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Mayor Brian Bowman: Making way for new voices, with plenty of time to spare

by Sean Meyer, Municipal World
in Leadership
August, 2022

For a lot of people, giving their employer two weeks’ notice would be more than enough. But Mayor Brian Bowman wanted to make sure his employer – the people of Winnipeg – had a lot more time than that. Bowman announced back in October 2020 that he wouldn’t be seeking a third term as mayor. Bowman was a political newcomer when Winnipeggers chose him as the city’s forty-third mayor. Back then, few people knew that Bowman had no intention of making politics his lifelong career.

“I have never aspired to be a career politician. There are many Canadians who have chosen to serve, to make their careers in public service in this way. It’s an honourable calling,” Bowman said. “That said, I do think there’s too many career politicians in Manitoba. And I didn’t want to be one of them. Eight years at this level of public service is still an incredible honour. I’m grateful that I’ve had the chance.”

Two Years’ Notice

Bowman said that he always viewed his time on council as “temporary public service.” But he is also quick to credit that perspective. After all, he knew that if he was fortunate enough to serve, it would be for a finite amount out of time. As such, he was also driven to find the energy and commitment necessary to be the best mayor he could be.

Transformative Incrementalism: A journey to sustainability

He made his decision because he felt that he “owed it to Winnipeggers.” In particular, he owed it to those considering a 2022 run. Running for municipal council takes a lot of time and energy. It also takes a lot of discussions with families, friends, and employers. And so, Bowman thought the honourable thing to do was to let people know of his decision well in advance. This way, good people could come forward and provide Winnipeggers with the best possible candidates.

“It’s been heartwarming that a number of candidates have put their name forward,” Bowman said. “Winnipeggers will have lots to choose from in deciding who will have the honour of serving as Winnipeg’s forty-fourth mayor.”

Political Career Highlights

Bowman said that he was elected in 2014 “to clean up the mess and build a more inclusive, welcoming community for everyone.” With this mission in mind, he said that he has a couple of standout highlights in his time as mayor. Immediately coming to mind is Winnipeg’s journey of Reconciliation. But just as significant are the city’s ongoing efforts to become a leader for the protection and promotion of human rights.

Bowman celebrates Winnipeg for the way it is tackling some of these tough issues. In fact, one of the proudest moments for him as mayor has been seeing the transformation of that dialogue.

“The conversations that we’re having as a community that relate to Truth and Reconciliation in human rights are much more authentic. And we’re less afraid to tackle difficult issues as a community because it matters in Winnipeg,” Bowman said. “As the largest Indigenous community in Canada, how we respond –  or not – to the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action, and the calls for justice in the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls report, really matter here in Winnipeg. And it should matter at all Canadians as well. And I know they do.”

Sage Advice on Politics

Bowman’s accomplishments are many. But so too is the experience he gained in achieving them over the past eight years in the mayor’s seat. As such, he is quick to share his political insights with potential candidates.

Bowman believes Winnipeggers deserve a mayor who has “integrity and work ethic.” Whomever takes the big chair, Bowman said that they will never have all the answers. In fact, no government leader ever does.

Bowman has shared with many people a perspective he was once given: anyone who jumps into politics for the sake of ego will jump out quickly to save what’s left of it. He is quick to reiterate that he didn’t come up with the adage. But it does speak to what the goal should be for those seeking political office.

“The point of it is that if you run for fame and fortune, you may be disappointed. If you run for the right reasons, to make a positive difference, it is incredibly rewarding. It’s been an overwhelmingly positive experience, “Bowman said. “I feel really blessed to have been given the opportunity to serve. And I was green when I was first elected. People really took a chance on me. I mean, someone who had never served an elected office, I feel very fortunate to have been given the chance to serve.”

Local Government Champion

Bowman is, as one might expect, a big supporter of local government. He even considers it (perhaps only half-jokingly) as the senior level of government. Standing by the traditional adage, Bowman said that municipal politics is the highest order of government because it truly is the one closest to the people.

When he looks at his federal and provincial counterparts, Bowman said that the space for civil discourse seems to be shrinking. This is most true at the partisan levels of government. This is why Bowman feels that the municipal sector is so important. At the local level there is still a space – although shrinking – where issues that matter to residents can be thoughtfully debated.

“We don’t always succeed there, but there’s more space at this level,” Bowman said. “It’s a level of government that if people are going to devote their time and energies to politics, it’s a great level to serve at.”

Plans for the Future

Winnipeggers won’t select a new mayor until October. As such, Bowman remains focused on the job. But even so, he is allowing himself to peek into the future.

When it comes to his professional future, Bowman – who worked as privacy lawyer before his time on council – said he’ll answer that “in a year maybe.” For now, he hasn’t decided on a few options that are in front of him. Bowman did say that he has a keen interest in continuing to “lend a hand” to the Reconciliation efforts and human rights work in Winnipeg and across Canada.

But when it comes to his personal plans, well, those might be more solid. For one thing, he plans to show to his children that you’re never too old to learn new tricks. To achieve this lofty goal, Bowman said that he plans to spend a lot of time with the Eddie Van Halen “Frankenstrat” guitar that his family bought for him.

Given they purchased it for someone “who has no musical ability whatsoever,” Bowman said that he is committed to learning the basics of the electric guitar. But he also wants to just enjoy more time for himself and the people he cares about the most.

“I also love fishing with our two boys. We do fish, but just to get out in Manitoba and do a little bit of fishing will be nice,” Bowman said. “A little more time for friends and family. Although, it depends on what I’m doing next as to how much time I actually get. So, we’ll see.”  MW

Municipal World Insider and Executive Members: You might also be interested in Sean’s other article: Local government champions say goodbye – for now.

Sean Meyer is Senior Content Editor for Municipal World.

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