Manitoba

Groups hope to inspire Winnipeg mayoral, councillor candidates with alternative budget

Community members in Winnipeg worked together to come up with a plan to raise, then invest millions differently.

Community members worked together to come up with a plan to raise and spend millions differently

Abdikheir Ahmed with the Police Accountability Coalition speaks to a crowd in front of Winnipeg's City Hall. (Sam Samson/CBC)

Some Winnipeg organizations say city hall can do more to help those who are struggling, and it comes down to cash.

"This is a municipal election year. There's going to be a lot of discussion about municipal policy, about how we transform our city," said Niall Harney, an economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), who edited the group's alternative municipal budget.

"So we're really hoping that municipal mayoral candidates think big as they look toward the fall, and as they develop their policy proposals for the October election.'

The CCPA worked with more than two dozen Winnipeggers in sectors like transit, urban planning, housing, green transportation, anti-racism and food security to come up with the alternative budget. The 151-page document lays out how the city should spend millions of dollars.

A group of people gather at Winnipeg's City Hall to support the alternative budget, presented by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. (Sam Samson/CBC)

The document suggests dedicating $22 million for a housing strategy that would protect affordable units while transferring vacant land to grassroots groups. The document states $6.2 million should go to protecting the urban tree canopy and $157 million should go to bringing electric buses and better air filtration systems to transit.

It also suggests $19 million to clean up river banks, protect erosion and build sustainable infrastructure than can handle more storm water.

The document also states the city's Indigenous relations division should have more staff, more money should go to the Bear Clan groups, and a new position in Indigenous relations should be solely focused on connecting with newcomers.

Reallocating money from police budget

The document suggests a 10 per cent reduction of the Winnipeg Police Service's budget, and reallocating it to housing, poverty, newcomer and reconciliation efforts. This call is in line with the suggestion from the Police Accountability Coalition, a group calling for greater action to address police violence and systemic racism. 

The police budget makes up almost one-third of the entire municipal budget right now.

"I'm not opposed to policing a society. They have a role. We're not saying get rid of police," said Abdikheir Ahmed with the coalition. 

"But we cannot use police to address our social problems. We have trained people. We have mental health workers. We have social workers where we should be investing our money," Ahmed said.

"If you're here running for council, if you're here running for mayor, you need to take this seriously because we will hold you accountable."

Abdikheir Ahmed with the Police Accountability Coalition tells the crowd the city should be reallocating money from the Winnipeg Police budget to community-driven groups. (Sam Samson/CBC)

Raise taxes and add new ones

To come up with this money, the document suggests boosting the property tax five per cent — a move it states would cost the average homeowner an extra $93 every year.

The groups also suggest the city could introduce new taxes and fees, like bringing in the historically controversial growth fee, a charge for people who commute into the city and an extra fee for parking lot use — in essence, adding more fees for people who have more means.

"These are structured in a way that they help the city achieve its policy goals. And they also are charged on those who have the most to contribute in the city of Winnipeg," said Handry.

Winnipeg's finance chair Coun. Jeff Browaty said he appreciates the effort community members put into creating the alternative budget, even though he doesn't agree with it all — especially adding more taxes.

"Right now, especially with inflation being what it is, now is not the time for the city to add on to the burden that families are facing," said Browaty in an interview.

"This is not the time to go out there and do something radical and start increasing taxes beyond where we're at."

Browaty said he also wants to see better transit improvements and more green infrastructure for the city's sewer system, but there are other ways to raise revenue, like investing in infill and developing downtown.

Some city councillors showed up to the news conference, including Coun. Cindy Gilroy (Daniel McIntyre), Coun. Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry), Coun. Brian Mayes (St. Vital) and Coun. Vivian Santos (Point Douglas). Three mayoral candidates also showed up: Robert-Falcon Ouellette, Chris Clacio and Shaun Loney.

Ahmed noted their presence, and asked a question.

"I see we have a lot of politicians here. Is it because it's an election year, or do you really care? I want to believe you really care."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sam Samson

Journalist

Sam Samson is a multimedia journalist who has worked for CBC in Manitoba and Ontario as a reporter and associate producer. Before working for CBC, she studied journalism and communications in Winnipeg. You can get in touch on Twitter @CBCSamSamson or email samantha.samson@cbc.ca.

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