Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/11/2014 (1867 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Mayor-elect Brian Bowman and 15 councillors will be sworn into office tonight. What occurs in the next few weeks at city hall, however, is critical to mapping out how the next four years will look and what can be accomplished by a new mayor and seven new city councillors plus eight re-elected councillors.
Bowman is likely busily working on how to accomplish what he promised during the campaign, while attempting to provide as much distance from the past regime as possible.
Selection of members of executive policy committee is crucial to determining the power of the mayor, as not much happens at city hall without input from the mayor and his EPC. Bowman seems determined to have council elect the members of EPC. This is a noble idea, which he can probably do by simply appointing those who are elected to serve on EPC, even though the province has not indicated where it stands on the question. Most members of council hope to be part of EPC and would tend to push for this.
What's forgotten is nearly each time major changes are made to council — from salaries to office needs to governance — a third party has been hired to review and make recommendations based on what is going on in the rest of the country and with other levels of government. Arbitrary changes such as the one made in the 2013 budget, which added $40,000 to councillors' ward allowances, proved unjustifiable and were soon reversed. There has been no such review on how to select EPC, much less input from the province.
The composition of EPC has lacked female representation for many years. During one campaign debate, Bowman made a commitment to increase female representation on EPC. This is entirely possible given there are now four female members of council, which is still only 25 per cent of council, but by including all, there is the possibility of truly having more female representation among the seven-member EPC. Should they all be asked and all accept, this will be monumental for women in municipal politics in Manitoba, given we have the lowest female municipal representation in Canada.
In general, if this EPC makes all policy decisions, it is guaranteed non-EPC members will be disengaged.
Perhaps the most significant challenge this mayor and council face is a realistic 2015 budget that does not see service cuts or exorbitant tax increases for citizens. This process will need to start in November if it is to be approved early in 2015. Assuming the same process occurs, council will start with a $22-million shortfall for 2014 — one that could be much more if it snows before the end of the year. Also, within this budget, finding $85 million for 2015's roadwork needs to occur. The longer it goes before tenders are issued, the more the city competes with the province and others for the work, the higher the prices to the city. In 2014, roadwork was seven per cent higher by July than what was budgeted.
Other realities that will need to be faced include a campaign promise on property-tax increases being no more than the rate of inflation; for September that figure is 1.5 per cent in Manitoba. In the 2013 budget, council adopted a requirement that a two-thirds of council vote is necessary to make any changes to the current road renewal plan, which is two per cent: one per cent for local streets renewal and one per cent for regional streets.
The rapid transit extension, otherwise known as the Capital Integration Project — Southwest Transitway (Stage 2) and Pembina Highway Underpass has no identifiable funding source. It requires $19.7 million each year. Positions are being filled and the work tendered, all without an identified source of funding. Hopefully, this mayor sees how irresponsible this was and takes swift action by preventing any kind of project coming forward without proper funding identified. For now though, finding this in the 2015 budget will need to be a priority.
The overall learning curve for the mayor and new councillors about departments and their services is massive, combined with the looming RCMP review that will continue to hang over this council. Fifty-one recommendations from three audits will need to be implemented or risk history repeating itself on land transactions and major capital projects.
All are important priorities or the same issues will face a new council that was elected to help Winnipeggers forget the past and to move our city forward.
Paula Havixbeck is a former city councillor who ran for mayor in the last election.