Brian Bowman gets high marks as mayor one year into his term, says analyst

Mayor Brian Bowman was elected one year ago today. CBC looks back on what he said he was going to do, what he accomplished, and the challenges ahead.

Veteran political observer says Justin Trudeau's election this week mirrored Bowman's last year

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman says the conversation about racism in Winnipeg will be difficult but necessary. Bowman is hosting One: The Mayor's National Summit on Racial Inclusion starting Thursday night. (CBC)

Mayor Brian Bowman is pleased with what he has accomplished in his first year. 

"We had a very strong start to this new council. I am very pleased we have increased the focus on openness and transparency. Unprecedented openness and transparency," he said. 

Restoring confidence in civic government was Bowman's number one priority when he was elected a year ago.

Winnipeggers now have access to the city's capital expenditures through monthly reports filed on line, he said. 

Bowman even posts his daily appointments online and livestreams EPC meetings, and there's more to come, he promised. 

Year of unexpected challenges 

In the spring, Bowman had a falling out with Winnipeg Jets' owner and True North Sports & Entertainment head Mark Chipman about the proposed downtown development project True North Square. The project was put on hold when a war of words broke out between the mayor and Chipman when Bowman suggested the deal for the $400 million project at 220 Carlton Street was done behind closed doors. Chipman called the comments damaging.

"I think that was the big stumble for the mayor over the past year, " said political analyst Christopher Adams at the University of Manitoba's St. Paul's College. 

"I think he stumbled on True North and he had issues with regards to how much did he know about what True North's plans were and he angered Mark Chipman publicly and that was a terrible thing. And I think most people around the city were just looking for a way by which Bowman would reconcile with Mark Chipman. To compliment Mark Chipman, he was very professional. He opened up about his concerns but he didn't pursue the argument between the mayor and himself, and they sorted it out over time. "

Bowman issued an open invitation to meet with Chipman and they were able to move forward on the project.

Then there was a two-day city-wide boil water advisory and a Maclean's magazine article that labelled Winnipeg the most racist city in Canada. 

Adams said Bowman gets top marks for the way both were handled.

"I was particularly impressed  and I think others were as well, with how he dealt with Winnipeg being called a racist city. He very quickly contacted different leaders in the community, including David Barnard [president] at the University of Manitoba and others. He has a press conference and he very strongly addressed the issue, admitting Winnipeg had problems but that community leaders were going to join together and try to address it. I think that was a very good turning point for the city," said Adams. 

Bowman organized One: The Mayor's National Summit on Racial Inclusion that was held at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Bowman also applauded a grassroots summit, organized in protest of fees the city's event charged participants. 

Water also an issue

When Winnipeggers had to boil their water instead of drinking from the taps for a couple of days, Bowman stepped forward quickly, said Adams.

"I recall a couple of years [ago] when the brown water issue was happening and the mayor's office seemed moderately indifferent to the issue until the mayor himself reported he had brown water when he returned home one day. So it seemed to be a different approach to civic issues and local concerns with the new mayor," said Adams.

Transparency with media

Adams said there is a sense Bowman is approachable by the media. He said he has talked to reporters about issues such as getting information that is needed quickly.

"You can hear him every couple of days on radio or on TV. There is energy in the mayor's office. He's a younger guy and he is open to different groups. The latter part of his campaign he made it very public he is a Metis person and that was beneficial for our community, because aboriginal issues are percolating very often in our city," said Adams.

Challenges going forward

Bowman was asked if there is something in the past year he wished he could have done, but it didn't.

"I wished the Jets would have gone further in the playoffs," he quipped. He said going forward there will be more transparency. Fixing roads and infrastructure is also a top priority. 

"It's something I am particularly proud of, $103 million in road renewal this year. You can see it when you drive around town, fresh asphalt. After 14 years of property tax freezes, it's obvious there is a lot more to be done," Bowman said.

Adams said in addition to repairing roads and making sure they are plowed,  Bowman will at the same time have to deal with a new federal and provincial government. 

"One of his challenges of course will be in the coming year with the provincial election on. The question is whether the NDP will be re-elected, or would it be Brian Pallister or even the Liberals, the mayor will have to be careful that he is able to deal with all three parties. And we all know we have a new government about to be sworn in in Ottawa. It has indicated that cities are a priority along with infrastructure and rapid transit, so hopefully [Bowman] will be able to leverage off that," said Adams. 

Parallels between Trudeau, Bowman elections

Adams said there are parallels between the election of Justin Trudeau on Monday and Brian Bowman a year ago. 

He said in many ways both voters in the civic election a year ago and voters in Monday's federal election were driven by the same things.

"They felt somewhat safe voting for the Liberals or for Bowman, and I think they also felt it was a kind of a new beginning. We know from the few polls that were done during the last civic election that Bowman wasn't leading in the polls that were done about a couple of weeks before the election day and then there was a big move over to Bowman in the last week. The same thing happened with Justin Trudeau on Monday. There was a big move to the Liberals over the last two weeks that we saw in the tracking polls."

Adams said in both elections, voters were looking for optimism.

"Voters just felt there was something more than just tax cuts or balanced budgets. A feeling that there would be more relationship between the government and other levels of government with Trudeau. [Trudeau] is willing to meeting with the premiers. Bowman is similar in that he wants to get people talking about what can be done and he goes out in the community to hear what people have to say."

In the end, Adams gives Bowman a nine out of ten.

"And I am not partisan on this. I have to admit I did not vote for Brian Bowman. But I have been very pleased in his performance and his connection with the community."


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