By BERNIE BELLAN
(Note: This story was first posted Oct. 2 and quickly became the most widely read story in the history of this website. Given the number of mayors in Canada who have been shown to be "ethicallly challenged" in the past few weeks, we thought it appropriate to re-post this story. There are still too many unanswered questions about the nature of the relationship between old pals Sam Katz and Phil Sheegl - and just what has been happening in Scottsdale, Arizona these past few years involving those two.)
As we continue to watch with fascination the ongoing series of revelations about Mayor Sam Katz’s alleged conflicts of interests; his business dealings with his close friend and City of Winnipeg CAO Phil Sheegl; and the involvement of Shindico (headed by another close Sam Katz friend, Sandy Shindleman) in so much of the city’s business, some thoughts come to mind:
When a politician comes under severe fire, invariably that politician’s first instinct is to hunker down and fight back. There is a certain cynicism about both the public’s and the media’s attention span when it comes to probing suggestions of impropriety. After all, didn’t former Prime Minister Jean Chretien avoid calling an inquiry into what became known as Adscam for years, despite the mounting evidence that the Liberal Party in Quebec had been involved in largescale financial corruption? It was only when Chretien’s successor, Paul Martin, came to power, that a commission of inquiry was organized – and look where that eventually took the Liberals: Into political eclipse.
These days it seems that the only time we hear of a politician admitting wrongdoing is when it relates to some sort of sexual impropriety.
While Sam Katz is a wily politician though, there is a momentum to the allegations of malfeasance that does not seem to be dissipating. The two main reporters who are working on this story. Bartley Kives of the Free Press and Sean Kavanaugh of the CBC are dogged individuals. They are fully aware what questions to continue asking and what trails to continue following. They also know which individuals might be willing to come forward with information when the time is right.
As someone who has been involved in attempting to expose wrongdoing myself, viz. the Crocus Fund debacle, I know full well the difficulty in getting people to talk about what they know – either on or off the record. For instance, with regard to the story about the fire hall on Taylor Avenue, there have to be individuals within the city’s Planning Department who would be privy to certain aspects of the deal whose knowledge of those details would do much to answer many of the questions swirling about that particular deal.
No doubt those individuals are frightened to speak to any reporter – no matter what kinds of assurances of confidentiality they might be given. Now, while bureaucrats are generally restricted from speaking to the media unless that is cleared with someone in authority, usually someone, somewhere, in as large a bureaucracy as the City of Winnipeg’s can be expected to “leak” information – unless they are absolutely terrified to do so. Experience would suggest, however, that bureaucrats who are interested in furthering their careers will maintain a very careful circumspection when it comes to offending their political masters, especially if it would not be too difficult to deduce the source of a particular item of information.
I have been told, for example, by someone who was formerly a senior planner with the City of Winnipeg that the atmosphere in the Planning Depart-ment is poisoned, that morale is at an all-time low, and that anyone with superior qualifications who might be thinking of applying for a position in that department will stay well clear of working for the city.
There is another aspect to this story though – and something I wrote about in my last Short Takes column, and that is the embarrassment that this story is causing to the Jewish community. Forget for a moment the diversion caused by that silly poster attacking Sam Katz, which we heard about two weeks ago. (By the way, the author of that poster also sent us an e-mail two weeks ago, parts of which are printed on the opposite page.)
I wrote in my last column that, as Jews, we should hold ourselves to a higher standard of behaviour – not only because we are so often stereotyped by others, but because so much of what it means to be a Jew is grounded in an ethical norm that has developed over thousands of years. While I don’t pretend to be observant, like most other students who attended Joseph Wolinsky Collegiate, I did study the Talmud - and am fully aware of the pivotal role that ethical behaviour plays in defining what it means to be a good Jew.
One can hardly expect any rabbi in this community to come out publicly and take a stand on what we’ve been reading and hearing about with regard to our mayor, nor can any representative of a Jewish organization here be expected to do that, but let’s be honest: This is an issue that is being talked about constantly and is causing a great deal of embarrassment to us, as Jews.
Can Sam Katz or Phil Sheegl resign without losing face? The answer is: No. Yet, that is what they both should do. Will either of them do that? Sheegl perhaps. He might get “thrown under the bus”, so to speak, by Katz, but based on what has already emerged, they both should do the right thing and resign.
What a mess.