John Orlikow taking temporary leave from Winnipeg city council due to ‘physical health issues’

Winnipeg city councillor John Orlikow is taking a temporary leave from city hall.

The River Heights-Fort Garry councillor has been experiencing “physical health issues” and made the decision after consulting his doctor, he said in an emailed statement Friday.

He is also stepping aside as chair of council’s community services committee — a role that includes a seat on council’s executive policy committee — and its budget working group.

Orlikow’s office will remain open and extra staff have been hired to help his executive assistant, the statement said.

Mayor Scott Gillingham told reporters he didn’t expect the news, but wishes Orlikow a speedy recovery.

“I was surprised, but at the end of the day, as individuals our health is our No. 1 priority and you can’t take health for granted,” he said.

“We’re hoping and wishing for a full recovery quickly for Coun. Orlikow.”

He didn’t say when he expects Orlikow to return to work.

Gillingham appointed rookie Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood Coun. Evan Duncan to replace Orlikow as community services chair. Gillingham noted that before running for office, Duncan worked at the Manitoba Youth Centre.

“He’ll do a really good job, and given what we’ve got going on in the city right now, with just the sheer rise in youth crime, his voice will be more important, because his background is in the youth justice and youth counselling system, and I think that’s a really needed contribution at this point.”

Duncan says he wishes Orlikow a quick recovery and is excited to represent his ward on executive policy committee. 

His first priority will be “accountability” within the community services department.

“I want to make sure that we are bringing the services that Winnipeggers are in need of and that have maybe been peeled back at times,” he said. 

“I’m going to make sure that we are advocating as strongly as possible for funding for those services. A great opportunity is coming up in the four-year budget to make sure we have a strong community services department that is delivering services to Winnipeggers.

Orlikow, who was first elected in a byelection in 2009, was recently named in a high-profile court decision, awarding $5 million to developer Andrew Marquess.

Earlier this month, Manitoba Cout of King’s Bench Justice Shauna McCarthy ruled that two city planners deliberately slowed Marquess’s efforts to build 1,900 residential units on the Parker lands in Fort Garry.

McCarthy wrote in the decision chief planner Braden Smith and city planner Michael Robinson were motivated primarily by the “wishes and demands” of Orlikow.

Orlikow denies he directed anyone in the public service to block the development.

CBC News requested an interview with Orlikow, but his executive assistant said he was not available.