Redeploying 600 laid-off City of Winnipeg employees can’t happen overnight: municipal relations minister

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said Wednesday he hopes 600 laid-off city employees can be redeployed into temporary work with the province — but Manitoba’s municipal relations minister says the mayor didn’t inform her of his proposal. 

Rochelle Squires says Bowman did not send in a formal request with the proposal, and the first time she heard about it was through media reports. 

“The mayor cannot drop an idea in the media one day and expect the provincial government to answer and to have a response the next day, especially on something as complex as redeploying workforce between levels of government,” she said at the Manitoba Legislature Thursday.

The city announced Wednesday it is laying off hundreds of temporary and part-time municipal employees starting on Sunday, because of facility closures and postponement of community programming due to COVID-19.

Bowman said city officials are looking for ways to keep staff working in other roles, including having conversations with the province to see if there are jobs for them there.

Mayor Brian Bowman says it’s concerning Squires didn’t know talks between city officials and the civil service commission were talking place about redeployment. (Walther Bernal/CBC )

On Thursday, the Winnipeg mayor said the idea wasn’t meant to be a formal request, but an offer. 

“We’re trying to provide support to the provincial government, who clearly needs some assistance, and we have staff who may available to them,” he said.

“They may or may not utilize those resources — that’s their decision.”

However, Bowman said city officials have had extensive conversations with the province’s civil service commission in recent weeks, and said he was surprised Squires is not kept “in the loop.” 

“It demonstrates that the minister isn’t having the dialogue that you would expect with their own government officials. That is concerning in the middle of a pandemic,” he said.  

Squires acknowledged there has been talk of the idea, but said she needs more details from the city on what’s required. 

“There have been some conversations at the officials level.… Our officials talk on a regular basis about several initiatives and challenges that both levels of government are facing.”

She said she has asked the civil service commission to look at the possibility of redeploying the city workers, but did not provide details on when she will have an answer. 

“I would certainly invite a phone call from the mayor to clarify the requirements and when those requirements would need to be addressed,” she said. 

‘Not an issue coming out of the blue’

In the legislature Thursday, the Opposition NDP criticized the province for not immediately deploying the laid-off city workers into positions that are essential during the pandemic, such as call-centre staff and contract tracers.

“This is not an issue that’s coming out of the blue. The civil servants at the city level, at the provincial level, have been working on this issue for some time and all that’s really needed is a green light at the political level of the province,” said NDP Leader Wab Kinew.

Kinew said the plan should be approved quickly so workers can be employed throughout the holiday season. 

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said the province’s recent decision to ask junior Crown attorneys and articling students to do contract tracing doesn’t make sense. 

“There are literally thousands of people who could be doing work right now and instead of going to people who are unemployed and giving them jobs … they’re actually taking people who should be working and applying it to contractors. It makes no sense,” he said.