Less than two weeks before the federal election, one councillor wants Winnipeg city hall to offer free transit to encourage people to get out and vote.
Coun. Kevin Klein has asked Mayor Brian Bowman to declare Oct. 21 "Ride Free Day," during the hours polls are open.
However, the mayor’s office said Bowman doesn’t have the authority to unilaterally waive the collection of fares and the chairman of the committee that oversees Winnipeg Transit said while the idea is worth considering, he doubted it could be accomplished with the few days remaining.
Klein sent the letter to Bowman in an email shortly after 6 a.m. Thursday, and followed it up a few minutes later, copying the letter to all members of council and local media.
"Mr. Mayor, would you join us as one voice and declare election day a Ride Free Day in Winnipeg?" Klein states in his letter to Bowman, adding such a move would "motivate more people to exercise their democratic right" to vote.
Klein said he wants council to consider amending bylaws to make Winnipeg Transit free on all municipal, provincial and federal election days going forward.
"My true hope is... even if it allows five people to vote who couldn’t vote before, it did something for democracy," he said.
Coun. Matt Allard, chairman of the public works committee, told reporters while he thought the idea had merit, Klein should have followed council’s procedures and brought it to the committee, where it could be considered and debated before taking it to council
The public works committee last met Oct. 1, and doesn’t meet again until November. Council doesn’t meet until Oct. 24 — three days after election day.
“It would have been a good time to talk about it about 10 days ago, at our last public works committee meeting. This would have been a really good debate to have. Unfortunately, I think the timing is really tough to seriously consider the idea.” — city councillor Matt Allard
"It would have been a good time to talk about it about 10 days ago, at our last public works committee meeting," Allard said. "This would have been a really good debate to have. Unfortunately, I think the timing is really tough to seriously consider the idea. However, if it’s an idea my council colleagues want to debate, getting some policy around this may have some merits."
Bowman’s comments were in sync with Allard.
"At first glance, the idea to waive Transit fares for elections seems like an idea worth exploring. There are many logistical and financial implications of this idea and it would require planning by the public service. The federal election timeframe has been known for years and (Klein) has had many opportunities to raise this idea before today’s tweet," Bowman said in a statement to the Free Press.
"Council does not govern and create policy on Twitter or through the media. Rather, there are established processes to convert ideas into policy direction from council and those processes allow the public service the appropriate research time so council can be properly advised."
Winnipeg Transit spokeswoman Alissa Clark said the city would lose about $150,000 in revenue if fares were to be waived, adding another $5,000, if the move is extended to Transit Plus.
In a statement, Clark said a free fare day could also increase ridership and cause capacity issues on some routes that could result in "pass-ups" and affect people who have already paid for passes.
Klein told reporters the idea was brought to him two days ago by a Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood resident. He then brought it to Bowman’s attention, adding, however, he hadn’t considered how to make it a reality.
"No, there is no plan… My actual thought was the mayor would say, ‘Let’s get everyone on council together and talk about this,’" Klein said. "What plan do you need?"
Allard said Elections Canada has made strides in improving opportunities for individuals to vote, including more flexible advance voting days and hours, and questioned whether offering free transit is necessary.
"I think Elections Canada has got this," Allard said.
The Canada Elections Act does not outline distance requirements between polling stations and voter residences, only requiring returning officers to establish stations that are accessible to voters.
An Elections Canada spokeswoman said Thursday she was not aware of any municipality offering free transit during federal election day.
Manitoba’s voter turnout in the 2015 federal election was on par with the country-wide turnout of 68.3 per cent.
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.
Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.