City of Winnipeg passes budget despite protests from some councillors over process

The budget passed by Winnipeg city councillors Wednesday attempts to strike a balance between addressing the needs of a growing city with the realities of depleted revenues during the ongoing pandemic.

Vote nearly split between members of mayor's inner circle and opposition councillors

Although Mayor Brian Bowman's budget passed, seven council members signed on to a motion criticizing the fact they were not included in the budget working group. Bowman called the motion 'a bit rich,' saying he and other council members were not given advance notice. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Winnipeg city councillors have passed a budget that attempts to strike a balance between addressing the needs of a growing city and the realities of depleted revenues during an ongoing pandemic.

The $1.2-billion budget was approved Wednesday, with nine councillors joining Mayor Brian Bowman in favour and six opposed.

It commits to millions more in spending on police, puts $1 million toward addressing the needs of some of Winnipeg's most vulnerable residents, and maintains the 2.33 per cent property tax increase from the past several years.

Coun. Scott Gillingham, council's finance chair, urged his 15 council colleagues to vote in favour, but a group of councillors who aren't in Bowman's inner circle protested the way the budget was drafted.

"I've tried very hard to make sure all information that they're looking for is available," Gillingham told reporters before the budget vote.

"I've consulted with all members of council on a regular basis throughout this process to determine their priorities, their goals, their requests, and also their ideas for budget 2022."

Amendments shot down

Seven council members — Vivian Santos, Janice Lukes, Kevin Klein, Ross Eadie, Devi Sharma, Shawn Nason and Jason Schreyer — signed on to a motion criticizing the fact they were not included in the budget working group, and seeking to add a list of items they wanted to see in the budget.

"This amending motion is in no way intended to create division among councillors," Santos (Point Douglas) told council members.

"It is to show the public there are still under-represented issues that the city faces." 

The motion included a proposal to take $300,000 from the city's fiscal stabilization fund to increase the office budget for all city councillors, and a proposal to fund millions of dollars in projects in the wards of the councillors who brought the motion forward.

All seven members of council's executive policy committee, plus Deputy Mayor John Orlikow and acting deputy mayor Markus Chambers — the inner circle which forms a majority of votes on council — voted against the motion. 

Bowman, speaking after the vote on the budget, said he and other council members were not given enough notice of the motion.

"It's a bit rich for members of council to make complaints about not having adequate information in advance, to then drop a motion on the floor of council today without the benefit of time to have some meaningful discussion with them," he said.

The executive policy committee included recommendations from discussions with all councillors at its budget meeting on Tuesday, Bowman said.

Budget balanced by drawing on stabilization fund

Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood Coun. Kevin Klein said the current "strong mayor" model of governance at city hall doesn't serve Winnipeg as a whole.

"It doesn't respect all elected officials," he said. "It works to secure voting, the balance of power. It's a majority."

The city drew from its fiscal stabilization fund to balance next year's budget.

Overall, city spending increased by about 1.5 per cent. The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to hammer at the city's revenues, due to factors like lower Winnipeg Transit ridership and fewer people parking on streets.

The city budget also includes $320 million for the Winnipeg Police Service, an increase of $7 million over the previous year.

Council accepted the budget recommendation from the Winnipeg Police Board, which warned that the city's requirement that police find $9.2 million in savings could put front-line services at risk.

Spending on infrastructure increases from $386 million to $525 million, thanks in part to federal and provincial contributions.

The budget will likely be Bowman's last as Winnipeg mayor. He has said he doesn't intend to run again in 2022.


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