irresponsible spending at the expense of basic public services.
The Winnipeg Free Press recently exposed wasteful spending on a massive scale in the city’s traffic infrastructure. The overfunded Winnipeg Police Service wracked up 156 hours of overtime pay during the Freedom Convoy protests, despite doing nothing to end it. Wealthy sports companies receive massive tax breaks with no pushback. But basic, actually helpful initiatives like public transit, homeless shelters and harm reduction continue to flounder financially while the city’s richest continue lining their pockets.
As Jack Nicholson’s Joker quipped in 1989’s Batman, “This town needs an enema.”
Published in Volume 76, Number 21 of The Uniter (March 17, 2022)