'City can't suck and blow': Waves of delegations decry cuts to arts, libraries

The city of Winnipeg's proposed budget would cut more than $8 million from arts funding, community programs and close libraries on Sundays. That takes the city in the wrong direction, according to more than two dozen delegations to a city committee.

Philanthopist Gail Asper among outspoken critics of $8-M cut in grants to community groups

Critics of city budget cuts came out in force to council chambers Friday. (Sean Kavanagh CBC )

Concerns over the coronavirus didn't discourage opponents of Winnipeg's proposed budget from packing into council chambers for yet another day.

More than two dozen delegations appeared at the city's protection and community services committee on Friday.

The meeting was moved to the larger room to avoid crowding people together.

Precautionary warnings about COVID-19 at city hall didn't discourage dozens from blasting the budget. (Sean Kavanagh CBC )

Opponents of how the city plans to spend tax dollars had a common theme — the city budget is going in the wrong direction, has no vision and councillors should reconsider cuts.

Budget recommendations would see hours cut at several city libraries with the Millennium Library in downtown Winnipeg and five others no longer opening on Sundays.

Community groups and the Winnipeg Arts Council would lose $8 million in grants.

A 10-per-cent cut would impact community organizations such as Arts City, Rossbrook House and the Age and Opportunity Centre.

"These places play a disproportionate role in helping (keep) places safe. The cuts might seem small, [but they] have an incredible impact," said University of Winnipeg professor Bronwyn Dobchuk-Land.

Arts philanthropist Gail Asper scolded the councillors, saying the city tries to have it both ways when cutting funding and promoting Winnipeg on its website as an arts capital.

"The city can't suck and blow at the same time. The city uses the arts to promote the city, to build its reputation and it's the first thing on the city's website when you click on visitors. They talk about the city being a cradle of culture," Asper said.

Family physician Dr. Ian Whetter says keeping libraries open on Sundays helps break cycles of crime and poverty. (Sean Kavanagh CBC )

Family physician Ian Whetter told the committee libraries have an important role in helping children learn and closing the facilities on Sundays will have an impact on kids and working families.

"Investments in accessible libraries would be an investment in children … it helps break the cycle of crime and poverty," Whetter said. 

Committee chair Sherri Rollins held out hope the budget may be altered before council gave final approval and suggested she may propose amendments herself, despite being part of Mayor Brian Bowman's cabinet.

She said she supported keeping libraries open on Sundays and even suggested a property tax increase could be a source of revenue to fund the programs that face cuts.

"I hear loud and clear from the people coming forward today, they'd like to hear debate at council [about the cuts]," Rollins said.


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