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Decision has potential to backfire

Ambitious politician could hijack Bowman's agenda

Empty   City Hall Councillor Chamber chairs for story on the rotating chair in politics.  Key words  - political party chairs, Leg, Parliament , politics.  49.8  Jan 28,, 2014 Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press

Empty City Hall Councillor Chamber chairs for story on the rotating chair in politics. Key words - political party chairs, Leg, Parliament , politics. 49.8 Jan 28,, 2014 Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/10/2014 (1691 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

BRIAN Bowman risks derailing his ambitious agenda to remake city hall if he allows councillors to pick his cabinet.

Political scientist Aaron Moore said Winnipeg city council has the strongest mayor in the country, outside municipalities with a political party system, but he said Bowman's move to allow council to elect the chairpersons of the key standing committees could undermine the strength of the office.

"The mayor in Winnipeg is the strongest mayor in Canada, and it's because of EPC," said Moore, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Winnipeg who specializes in municipal government and politics. "The EPC gives the mayor significant authority in Winnipeg that other mayors would be envious (of) across Canada."

Moore compared Winnipeg's strong mayor model with that of Toronto. Even though the mayor of Canada's largest city does have an executive committee of councillors, they only amount to 12 votes on a council of 44 votes, leaving them incapable of controlling the agenda.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/10/2014 (1691 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

BRIAN Bowman risks derailing his ambitious agenda to remake city hall if he allows councillors to pick his cabinet.

Political scientist Aaron Moore said Winnipeg city council has the strongest mayor in the country, outside municipalities with a political party system, but he said Bowman's move to allow council to elect the chairpersons of the key standing committees could undermine the strength of the office.

"The mayor in Winnipeg is the strongest mayor in Canada, and it's because of EPC," said Moore, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Winnipeg who specializes in municipal government and politics. "The EPC gives the mayor significant authority in Winnipeg that other mayors would be envious (of) across Canada."

Moore compared Winnipeg's strong mayor model with that of Toronto. Even though the mayor of Canada's largest city does have an executive committee of councillors, they only amount to 12 votes on a council of 44 votes, leaving them incapable of controlling the agenda.

'There are a lot of people who don't like the EPC model because it showed solidarity with Sam Katz, but I think (Bowman) is really risking undermining his own authority by going the route he's planning'— political scientist Aaron Moore on the promise by mayor-elect Brian Bowman to allow members of council to decide who will chair standing committees

Winnipeg's executive policy committee (EPC) consists of seven members: the mayor, the chairpersons of the five standing committees and another at-large councillor.

Councillors promoted to EPC earn a significant increase in salary (an extra $23,000) and are privy to key information from senior administration before the rest of council.

With EPC, the mayor has seven votes, a formidable block, but still a minority on the 16-vote council. However, critics said a manipulative mayor can use the support of EPC to influence the outcome of annual elections for speaker and deputy speaker (who also get a bump in salary), parlaying that seven-vote block into a nine-vote block and a majority.

Bowman was critical of city hall's strong mayor model during the election campaign and its reliance on an executive policy committee that, in recent times, often appeared to vote in lock-step with Sam Katz.

"There are a lot of people who don't like the EPC model because it showed solidarity with Sam Katz, but I think (Bowman) is really risking undermining his own authority by going the route he's planning," Moore said.

Bowman was elected based on his vision of growth. He has 39 policy commitments for his first four years in office and a detailed agenda for his first 100 days in office. That agenda could be at risk if councillors bicker among themselves or if an ambitious councillor uses the freedom to steer his own agenda.

"The whole point of EPC is so you don't get the levels of parochialism you see in other cities, where you have a weak mayor and non-partisan ward system," Moore said. "By redirecting the authority back to council, he is running the risk that this could lead to a council that is very much parochial, focused on their ward interests and less so in enabling his vision or focusing on city-wide policies."

Christopher Leo, a senior scholar at the U of W, said he doubts Bowman can carry out his agenda without the influence and that comes with EPC appointments.

"The ability to choose the members of executive policy committee and the chairs of the other committees is really the key to the mayor's power," Leo said. "If he gives away that power, he loses much of his ability to exercise any kind of control over council...

"Maybe he's got some idea that he's got such a powerful personality that he's going to be able to get people to vote his way without those levers of power — that's a pretty adventuresome approach to take," Leo said.

Before the Filmon government gave Winnipeg's mayor the authority to appoint EPC members in 1989, Winnipeg council was known as a bickering lot where ambitious councillors lobbied for power and control of the agenda at city hall — making the mayor a figurehead.

Former mayor Susan Thompson (1992-98) used the power to remove councillors from EPC. So did, to a lesser degree, Sam Katz, during his 10 years in office.

When Bowman surrenders some authority to council to choose EPC, Moore said he can't reverse course without appearing to turn his back on one of his core beliefs.

Legislation still gives Bowman the power to replace councillors on EPC who are obstructionist, but by then it could be too late.

"If he does that, his whole argument that he's trying to give more authority to council goes out the window."

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Aldo Santin

Aldo Santin
Reporter

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.

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