Gillingham asks province for changes to city charter to give council more control
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Winnipeg’s mayor wants the province to let city council determine the fate of its most powerful committee, which could affect his own power to sway votes.
In a letter to Premier Heather Stefanson, Mayor Scott Gillingham recently asked for several changes to the provincially controlled City of Winnipeg Charter.
The charter requires city council to include an executive policy committee — the mayor’s inner circle — whose members each lead a standing policy committee and are directly appointed by the mayor.
Gillingham would like a rule change that lets council set up its own committee structure, instead.
“The aim here is to allow council to have the autonomy to determine its own and best governance structure,” the mayor told the Free Press.
“I’m not calling for the elimination of executive policy committee, necessarily, but just the authority for council to (decide.)”
In his letter, Gillingham argued EPC has been altered to concentrate too much power among too few council members in the recent past.
“Through the aggressive use and expansion of the EPC model, previous mayors have created majority voting blocs before issues even came to council for approval… I believe granting the city the power to determine its own committee structure — which could include eliminating EPC altogether — would ultimately be the best way to address these concerns,” wrote Gillingham.
The move comes after several non-EPC councillors lashed out against former mayor Brian Bowman over his so-called “EPC +2” practice. Critics alleged his decision to appoint six councillors to join him on EPC, while also appointing a deputy mayor and acting deputy mayor who don’t sit on EPC, created a voting block of nine out of 16 council members to sway key council votes.
Gillingham cut his EPC by one member and gave Coun. Janice Lukes a spot on the committee and the title of deputy mayor instead.
The mayor said he doesn’t expect any of the EPC changes he’s requesting from the province to thwart his ability to implement his platform.
“Every mayor should be trying to work with every councillor in every term of office,” he said. “What we heard consistently, over my time on council, is the complaint that some councillors feel they’re on the outside.”
The mayor is also lobbying the province for more authority, arguing he should be granted the powers to propose a draft budget, directly order city staff to produce some reports and directly obtain updates on public service operations.
Gillingham said that should help him take more efficient action on key priorities, though council would still make final decisions.
“Sometimes there’s situations or issues a mayor will deal with that require a quick turnaround from the public service and all of these information requests would be turned into reports that would be presented to all of council,” he said.
Lukes, a vocal critic of “EPC +2,” argues that model gave more access to information and influence on council decisions to those who sit on the committee than those who don’t.
“I absolutely think we need to restrict the stacking of votes, which is what EPC (has done in the past)…. (This) is shifting power but it is (also) opening doors for others to be more engaged and informed,” she said.
The Waverley West councillor said changes are needed to ensure all councillors have the information to best represent their communities.
“There needs to be some form of executive board or EPC, but the past way it was tweaked and used, this is what we are trying to find a more equitable way to handle,” said Lukes.
Coun. Brian Mayes believes there are benefits to keeping some form of EPC.
“There’s a provincial cabinet, there’s a federal cabinet. (At the city, EPC) does help to have some structure here. Could (council) elect (its members)? I suppose we could…. Mayors are the only (council members) elected city-wide, so they should have some ability to implement their platform,” said Mayes (St. Vital).
He said experience on EPC can also allow councillors to specialize in specific portfolios, which can help them make more-informed decisions.
In a brief emailed statement, a spokesperson for Manitoba’s premier said the matter will be discussed.
“We are open to working with the new mayor…. This specific request was received earlier this month and is amongst other items subject to ongoing discussions between the city and the province,” the spokesperson wrote.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.