WINNIPEG, MB - When Brian Bowman took office three and a half years ago, he did so with a bright eye and a light step. He had dreams of a stronger more vibrant, forward looking city and he shared them with us. We were excited with him, looking forward to a modernized transit corridor, the possibility of replacing the northern rail lines that dissect our city with new tax-generating growth and development and a stronger transportation system. We saw a Portage and Main being restored to its former glory as the heartbeat of our downtown. We would learn to respect and work with our Indigenous population through his power of acceptance and collaboration. We were buoyed by his optimism for great things to come in our tech sector, through increased tourism and in taking back the drivability of our streets.
Today, as the mayor approaches the advent of his fourth report to the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, it may be with a more subdued voice. Not only is he four years older, but he has taken four years of heavy, grinding criticism from the negative and timid forces who see things in shades of darkness rather than light.
I like the light. I liked the genuine, joyous smile of a young man who truly believed that he could make change happen and I, for one, encourage him to march on with a new and continually vigorous step.
Not long ago, in a speech to the Equal Voice group, Susan Thompson, Winnipeg’s first female mayor, told those who were gathered that her first term was the hardest. She had to struggle to get respect from her colleagues, never mind the very entrenched civic bureaucracy. Things were in a worse mess in many ways than they are now. If we think the CAO and unions have a stranglehold on the city, back then the city manager was God – the mayor’s role was much weaker than it is now and she was a woman to boot. (There were tears, she said, behind the scenes.)
Susan, though, like Brian, had a vision for her city and she was determined to see it through. Because of her, systems were changed to give the mayor some real authority – the mayor is, after all, universally elected and deserves some clout as a result. She reduced the powers of the city manager and restructured things to give the elected representatives more control.
It wasn’t until her second term, however, that she came into her own and consolidated enough power to make real change happen. She also enlisted the support of the then premier, Gary Filmon, to leave a legacy of change that would put power back in the hands of those who are elected.
This, I wish for Brian Bowman. Behind the brilliant smile is sincere conviction and that is not so easy to come by in those who would run for office. He is also courageous and draws his courage from his conviction. That is 90 per cent of the battle in politics. It is hard for the dark side to combat the light and energy that comes from sincerity and passion.
Let me not be seen as a Pollyanna here. Brian is young and, when he came into office, was totally inexperienced. He made some mistakes – we all do – and he will make some more, but as long as those mistakes are honest and inadvertent and don’t come from a place of greed or self-interest – and I defy anyone to accuse him of that – then he and we will get past them and we will all end up with a better city.
Perhaps in his second term, the mayor and his generally equally good councillors will have time to exert once again a stronger influence over the way the city operates. The elected folks need to take control.
I don’t know what happened between the mayor and Janice Lukes, but they would make a better team than opponents. He could use her piercing eye for seeing through to the bottom of the barrel and pulling out the bad apple. Perhaps this will happen in the next term. He also has excellent support in a number of other councillors. Even the irrepressible Jenny Gerbasi has taken on a new maturity in her position as president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. Others such as Marty Morantz, Scott Gillingham and Brian Mayes have demonstrated resilience and determination. This is not to take anything away from the others that I don’t know as well.
Running a city is not an easy job. You are the representative closest and most accessible to constituents. Everything is personal. I also firmly believe that the constituencies are too large, that there needs to be more councillors, assigned to fewer files each, to keep the administration in line. Most of our councillors are on several committees, each overseeing billions of dollars controlled by a group whose interest is in maintaining the status quo. More councillors could pay more attention to detail.
Be that as it may be, hats off to the mayor and his team for an overall good performance. We will be expecting much more in the next term.
Good things for Winnipeg
Here are just a few of the good things that have happened since this current group of politicians have taken over city hall. Some were initiated prior to the new group coming in but all have been followed through responsibly and with the right attitude.
- The ongoing renewal of our streets and infrastructure.
- A renewed commitment to the city forest.
- Continued new investment in our downtown and the return of the construction crane on the skyline.
- A renewed commitment to our streams and rivers.
- More scrutiny of civic budgets and an ongoing and more penetrating examination of what the administration is doing.
- Allowing street work to proceed at night in commercial areas to speed up construction.