Advocates want Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman to champion poverty reduction

A local anti-poverty group says the City of Winnipeg lacks a political champion to reduce poverty and is calling on Mayor Brian Bowman to become that person.

About 10% of Winnipeggers live below poverty line, Make Poverty History says

Lorie English of Make Poverty History Manitoba says the city needs a political champion for Winnipeggers living in poverty. (Lyza Sale/CBC)

A local anti-poverty group says the City of Winnipeg lacks a political champion to reduce poverty and is calling on Mayor Brian Bowman to become that person.

Make Poverty History Manitoba on Wednesday released its latest report, called Winnipeg Without Poverty: Calling on the City to Lead, which outlines other cities' best practices that help reduce poverty in their municipalities.

"Winnipeg's current approach is best described as community-led with no apparent political champion," says the report, adding this quote from a Calgary advocate: "The single most important criteria for a successful city poverty reduction strategy is having a champion at city hall."

The group pointed to Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson as examples of political leaders who have championed change both within and outside their jurisdictions.

"One of the things that Edmonton took the lead on was really pushing for a living wage," said Lorie English, chair of Make Poverty History Manitoba. "They've partnered with the province of Alberta to make that kind of reality.

"Those initiatives have a real impact on those living below the poverty line." 

Alberta will introduce a $15 minimum wage in October.

English also pointed to Calgary's low-income reduced-fare bus pass as another initiative Winnipeg could get behind. 

"This is one thing that falls squarely in the jurisdiction of the city that they could implement quite quickly that would have a significant impact on those living in poverty."

Mayor Brian Bowman, centre, with Coun. Mike Pagtakhan, second from right, and Robert Baxter, president of the Centennial Community Improvement Association, and a group of kids from Freight House daycare break ground Tuesday for a new splash pad. (Elisha Dacey/CBC)

Mayor Brian Bowman, who hosted a new splash pad groundbreaking at Freight House in the low-income Centennial neighbourhood on Tuesday, said he is proud of the city's track record on fighting poverty.

"We have been taking some pretty substantive steps to dealing with reconciliation, to dealing with economic development as well as poverty reduction," said Bowman.

"There's always more to do, and we're going to do that by doing what we do best in Winnipeg, and that's listening and that's collaborating."

City hall has already championed issues like affordable housing at the federal level, said Bowman, pointing to Coun. Cindy Gilroy's efforts to introduce a low-income bus pass.

"Due to her leadership, it's part of the operational review," Bowman said.

Bowman hadn't yet read the Make Poverty History report, but said he hopes to meet with some of the authors, as he's done in the past, "to see what takeaways we can learn and improve upon at the city."

More to do

English praised Bowman's work on reconciliation and affordable housing, but said more can be done to immediately impact local poverty levels.

For example, the city should require new residential buildings in the city to have rent-geared-to-income units, and provide incentives for builders to do such things, English said.

She also wants the city's housing policy and implementation plan to go forward by 2019. 

"A lot of the recommendations inside that plan are great and will go a long way towards securing housing for folks who are in core housing need."

Many of the changes needed will have to come from community-led partnerships, she said.

"We're calling on the mayor to … be that leader, to create a task force that is community-led in partnership with the city to address poverty in a significant, long-term way."

The study says anywhere from 10 to 13 per cent of Winnipeggers live in poverty, depending on the measure used.

About the Author

Elisha Dacey

Journalist

Elisha Dacey is a journalist with CBC Manitoba. She is the former managing editor of Metro Winnipeg and her work has been seen in newspapers from coast to coast. Reach her at elisha.dacey@cbc.ca.