A PROVINCIAL proposal to shift appeals of Winnipeg land-use decisions to an external municipal board from city control could hinder transparency and increase the risk of scandal, Mayor Brian Bowman says.
The province revealed details of a proposed bill to implement the change last month.
"Years from now… will we see a framework that could allow for unaccountability and scandal? That’s the concern when you have power shifting, ultimately, from democratically elected individuals to an unelected group," Bowman said Wednesday.
Politicians currently have the final word on such decisions and are accountable to voters, who can demand they answer for each decision, the mayor said, adding he’s concerned a new layer of bureaucracy could make some approval processes longer, despite the province’s goal to streamline them.
The bill also notes land-use appeals to the municipal board could be made by a property owner affected by the decision, language Bowman fears means other members of the public couldn’t appeal to that board.
Finally, he accused the province of failing to consult with the city. "It’s concerning to see… legislation that directly affects the city without getting any input from any elected officials at city hall."
The province is also proposing to have the Public Utilities Board take over the city’s power to set its own water and sewer rates. Bowman said he’s less concerned about that change, since the PUB performs that role for other municipalities.
"It really depends on how the Public Utilities Board operates and how the city is treated. Time will tell on that," he said.
The mayor said there is some concern that change could create new costs for the city, though, since officials would need to prepare to advocate for each rate change.
Both provincial bills may not be voted on until the fall.
In contrast to the mayor’s complaint, Manitoba Municipal Relations Minister Rochelle Squires said she’s spoken with several city councillors about the new legislation and invited the mayor to discuss it as well, calling the consultations "extensive."
Squires stressed the city will also largely maintain its authority on land-use decisions, since the initial approval process will remain the same.
"I can assure the mayor that there is nothing… that precludes that process from happening."
The minister said the appeals change should create more efficient service.
"It works very well in other jurisdictions, and we know that it will work well here in Manitoba," Squires said Wednesday.
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.