A candid conversation with Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman, on how his city is dealing with the challenges of COVID-19 and what the short, medium and long-term impacts on the city could look like
Live City Check-In—One-on-One with Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman
A roundup of the most compelling ideas, themes and quotes from this candid conversation
1. The impacts of COVID 19 on vulnerable populations
We are all in the same storm but not all in the same boat. As in many other municipalities, the pandemic has exposed the precarity of those who are most vulnerable in Winnipeg — the homeless and those living with mental health and addictions, for example. But the ecosystem of support for the vulnerable has been strengthened by the COVID response, with a specific shout out to the Main St. Project. Will this lead to longer term change? Mayor Bowman believes it will: “We can’t go back to jamming people in (to emergency shelters) like sardines”.
2. Narrow margins and challenges of liquidity
The precarity of many local businesses has also been exposed by the COVID-19 crisis. Small businesses like restaurants have very narrow profit margins and are dependent on cash flow. Winnipeg joined with many other municipalities in deferring property and business taxes and has welcomed the support from other levels of government. When the province announced that patios could reopen, Winnipeg’s nimble public service worked over the weekend to speed up what would normally be a six-week process to get new patio licenses out to applicants anxious to take advantage of the opportunity.
3. Antiquated revenue tools
Winnipeg is currently losing $12 million per month and can manage at that rate until about August. After that time, the City will need support from other levels of government. The question of how to replenish reserves depleted by the COVID-19 response has served to highlight what Mayor Bowman identifies as the antiquated revenue tools available to municipalities. A conversation is needed with the Province to support a growth-oriented funding model with more progressive tax options: “It’s not about new taxes, it’s about smart taxes,” and Manitoba has an opportunity to lead.
4. Indigenous leadership and direction
Winnipeg is home to Canada’s largest Indigenous population, and as a proud Metis, Mayor Bowman is the first Indigenous Mayor in the city’s 140-year history. Among the many community leaders that Mayor Bowman has turned to during the COVID-19 pandemic have been members of the Indigenous Advisory Circle. In the efforts to create a new norm that lasts, wisdom from the elders of the Circle has provided important guidance as to the changes that are needed.
5. Weathering storms
Whether it is blizzards, spring floods, ice storms or COVID-19, Winnipeg knows how to weather a storm. Mayor Bowman spoke of being inspired by the empathy and humanity that Winnipeggers have shown during this crisis, from that of his own 9-year-old son to the many frontline heroes in his city. For example, number of local sports stars, celebrities and prominent citizens came together to create a Youtube video entitled Winnipeg Can Weather Any Storm. It is Mayor Bowman’s hope that the City of Winnipeg can keep this spirit going forward and come out stronger together.