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A conversation with Brian Bowman: Unilateral decision impacts, Winnipeg growth challenges

Winnipeg, like other Canadian municipalities, is dealing with challenges around infrastructure, sustainability, addiction, and affordable housing. But, Brian Bowman is hopeful Ottawa can be part of the solution.

Bowman, the mayor of Winnipeg since 2014, sat down with Municipal World CEO Susan Gardner at the 2019 Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) Conference, in Quebec City. The two discussed Winnipeg’s challenges and opportunities around growth, as well as the community impacts of unilateral decision making by provincial governments.

Public Expects All Levels of Government to Cooperate

“We’ve seen similar challenges in the Province of Ontario more recently. It is really just the unilateral nature of some of the decisions,” he said. “We want to be partners with other levels of government. In fact, that’s what our citizens expect. They expect governments to be working together.”

Winnipeg, like other major cities, is dealing with the need to maintain and replace ageing infrastructure. The city, Bowman adds, is also struggling with the opioid crisis – as are municipalities large and small across the country.

What he’d like to see, however, is a provincial government more invested in cooperating with the city on finding solutions. That relationship is a struggle. Which, Bowman said, is why FCM is the perfect place to seek greater assistance from Ottawa.

Looking for Renewed Federal Municipal Relationship

Whether that dialogue came from individual conversations, or as part of the Big City Mayors’ Caucus – which as usual led off the conference – Bowman said he sees Ottawa’s commitment to doubling the federal gas tax as a step in the right direction.

“Essentially, what municipalities do very well, is they can plan. We know what the priorities are in our communities. We know that we are also trusted by Canadians to make the decisions based on our expertise on the ground, understanding the priorities of our citizens,” he said. “Having that certainty from the federal government is something that’s going to help mitigate the challenges we see from provincial governments.”

Immigration Helping Drive Winnipeg’s Prosperity

While there are struggles, Bowman is quick to add there are promising opportunities in Winnipeg as well.

A growth rate not seen in the city in decades is one of Winnipeg’s advantages. Driven by immigration, Bowman said many new Winnipegers are coming from northern Manitoba and northern Canada, which he sees as a strength for the entire community.

“We’re becoming more Indigenous, which should be increasingly seen as a source of strength, wisdom and pride for all Winnipegers,” he said. “As we move to a bigger city, there are opportunities for us to grow and get better as we get bigger. That’s the challenge before us; it’s a wonderful challenge to have.”  MW

✯ Municipal World Insider and Executive Members: You might also be interested in the article: Wrestling with wicked problems. Note that you can now access the complete collection of past articles (and more) from your membership dashboard.


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