Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/3/2020 (415 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Mayor Brian Bowman said he’s confident that continuing public meetings throughout this week was the right decision, even as many other gatherings were cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns.
The mayor said the decision to condense the 2020-2023 budget meetings, so they end March 20 instead of March 25, followed all public health guidelines.
"We want to ensure that business continuity and funding that Winnipeggers would expect can ensure vital services continue in the coming weeks," said Bowman. "That’s why we’ve rescheduled some meetings. All of the meetings and all of the activities are taking place in accordance with recommendations from Manitoba Health."
Council’s executive policy committee also passed a motion Tuesday to cancel all council and committee meetings originally scheduled between March 23 and April 13, pending council approval.
The mayor’s comments follow several demands that the city postpone its entire budget process due to the pandemic.
Multiple unions, the Budget for All advocacy group and a few councillors have urged the mayor to reconsider the timing. Coun. Shawn Nason (Transcona) even walked out of a Monday meeting after deeming it a health risk.
But Bowman said all politicians should follow the lead of health officials, advice that would allow the meetings to carry on. He noted the city’s decision to increase social distancing and enhance cleaning practices further reduces the risk.
The city added on to those measures Tuesday, after the province urged Manitobans to avoid gatherings of more than 50 people. The new rules will allow a maximum of 30 members of the public inside council chambers at any one time during the remainder of this week’s meetings.
Others would be required to wait in the city hall foyer for their turn to speak.
Meanwhile, the mayor said it’s key that council’s work continues.
"We have a job to do. We don’t want to see anyone walk away in a time of need. This is the time for us to all step up in the public service that we are providing for our citizens," he said.
Some continue to question the budget meetings, however, arguing the timing has prevented people from making presentations on the city’s financial blueprint.
Joe Curnow, a member of the citizen group Millennium For All, said some Winnipeggers won’t speak to council in order to follow health guidelines. Curnow said she personally decided not to appear as a budget delegate because she has a cold, noting the city has asked those who feel sick to stay home.
"It basically means that if you are possibly sick, if you’ve been exposed (to COVID-19), if you’re immune-compromised, if you’re old, if you’ve travelled (and now need to be isolated), all of these people just now suddenly can’t participate in the budget process," she said.
Curnow said she asked for permission to participate through a video link but was told the city isn’t equipped to offer that.
Molly McCracken, Manitoba director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, urged the city to delay the entire budget process and cancel some cuts as the pandemic continues.
Otherwise, McCracken said a 10 per cent cut to most city grants could be approved with little public discussion, hurting community groups that are now also struggling with COVID-19.
"People haven’t had a chance to speak. (The final vote) was moved up a week and we just learned about the (preliminary) budget on March 6. A 10 per cent (cut) to most groups … (during) a pandemic crisis will put further strain on these groups," she said.
After noting the budget is actually entering its second round of public presentations, the mayor referred most questions on why technology couldn’t allow remote budget presentations to the city clerk’s office.
That office has not yet responded to a request for comment.
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.