An advocacy group stayed away from the City of Winnipeg’s latest 2020-23 budget meeting Wednesday, arguing others should join its boycott of the “reckless” event.

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An advocacy group stayed away from the City of Winnipeg’s latest 2020-23 budget meeting Wednesday, arguing others should join its boycott of the "reckless" event.

Budget for All Winnipeg, which emerged to oppose a series of potential cost-saving cuts, said the attendance of the 152 people slated to speak to council’s executive policy committee conflicted with a public health recommendation to cancel gatherings of more than 50 people.

The city is ensuring no more than 30 members of the public are in council chambers at any one time, with speakers permitted in as they near their expected speaking time and asked to leave right after it.

Budget for All, however, argues policy still requires Winnipeggers who want to participate in the budget process to risk spreading the coronavirus.

Allison Fenske, who had planned to speak on the budget, said she decided not to attend over the pandemic risk.

"I found it really concerning as delegate No. 145 out of 152 people, if we’re all expected to come down together, whether we’re in the gallery, 30 folks at a time or sitting in a waiting room. That to me is a complete failure of leadership to ensure that citizens’ health is protected during a pandemic while also making sure that we have a right to make our voices heard," she said.

Overflow chairs set out to limit the number of members of the public in the chamber as a social distancing measure during the EPC at City Hall on March 18, 2020. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Overflow chairs set out to limit the number of members of the public in the chamber as a social distancing measure during the EPC at City Hall on March 18, 2020. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Fenske noted she’s not an official member of Budget for All, but said she also supports its opposition to many of the city’s proposed budget cuts, such as reductions to Winnipeg Transit service hours and community group grants.

Budget for All is instead asking citizens to post two-minute videos to share feedback between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Thursday, using the hashtag #b4awpg, as well as tagging Mayor Brian Bowman and their city councillor.

By early Wednesday afternoon, several dozen people had shown up to city hall to weigh in on the budget process, though it was unclear exactly how many of those who signed up to speak would actually do so.

Despite the criticism, the mayor stressed the city is following public health guidelines by ensuring delegates are spread out from each other.

"Our clerks have been doing excellent work in short order to ensure that the room capacity meets the recommendations of Manitoba Health," he said.

Bowman said the city can’t simply delay its budget process to avoid overlap with the pandemic, as passing the budget will ensure police, Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service and other essential city departments can access their full funding.

joyanne.pursaga@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @joyanne_pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga
Reporter

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.