Manitoba

Mayor accuses Wyatt of 'partnering with lobbyists' to disparage budget

Mayor Brian Bowman has accused Coun. Russ Wyatt of "partnering with lobbyists" to misrepresent Winnipeg's infrastructure-spending plans.

Bowman alleges Transcona councillor working in lockstep with construction industry rep

Mayor Brian Bowman has accused Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt (above) of working with the Manitoba Heavy Construction Industry to disparage the city's budget. (CBC)

Mayor Brian Bowman has accused Coun. Russ Wyatt of "partnering with lobbyists" to misrepresent Winnipeg's infrastructure-spending plans.

The 2017 capital budget, a spending blueprint for $318 million worth of tax-supported infrastructure projects and equipment purchases, calls for the city to spend $105 million on road renewals next year.

That figure is the same as the road-renewal budget for 2017. But since the city is supposed to dedicate the proceeds of two percentage points of its property-tax hike every year — almost $11 million worth of revenue — Bowman has faced criticism on several fronts for failing to hike road-renewal spending by the same amount.

Last week, Couns. Wyatt (Transcona) and Ross Eadie (Mynarski) appeared before council's public works committee to complain about the road-renewal budget and repeat their assertions the mayor is engaging in a property-tax "shell game."

Manitoba Heavy Construction Association president Chris Lorenc also appeared before the committee to call the 2017 budget "troubling" and accuse the city of backfilling the budget with revenues that were supposed to be dedicated for road renewals.

Lorenc then repeated his accusations in a letter  to the mayor and the rest  of city council. 

At the end of the week, Bowman responded with an email accusing Wyatt and Lorenc of working together to "misrepresent council's commitment" to road renewal, which he describes as a record investment.

"We cannot allow special interests to displace and misrepresent the direction of an elected council," Bowman wrote Friday in an email to Lorenc and all 15 city councillors.

"Lobbyist Chris Lorenc and Councillor Wyatt are attempting to do just that, and by doing so are moving us backward."

Chris Lorenc of the Manitoba Heavy Construction Industry said he is not working with any member of council to co-ordinate criticism of the city. (Twitter)
Lorenc responded with an email denying any collusion with any member of council. 

Wyatt, one of the architects of the city's plan to dedicate property-tax hikes to road renewals, claimed Bowman has been "caught in a lie" and is lashing out as a result.

"Instead of explaining why he is raising property taxes to generate $11 million and not increasing the roads budget by the same amount, he's going on the attack," Wyatt said Sunday in an interview.

"The mayor is practising the same old, tired political tricks practiced by his predecessors. I thought he was going to be better, but he's the same, if not worse."

'Old-school politics'

Bowman's email missive uses similar language to describe Wyatt's actions, claiming the Transcona councillor is reverting to an era when city hall was marred by "old-school politics marked by dysfunction."

In scrums with reporters since the budget was tabled on Nov. 22, Bowman has stated all the revenue from the property-tax hikes dedicated to road renewals will fund road-renewal projects, adding that other city revenue sources have declined.

While Bowman and Wyatt have sparred in public on numerous occasions, the mayor's spat with Lorenc is significant. The MHCA president publicly supported Bowman's first two city budgets, for 2015 and 2016. Lorenc offered kind words for the mayor during both of those budget seasons.

Unusual budget season for mayor

Bowman's email arrived during an unusual budget season in which the normally diplomatic mayor has made a number of uncharacteristically blunt comments.

The day after the budget was released, Bowman accused the Winnipeg Police Association of engaging in "fearmongering" by linking a modest police-budget increase to the fentanyl crisis.

Then last week, Bowman took the rare step of publicly contradicting a city department head when he said public works director Lester Deane made "inaccurate" comments about the timelines required to reopen Portage & Main. There is no money in the 2017 budget to reopen the intersection, a project Deane said would take two years to plan.

Debate about the next year's budget will continue at city hall for another week. Council will vote on the $318-million capital budget and $1.08 operating budget on Dec. 13.

The Manitoba Heavy Construction Association announced Monday it's taking out radio ads attempting to lobby council to amend the budget to beef up spending on roadwork. 

About the Author

Bartley Kives

Reporter, CBC Manitoba

Reporter Bartley Kives joined CBC Manitoba in 2016. Prior to that, he spent three years at the Winnipeg Sun and 18 at the Winnipeg Free Press, writing about politics, music, food and outdoor recreation. He's the author of the Canadian bestseller A Daytripper's Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada's Undiscovered Province and co-author of both Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg and Stuck In The Middle 2: Defining Views of Manitoba. His work has also appeared in publications such as the Guardian and Explore magazine.