Winnipeg budget coming without plan ordered to ensure city can afford police

The City of Winnipeg's budget for 2022 will be unveiled next week without a plan city council ordered up 11 months ago to ensure it can afford the money it spends on the Winnipeg Police Service.

Council asked for funding plan in December 2020, but it won't be ready before 2022 budget unveiled next week

Generic image of caution tape.
The city budget will come forward next week without a plan — requested 11 months ago — to make police funding more sustainable. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

The City of Winnipeg's budget for 2022 will be unveiled next week without a plan city council ordered up 11 months ago to ensure it can afford what it spends on the Winnipeg Police Service.

Council's executive policy committee voted Wednesday afternoon to give the city's chief financial officer four more months to come up with ways to pay for policing in the coming years.

In December 2020, city council asked the chief financial officer for "options and recommendations" that "will provide planning certainty for the City of Winnipeg and a sustainable and predictable funding" for the police service.

That report is not complete. Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman acknowledged Wednesday it won't be ready in nine days, when city council finance chair Scott Gillingham (St. James) is scheduled to unveil the 2022 city budget.

Chief financial officer Catherine Kloepfer said the city is looking for more feedback. It plans to hold six public meetings in January in culturally appropriate settings to obtain more public input, she said.

Policing accounted for almost $302 million of the city's $1.18-billion operating budget for this year, which works out to about 26 per cent of all city spending on services.

The police service has fallen $5.7 million short of its budget for this year, partly because council banked on winning a court case that would have ratcheted back the police pension.

Bowman said the failed court effort was justifiable because the police overtime should not be pensionable. The mayor also said the Winnipeg Police Association — the union which represents most police employees — is "very unmotivated" to work with the city in making policing more affordable.

Police association president Maurice Sabourin said his union has presented Bowman with cost-reduction options but the mayor rejected them in favour of seeking to claw back pension benefits in court.

In a statement, Sabourin accused Bowman of taking a "reckless approach to our pensions" that has put the city "at a significant legal risk in terms of losses."

The association, and some council members, "repeatedly implored him to choose a smarter and more sensible path," but Bowman "arrogantly refused to listen," the statement said.

"Mayor Bowman's selfish political direction and poor judgment set the wheels in motion to create this shortfall, and he alone is responsible for that."

The city has struggled in recent years to clarify who precisely is responsible for the financial oversight of the Winnipeg Police Service, which is governed by the Winnipeg Police Board but requires funding approval from city council.

Members of council's finance committee complained last week they could not obtain sufficient detail from the police service or the police board about the way the WPS spends money.

On Wednesday, Bowman called the funding oversight model "clear as mud."

Poverty-reduction strategy approved

The discussion about police funding took place as council's executive policy committee approved a long-term poverty-reduction strategy that included no hard targets, measurable outcomes or dedicated funding to implement.

More than a dozen delegations to council praised the city for coming up with the strategy, though some pointed out the absence of financial commitments to reduce poverty.

Bowman called the document a good first step and said the city has to work with the resources it has. He said all three levels of government could be smarter in the way they spend money on poverty reduction.


Bartley Kives

Senior reporter, CBC Manitoba

Bartley Kives joined CBC Manitoba in 2016. Prior to that, he spent three years at the Winnipeg Sun and 18 at the Winnipeg Free Press, writing about politics, music, food and outdoor recreation. He's the author of the Canadian bestseller A Daytripper's Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada's Undiscovered Province and co-author of both Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg and Stuck In The Middle 2: Defining Views of Manitoba.