November 12, 2019

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Proposed planning changes worry Bowman

Mayor Brian Bowman is concerned unelected provincial appointees could make municipal planning decisions, which are currently made by city politicians, if the Manitoba government adopts proposed changes.

"Ultimately, Winnipeggers elect members of council to make decisions," Bowman said.

"Having a third party that could replace the will of council, that would be able to overrule decisions of council… that should concern Winnipeggers."

Bowman was responding to 12 recommendations of the province’s review of planning, zoning and permitting.

The recommendations include establishing an independent, quasi-judicial board staffed by professionals to hear planning appeals across the province; and having the Public Utilities Board regulate Winnipeg water and sewer rates.

The Pallister government has not yet decided whether to implement the recommendations of a 200-page report, which was released last month. It claimed the City of Winnipeg has a "broken culture" that leads to losses in development opportunities and there is "significant anger and frustration" among users.

The report highlighted years of regulatory delays and alleged mistreatment of business applications, but relied heavily on unsubstantiated anecdotal evidence.

Bowman said he had many questions on those two specific recommendations, adding the public needs to know who would be making the appointments and what power would be given to the new planning body.

Having the PUB review and regulate Winnipeg’s water and sewer rates could pose serious financial problems for city hall. Currently, only the City of Winnipeg is allowed to set its water and sewer rates; all other municipalities in the province must submit their rates to the PUB for approval.

The city has been using a portion of the water and sewer revenue to mitigate property tax increases, which the PUB is unlikely to allow. That would force city council to dramatically increase property taxes or cut services.

Bowman said the Manitoba government would be held accountable for decisions that affect property tax payers in Winnipeg.

"If decisions are being made unilaterally by a provincial government that will put greater pressure on taxpayers, the provincial government will be accountable for increases to property taxpayers."

The head of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce is troubled by the prospect of the creation of a new provincial planning authority. Loren Remillard said the province shouldn’t interfere with land-use decisions in Winnipeg, adding the Pallister government should respect city hall’s independence.

Bowman said he was pleased with three other recommendations: the call for the province to adopt the 2015 national building code, greater collaboration between city hall and the province on projects of mutual interest, and greater focus and co-ordination on regional planning.

Aldo Santin

Aldo Santin

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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