The former chief of the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service says he tried to end a deal made by his predecessor that required the city to pay the full salary and benefits of firefighter union president Alex Forrest.
“This is the taxpayers’ money we’re talking about here,” said Reid Douglas, former chief of the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service, in an interview with CBC News.
Douglas said he learned of the deal in 2008, when he returned to Winnipeg to work as deputy chief in the fire paramedic service. He began his firefighting career in Winnipeg in 1974, but had left in 2000 to run the fire department in North Vancouver and then Yellowknife.
“When I came back in January 2008, this agreement was in place, and we didn’t question it. It was something that was done by the chief and that was that,” Douglas said.
Douglas believes the deal was struck in 2007 between Alex Forrest, the president of the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg, and Jim Brennan, who had just been promoted to chief that year.
In 2011, Brennan retired and Douglas took over the job. He said he started looking into the agreement in 2012 after learning that based on seniority, Forrest was up for promotion to lieutenant — a move that would cost taxpayers more money since the city was still on the hook for the union leader’s pay and benefits.
“I could never find anything in writing on it. And I had human resources search. I searched the files myself for it and there was nothing in the chief’s files or anything that I knew of, ” he said.
Douglas said he asked Forrest about it and he confirmed no documentation existed on the deal. He said Forrest told him it was a verbal agreement Forrest and Brennan had honoured.
“It was a department issue, it’s something that the former chief had agreed to and I thought it was up to the current chief to end that practice,” said Douglas.
Douglas said he told Forrest the city was no longer prepared to cover his salary — news he said the union boss didn’t take very well.