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
Cities in the Time of COVID-19: 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.
Note to readers: This video session was transcribed using auto-transcribing software. Manual editing was undertaken in an effort to improve readability and clarity. Questions or concerns with the transcription can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org with “transcription” in the subject line.
Mary Rowe [00:00:40] Hi, good afternoon, everybody, it’s Mary Roe from the Canadian Urban Institute. Welcome to City Talk. It’s midday here in not so sunny Toronto, kind of overcast Toronto when I apparently we’re gonna get snow just so that the mayor of Winnipeg until he’s not going have to deal with unpredictable weather. And we’re very happy to have the mayor of Winnipeg, Brian Bowman, with us from Winnipeg. And from the Central Time Zone. And we’re looking forward to having another really fruitful conversation, one on one with the mayor on the front lines in Canada.
Mary Rowe [00:01:08] And I’m just going to provide a bit of background for people while people sign into the Zoom function. And first of all, the Canadian Urban Institute is in the connective tissue business. And this is what we’re trying to do with all the platforms we’ve put up since COVID.
Mary Rowe [00:01:21] So we have three of them. CityWatchcanada.ca. CitySharecanada.cac. And now this one CityTalkcanada.ca. And it’s all about sharing information and data and examples of improvisation and resourceful ways that municipalities and their partners, institutions, communities, businesses are responding during COVID to improve our resilience. And these City talk series have been really, really useful, I think, in terms of helping us make sense of what’s going on and derive some meaning that we are very conscious that this while we’re doing this, thousands and thousands of Canadians are still on the frontlines trying to save lives and keep people safe and healthy.
Mary Rowe [00:01:59] And so these conversations are in no way intended to supplant that or be a distraction from that, even where we are always supportive of what our colleagues in particular, people that work in municipalities like Mayor Bowman’s are doing to keep us safe. And we originate this broadcast in Toronto. And Toronto is on the traditional lands of the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, Chippewa and Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples.
Mary Rowe [00:02:23] And we’re now, Torontois now home to many diverse name First Nations, Inuit and Metis Peoples from across Turtle Island. We’re also cognizant that Toronto’s covered by Treaty 13, signed with the Mississaugas of the Credit and the Williams Treaty signed with multiple Anishnabeg nations. And we always try to be as cognizant of that as we can and anticipating that Mayor Bowman will talk to us a lot about part of the experience in Winnipeg and particularly for Indigenous and other vulnerable communities we’ll be interested to hear what you’re going to tell us about that.
Mary Rowe [00:02:55] CityTalk is intended to be a beginning of a conversation, not the end. And we can never do anything in forty five minutes or an hour, obviously. So please join us on the chatbox and you’ll see there’s a chat function here. The Mayor can see it as well. But he and I are going to chat back and forth, and then I will feed in periodically questions that come from the chat or Mayor Bowman if you can multi-task your free to see what they’re saying. And we also encourage people to use Twitter use #CityTalk. And then our discussion with the Mayor will be posted online at Canurb.
Mary Rowe [00:03:28] And you can read about it there. And we so the other thing we found historically with these chats that some people have very robust conversations, not just with the panelists, but with each other on the chat.
Mary Rowe [00:03:40] So unlike in Vegas, just remember, we put something up on the chat.
Mary Rowe [00:03:44] It stays there and we will post it. So we are finding these to be really fruitful.
Mary Rowe [00:03:49] And so we encourage you to use the chat to problem solve with each other and put up resources and ask the Mayor direct questions, if you like. And the thing is, when you’re doing the chat, could you just adjust your little toggle switch there?
Mary Rowe [00:03:59] You’ll see you can do it all panelists, which in this case is one or you can do it to everybody. We’d prefer you do all panelists and everyone because often people in chat.
Mary Rowe [00:04:08] Answer each other’s questions more quickly than anybody on the panel. And it we have been fortunate to have a few other mayors here.
Mary Rowe [00:04:16] Mayor Bowman, and we are appreciative that municipalities have been on the front lines from the beginning. It’s really literally where the rubber has hit the road. And it’s a poignant day for us. You and I were just talking about this. It’s the seventy fifth anniversary of VE day when a previous generation came to terms with an extraordinary challenge. Rose to it and our lives were changed forever. And and I’m wondering if we’re at that moment again. So I’m going to invite you to just tell us a bit, if you can. We’ve got listeners from across the country, as you know, we also get international people tuning in. So you may just have to bring us up to speed a little bit on what’s it been like in Winnipeg? What are the pressing challenges? And just tell us a bit about your experience, could you?
Mayor Bowman [00:05:00] Sure. Well, it’s nice to see you again, Mary, and thanks for having me. And thanks to the Canadian Urban Institute for ongoing leadership that you provide free and during a pandemic. And so I appreciate the opportunity to speak with with everyone today. Yeah, a couple acknowledgements. Firstly, I’m coming to you from Treaty.
Mayor Bowman [00:05:20] One territory in the traditional homeland of the Metis.
Mayor Bowman [00:05:24] Winnipeg is is a is a place where we have the largest indigenous community in Canada and very proud of that. And and also, of course, welcome people from all over the world. Although less people come in here right now, of course, because of the travel restrictions. But a couple just national acknowledgments as well. I do want to. For those that may be joining us from Nova Scotia, I want to offer our support. I know it’s been a difficult few weeks. I had a conversation with Mayor Savage last week, along with many other mayors. And I know I know many are hurting and we’re sharing in that grief as Canadians, as are members of the Canadian Armed Forces as well.
Mayor Bowman [00:06:04] And so on a brighter note, I want to wish all the moms a happy Mother’s Day in advance. So, you know, what’s what’s going on here is we’ve been we’ve been fairly fortunate. Manitoba Health has been doing great work and we have not been impacted with infections or deaths at the rates that we’ve seen elsewhere in the country, fortunately.
Mayor Bowman [00:06:28] But it is here. There is community transmission. And we have been affected as a municipality by the provincial health orders like other municipalities across Canada. We’re playing a supportive role to support the efforts of Manitoba Health. And, you know, it’s been you know, it’s been a it’s been a trying time for everybody, I think, just on personal and professional levels. This is a unique time in our in our country’s history. I think global history. My wife and I have two young boys. They are twelve and nine. They’re at home. They’re being home schooled by Tracy. And Tracy is also working full time from home as well. And, you know, the multi-tasking there is is remarkable. And I think everyone’s feeling a certain degree of anxiety to differing levels. I think people are being challenged in terms of their mental and physical health and their spiritual health. And as municipal leaders, we’re trying to do what we can with the tools that we have. Of course, we we have closed facilities here, and I can get into that if you’d like. But we’ve closed our libraries. They’re still closed. We’ve closed our community centers. We have had our own local state of emergency, which we’ve now lifted, not because we aren’t in a pandemic, but rather the tools that we have as a municipality we believe are sufficient going forward. But beyond that, you know, Mayor Iveson told me when I was first elected, I remember chatting with Don and he said, you know, you don’t have a lot of power as mayor, but you do.
Mayor Bowman [00:08:04] You have the platform and you have the ability to convene.
Mayor Bowman [00:08:08] And so what you’ve I think, seen in Toronto, I think Mayor Tory is doing outstanding work using the platform of the office of the mayor to communicate information that helps protect the safety and well-being of our residents. And, you know, we’re dealing with the financial challenges of antiquated financial tools and the expectations of our citizens to to provide those services that they need when they need them. We’re also dealing with the the ability to bring people together. And so it’s been a it’s been a challenging time. You know, I’ve certainly felt anxiety about the what’s going on right now on state of the world and have tried to communicate a broader message that in Winnipeg, I mean, that we don’t have snow here today. But, you know, the other 364 days of the year in Winnipeg, we do have snow. Absolutely. And so the one thing we do know about in in Winnipeg is we know how to weather storms. And so we are a community that has pretty adverse weather. And in winter, we’ve you know, we face storms, whether they’re blizzards, whether they’re floods. We had our ice storm last fall and now we’re in a pandemic. And we’ll weather the storm and we’ll come out stronger than before. And I think that’s a I think that’s the experience across Canada is as Canadians. We will weather this storm. We will come out stronger. And it’s looking for opportunities to support our most vulnerable, to support businesses and to come out stronger. And we will as we will as a nation. I’m really proud to be a Canadian right now. I think all levels of government are doing their best, our not for profit and our business community or are doing outstanding work, including, of course, the Canadian Urban Institute.
Mary Rowe [00:09:57] Thank you. Well, we’re pleased to have you acknowledge that because we feel like you do that. We want to try to create the platform and opportunities for us to learn from each other. And as you say, all boats rise as we do.
[00:10:10] We had Mayor Savage with us a week ago today, and we had that kind of a conversation that it’s not just one challenge. He’s had a compounding and then a compounding and a compounding. And we have parts of the country that are going to be facing flooding, spring flooding or wildfires or all sorts of other kinds of of just day to day challenges. So it’s part of what we’ve been wondering about is, you know, what has COVID exposed for you in Winnipeg, our sense is that there are preexisting conditions that seem to have been accelerated or exacerbated or made worse. Tell us what you’re seeing there in terms of that kind of thing and particluarly around vulnerable populations.
Mayor Bowman [00:10:50] Probably three three things that jumped or jumped to mind.
Mayor Bowman [00:10:55] It’s illustrated for me much more clearly than before.
Mayor Bowman [00:10:59] How vulnerable our vulnerable community is. So that’s point one. So those Winnipeggers affected by homelessness or living with addictions. You know, when we I’ve heard people say we’re all in the same boat. And that’s just not true. We’re in the same storm. But the boats are very different. Some people at home theaters they’re going home to tonight. They’re going to have some Merlot and they’re going to order in. And other people are out on the street.
Mayor Bowman [00:11:25] And so self isolating is very different if you are living with an addiction, if you are without a home.
Mayor Bowman [00:11:34] And so I think for many Canadians, the disparity that we have in our communities and the vulnerability of of of the citizens and the residents that we refer to as our most vulnerable has been exposed to a much greater extent than before. And I and I think coming out of this, I think there’ll be a lot more attention and I hope a lot more resources going towards supporting our most vulnerable. Second point is the liquidity challenges and the narrow margins of many businesses. I mean, you know, I just cite one industry as an example, the restaurant. We’ve seen restaurants here who are I mean, their margins are so tight at the best of times that, you know, there’s there’s businesses that won’t reopen again.
Mayor Bowman [00:12:19] And that, you know, that those that the vulnerability of our business community, I think in certain sectors. I mean, there’s some sectors that have been hit really hard. Of course, airlines and hotels, restaurants among among many others. And then thirdly, it is just the. The antiquated revenue models for municipalities, I mean, we are front line service and we provide essential services, whether it’s clean, safe drinking water, whether it’s making sure first responders show up when you call 9-1-1, making sure that our streets and our parks remain safe. I mean, there’s these are these are essential services. And the revenue tools that we have are so antiquated. We have we had just passed a four year balanced budget here in the city of Winnipeg, we replenished our fiscal stabilization reserve. We are losing about $12 million a month for for Winnipeg and for you know, we we can weather the storm as a municipal government currently based on the facts on the ground right now. We believe that we can weather this storm financially until about August. After that, we will need support of other levels of government. And we’re gonna continue to join FCM, we’re going to continue to join other other municipalities and advocating for for support. But for us, we had actually positioned fairly well to weather the storm in the short term. The challenge becomes how do you replenish the fiscal stabilization reserve when this is done, if there’s a second a third wave or other emergency situations at this level. And and we are, as as most will know within this organization, largely looking to property taxes to fill our coffers. Twelve million dollars to put that in perspective. I know other municipalities are losing, you know, I think larger citieslike Toronto are losing, I think I’ve heard numbers of sixty five million dollars a week or perhaps that’s a month. It’s a lot. And it’s hard to get your head around what that means for when you hear governments, you hear millions of dollars or billions of dollars. It’s it’s it’s it’s easy for many people to glaze over and not put that into perspective. Twelve million dollars for us. About five million dollars is a one percent property tax increase for every homeowner in the city for the year. So twelve million dollars is about a two percent property tax increase just to fill that up per month. So, you know, you you you can’t double down on the burden that that businesses and homeowners are taking right now and backfill that through property taxes alone.
Mayor Bowman [00:15:04] At the same time, the services we provide, we have amongst the low, you know, the lowest operating per capita costs for a municipal government in Canada. And so there’s there’s not a lot of fat to trim from those services. And we have squeezed a lot in our four year multi-year budget. So the question becomes, how do you replenish it? And I yesterday I presented a five-point recovery plan to the provincial government. One of those points is a growth oriented funding model. So other levels of government have PST, GST, income taxes, progressive forms of taxation. They long abandoned property taxes for a reason and it’s because they gave it to us. And what I would love to do is if we had some form of a progressive growth oriented funding model, we would position our economic recovery around that and we would cash in on that economic recovery in a progressive way that would replenish our coffers to provide services, but also do it in a way that isn’t isn’t as regressive as property taxes is.
Mary Rowe [00:16:16] So let’s take your three and we’ll do them in reverse order. So you interpret it antiquated revenue, citing those second middle and was liquidity, the first one you mentioned was vulnerable. So let’s talk about the money this week.
Mary Rowe [00:16:26] We had a bunch of municipal finance experts on last week and including the CFO from Edmonton. And, you know, they were laying it pretty stark, as you suggest, that even before that you didn’t have the tax, you didn’t have the revenue tools to generate your own revenue and you didn’t have enough transfers. And so here we are in this moment. And you’ve you you weren’t standing on the sidelines saying, oh, gee, we don’t have a budget for that. When people were falling ill in front of you had to respond and get them shelter or whatever the service was.
Mary Rowe [00:16:56] And you’ve had to continue. This is true for transit cities with big transit systems. They’ve got to continue to run those transit systems, but they can’t put things that can’t have them full. So they’ve got to run more and lots and lots of folks still have to get to work, etc. So going forward, is this proposal you’ve made and we’ll make sure that we’ll post that. We can post that in the chat so people can see what you’re advancing. Is it a mix? Is it a mix of a different kind of relationship with the two other levels of government that do collect more taxes as well as you generating your own revenue tools? Is it a mix?
Mayor Bowman [00:17:31] Well, there’s too I mean, there’s two two efforts underway right now. FCM is leading the charge for direct funding from the federal government to support municipalities right now for their operating budgets. And that’s something we’ve we’ve we are strongly supporting. This message that I released yesterday. It’s a five point plan.
Mayor Bowman [00:17:48] It’s all my social media platforms from yesterday. And we’ll share it with you, Mary, so that it can be shared. That’s that’s really directed at the provincial government, because we are legal creatures of the province and they are I mean, our provincial government. And it’s not it’s not this current political party that’s in office. It’s it’s it’s longstanding.
Mayor Bowman [00:18:09] We are required under
Mayor Bowman [00:18:13] Yeah, but we’re required we’re required to balance our budgets our operating budgets, which we do unlike the other two levels of government. We have a in our case we have a debt ceiling. So we have a self-imposed debt policy, which I think has served us very well. It maintains our credit rating and helps provide some discipline to the politicians here at City Hall.
Mayor Bowman [00:18:35] What we’re what we’re pushing for is is is really a commitment from the provincial government to to to implement a a new funding model that’s a growth oriented.
Mayor Bowman [00:18:45] I haven’t been prescriptive for a reason because no model is perfect. It requires dialog. And ultimately it’s the decision of the province. Some of the models are PST GST income tax. We had in the previous government, they had the Building Manitoba Fund. That was basically 1 percent of our PST.
Mayor Bowman [00:19:02] This government canceled that so they could look at other options, still looking and we’re still waiting for something that is predictable and growth oriented.
Mary Rowe [00:19:09] Would you run it? Would you want to see if the whole language we have to use here is kind of archaic? You have to ask for permission. Would you like to ask permission to run a deficit?
Mayor Bowman [00:19:19] No.
Mary Rowe [00:19:20] You don’t want to?
Mayor Bowman [00:19:22] No.
Mayor Bowman [00:19:22] I don’t think governments should run deficits. I mean, I think our model based on municipal governments, no, primarily because I don’t think politicians over the decades can demonstrate that they can pay it back in.
Mayor Bowman [00:19:35] I mean, I have to say, a Keynesian economic theory, I mean, it doesn’t get paid back in my experience. Yeah.
Mayor Bowman [00:19:43] I’m OK with a balanced budget. I mean, it forces discipline.
Mary Rowe [00:19:48] But here’s the big but here’s the challenge with it. I mean, if you have to make a huge, big capital investment, you may not be able to do it out of your existing yearly budget. So what about borrowing from your capital reserves? Has anybody talked about that? You have. Are you can you take money from. I don’t know whether you’re permitted to take money from capital reserves and allocate those to operations. And then can there be some other mechanism to replenish the reserves?
Mayor Bowman [00:20:10] Yeah, it’s reverse. I mean, we do cash to capital, so we we transfer money from our operating to help replenish our capital. But we’ve squeezed our capital. Right. To protect the operating side of the budget, to do our first ever four year balanced budget. So it’s I think municipalities are much more fiscally conservative than other levels of government in my in my area in our case. I’d love to see provincial and federal governments balance their budgets. You know, I’d love to see them have even debt policies. Neither do. And I’ve been advocating for that right now because we’ve been providing that leadership and other other mayors and councilors have as well. We we we also are the most open and transparent level of government in our budgets.
Mayor Bowman [00:20:53] I mean, they’re line by line, I mean, we’re still trying to understand budgets from a few years ago that are laid out by other levels of government.
Mayor Bowman [00:21:00] So that scrutiny, I think, is a good it’s a good thing.
Mary Rowe [00:21:03] So it is an interesting twist you’re trying to put there that, you know, this principle of subsidiarity that you want the government closest to the receiver of the service to be the one that’s administering, planning and administering it and paying for it. And you’re saying, hey, look at the way we do municipal government here. All the good things that we we don’t run deficits, et cetera, and then have the other governments start to emulate your behavior.
Mayor Bowman [00:21:27] Well, I think I mean, no, no one has a monopoly on good ideas and and there’s something to be learned from each level of government. I mean, all all levels of government have something to offer.
Mayor Bowman [00:21:39] But quite often the narrative coming, coming, coming out and it’s because we are so open and transparent, you see the warts in real time at the municipal level.
Mayor Bowman [00:21:48] And so we get scrutinized. It gets scrutinized and dissected.
Mayor Bowman [00:21:52] And as a as a as someone who believes in democracy, I think that’s a good thing.
Mayor Bowman [00:21:56] I don’t mean I like it on a daily basis because you’re subject to that personal scrutiny. But that’s OK. It leads to better government. And I’d like to see that level of openness and transparency our open data, open government initiatives at provincial levels, especially, you know, as well as that at the federal level. But my comments aren’t intended to criticize. It’s just we have something to offer. And one thing that we can learn and benefit from at other levels of government have is the ability to come up with progressive taxation.
Mayor Bowman [00:22:28] I don’t actually even want more money, even if it was initially revenue neutral, but position the municipality to focus on the things that our residents expect us to focus on. Job creation, economic growth and development of municipalities as structures are not structured to care about that the way that they should, because we are we are structured to focus on new development and in many cases new sprawl because because that’s how you generate revenues. And so if you want, if you want to change behavior, have skin in the game on economic growth and job creation and, you know, municipalities will they will change their behavior and focus on the things that the job creators in the economy want us to focus on. We will because we’ll have a vested interest with them on the recovery of a pandemic, for example, so that we are really focusing on job creation.
Mary Rowe [00:23:19] You know, Joe, Joe and Jill Public Canadian have no idea which level of government provides which service. Like we kind of have a hunch. We know that education is provincial and we know that health is provincial kind of and we know that the army is the Federal government. But sometimes we have no idea who actually is paying for things. So let’s just riff on this for a second around your dependency on the property tax. People and then and how it’s inelastic and it’s not based on growth.
Mary Rowe [00:23:44] The other dilemma. It speaks to the second point you meant about liquidity.
Mary Rowe [00:23:48] We have a project that we’ve just kicked off here at CUI called Bring Back Main Street. And one of the great challenges that that independent businesses have is the burden of property tax that it puts on them operating on a main street and has all sorts of other uses going around them before, you know, the value of the building is being changed or that the municipality, because it hasn’t got any other choices, starts to put pressure on the property tax and puts the business out. So what are the alternatives to that when you suggest a growth tax? I’m sure people are frightened by that. Are they? What kind of reaction did you get at Council?
Mayor Bowman [00:24:18] Well, it’s an easy thing to dismiss because if you just want to say, well, we don’t want new taxes. But I mean, the reality is it’s not about new taxes. It’s about smart taxes. And property taxes are a dumb form of taxation. They’re they’re really just they’re dumb. You know, you want to improve your home, you want to invest in hiring people to to make your home a greater value. Well, we’re going to come after you. We’re gonna penalize you for that. We’re going to begin to increase your assessment. So, you know, if we know you know, you look at the examples I cite often are PST, GST. If you’re spending more, you’re going to pay more.
Mayor Bowman [00:24:59] If you have if you have more income taxes are ones that can be tweaked as they are in terms of income levels. So it is a much more progressive form of taxation than than property taxes.
Mary Rowe [00:25:11] And so it’s fairer. But here’s a question Mayor Bowman, then what happens if it’s not growing?
Mary Rowe [00:25:17] What happens if you’re a municipality that doesn’t actually have any growth, then you’re not. So that’s the that’s the tradeoff right now.
Mayor Bowman [00:25:24] And that’s a and that’s a legitimate public policy argument. But if it’s so good, then why don’t other levels of government have it?
Mayor Bowman [00:25:32] I mean, if it can’t be
Mayor Bowman [00:25:36] But it can’t be looked in isolation, too, because some of the other levers and flexibility would be needed to address that concern. It is a you are right as there’s economic downturns. There is some stability in property taxes for municipal government. But at the same time. So I’m not saying you completely would eliminate it. Perhaps it’s a bit of a balance, but like have some skin in the game for economic growth. Just have some and do it in a in a way like I if if I got my my hope that there was some form of growth tax involved. I would actually want to reduce the property taxes at a at a rate that would create a revenue neutrality coming out of a date for the municipal government. But then you’re then structuring it for decades so that the municipal governments now start. Looking at things that they should be working on to a much greater extent in collaboration with industry and with other levels of government, and then that’s a game changer.
Mayor Bowman [00:26:36] Our provincial government uses language that they want to be the most improved province in the country, and that’s great. That’s something we as Canadians, we should all want our provincial governments to do that. Well, one of the ways you do that in our case, the vast majority of Manitobans live in Winnipeg.
Mayor Bowman [00:26:53] So if you want to be most improved, let’s have the most improved revenue model, smart revenue model. That makes sense. And there’s an opportunity there.
Mary Rowe [00:27:02] The other thing is, you know, this story about levers, you know, you don’t have as many levers as you’d like to have. And presumably as a mayor, you want to have the most sustainable growth you want to have green growth with. Would this be a way for you?
Mary Rowe [00:27:14] Would you have been more capacity to influence the kind of growth intensification, you know, environmentally better planning, less sprawl?
Mary Rowe [00:27:24] Do you think it would empower you to do more of that, provide more leadership on that?
Mayor Bowman [00:27:29] It might. I think I think the density argument would be the strongest because, you know, we we absolutely could focus on well, on the kinds of business activities that are that are smart. And, you know, we know yeah, we know green, we know green green technologies and green investments, pay dividends in the long run. So we know they’re generating wealth right now. Right now, the incentive, though, for municipalities, we can everybody can talk a big game.
Mayor Bowman [00:28:00] But at the end of the day, that that’s suburban sprawl. The new developments is what drives coffers. And it’s those are coffers that are needed to provide essential services.
Mayor Bowman [00:28:10] I mean, right. Means drinking water, garbage, picking up pickup. I mean, combined sewer overflow conversions. I mean, all of these things cost money. So the question just is, is, is the how you collect it? Is it a smart form of taxation or a dumb form of taxation? And if it’s good enough for other levels of government, let’s at least and I’m not asking for a specific model right now. I’m just asking for a commitment from our provincial government, commit to having that conversation and implement something and we’ll work. We’ll work with them. We can study, you know, what what’s being used around the world. I’m sure there’s people on. I’m sure there’s people here who’ve studied this who have thoughts on on on what would be smarter forms. And I’d welcome your input on on that, because I don’t I don’t have a monopoly on good ideas. But I just. Mayor after mayor after mayor pushes for it’s been called a new deal. It’s been called many things here in Winnipeg, Manitoba. And I heard from mayors across Canada. We all know our tools are antiquated and yet we just keep talking about it because we need we need one provincial government to really say, you know what? We’re going to fix this. We’re going to actually lead this. And I and I guarantee you the outcomes will be better for the people that we serve.
Mayor Bowman [00:29:29] But it takes political courage and it means reducing, reducing your your own political influence. In our case, I mean, other levels of government have when they’ve got the financial tools, they get the announceables and the ribbon cuttings. And, yes, a big part of politics. And I I’d I’d give all the ribbon cuttings away. I don’t we don’t need those. We just want results.
Mary Rowe [00:29:49] It’s hard to imagine that a federal government that’s being inundated with request after request after request, and it’s been basically announcing, announcing, announcing and as you suggest, the Federation of Canadians Municipalities has is suggesting it could come through with a proposal that’s in the billions, multiple billions. It’s hard to imagine that the federal government wouldn’t be supportive and interested in this new conversation, a renewed conversation in how our province is going to come to terms of this. The other thing is that, of course, you not only do most Manitobans within Winnipeg, but most of the GDP in Manitoba is generated outof Winnipeg, right. So so let’s talk a little bit about the liquidity piece for businesses. What are you hearing there? What what are your businesses telling you and what what is it?
Mary Rowe [00:30:27] They’ve had a lot of federal support that getting some provincial support.
Mary Rowe [00:30:29] What do you as the mayor anticipate is going to be your level of continued support for them, do you think?
Mayor Bowman [00:30:35] We joined municipalities across Canada in allowing businesses to defer paying their their business and their property taxes. And so for, you know, we could do that. We did for for three months. So we won’t come after people to collect interest if they if they don’t make those payments. Beyond that, most of the support has been from the federal and from the provincial governments. And they’ve been they have been stepping up, of course. I’m I’m joining other mayors, we’re advocating for more support all the time, especially from our provincial government. But they have, to be to be fair, they have been stepping up. I think what it’s really just exposed is just that liquidity issue that you see in businesses. And so I cited the restaurants because I heard very early from restaurants in particular that they they needed that cash flow, the leniency that that’s required from landlords in terms of commercial leases and things like that. You know, that’s been a bit hit and miss. We’ve heard good stories and bad stories about that. But, you know, now we’ve we opened to our surprise. Last Monday, the province announced that patios could be opened not not full restaurants. And so we worked over a weekend. What can take sometimes up to six weeks to get a patio license. We actually we actually had to do it over a weekend. So if anybody wanted to open on Monday, on Friday we were working on a process to allow you just to be able to go ahead with it. So we our public service hit it out of the park. And within about a day they had produced a new innovative way to allow for temporary new patios for restaurants. And that’s a level of innovation then. And that’s what I like the nimbleness of municipal government for that reason. Now, in that case, that level of innovation and responsiveness is something, obviously. As mayor, I want to see continue post pandemic.
Mary Rowe [00:32:32] Yeah, I mean, you never want to waste a crisis, right? I mean, are there are there other things that might you know, we’re wondering, are there certain things that should stick? So, for instance, if we’re. What about your use of public streets? I know that you open some streets for people to walk on and talk to us about that.
Mary Rowe [00:32:47] I mean, are there other ways that you’ve had to be pretty nimble and responsive and those measures should stay in place?
Mayor Bowman [00:32:52] Well, we created so active transportation, obviously always a hot issue. It’s been interesting to see. You know, we’ve had construction industry associations advocate for more road work and more roads. We’ve had active transportation advocates, advocate for more active transportation.
Mayor Bowman [00:33:11] We’ve seen public transportation advocate groups. You know, everybody is is is pushing things they’ve been pushing for for many years. And that’s all fine. That’s democracy.
Mayor Bowman [00:33:22] What we’ve done is most of the on active transportation this week, we added an additional five roads. So we’ve got we’ve got these four roads right now that are typically open in the summer just to pedestrians on Sundays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.. What we’ve done over the last month is we just said seven days a week, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. They’re pedestrian. The people that live on those roads can drive for one block to their homes. But it has been it’s been, I think, a beautiful exercise in getting people additional spaces for physical distancing. This week, we added five more streets that are not normally even on Sundays used in this capacity. And so they are temporary.
Mayor Bowman [00:34:06] But I have no doubt it’ll lead to more of a conversation about where can we where can we look at these things going forward as well as other innovation that we’ve had. We started something called community service ambassadors. So we we’ve we’ve laid off temporarily laid off about 9 percent of our workforce.
Mary Rowe [00:34:25] What percent? 9 percent?
Mayor Bowman [00:34:26] 9 percent. Yeah. So it’s it’s hit us. It’s hit our workforce very hard. Yeah. But before those were announced, we redeployed many of our staff to go work at Winnipeg Harvest, one of our food banks here in Winnipeg. We redeployed some, even like librarians, to become these new community service ambassadors. And so these are it’s primarily enforcement through education, but they’re working with our bylaw officers as well to to help enforce the public health orders on on our city parks.
Mary Rowe [00:35:05] I mean, it is it’s sort of summoned this all hands on deck approach. Right. And we have the great thing about municipal governments is you have you touch thousands and thousands of people every day.
Mary Rowe [00:35:15] So you actually have the capacity to reach a lot of people. We had a session earlier with libraries and we heard about librarians who just started calling their card holders who were over seventy five to talk about digital services and up just having conversations with them every week.
Mary Rowe [00:35:30] They became like a care network. It’s phenomenal. So let’s let’s talk it. So go ahead. Go ahead.
Mayor Bowman [00:35:37] No, I was gonna say that we’ve seen lots of examples like that here and across Canada. Just the humanity that that comes out in helping friends and neighbors. It’s really inspiring.
Mary Rowe [00:35:48] And as you suggested, you spend a few months ago, governments working collaboratively together.
Mary Rowe [00:35:52] This is an element of this is a good side of humanity. I think a lot of us need more of that. Yeah, we’re gonna be sorry when all that goodwill goes away. Yeah.
Mary Rowe [00:36:02] So let’s let’s end up let’s finish on the vulnerable population piece. So you that’s the first point you mentioned, everyone all the vulnerabilities and the people that are vulnerable in these systems, that’s really been much more tragic and more difficult.
Mary Rowe [00:36:14] We know. So you want to talk a little bit about housing, for instance, do you think through COVID? Are we gonna be able to emerge with a renewed approach or new tools to address housing?
Mary Rowe [00:36:26] I’m going to pick that one. But there may be others you want to highlight.
Mayor Bowman [00:36:31] I think what we’re seeing, we’re seeing local industry, for instance, with containers here in Manitoba, step up and help offer support. You know, we’re we are unique. We’re not like other municipalities where housing is is one of our areas of jurisdiction in Manitoba. It’s provincial.
Mayor Bowman [00:36:50] So we’re not as you know, if I talk to Kennedy in Vancouver or John in in Toronto, you know, Bonnie and Mississauga, I mean, we talked to many of the Mayors that they are much more hands on when it comes to housing.
Mayor Bowman [00:37:04] But what we’ve seen here is we’ve seen that the network and the ecosystem of support that that is there, we’ve seen it strengthened through organizations in our case, like End Homelessness. Winnipeg, our emergency operation center early on in the pandemic, reached out to make sure that that coordination was happening in that almost daily dialog is happening.
Mayor Bowman [00:37:27] And what it actually resulted in is, is me being more of an advocate to other levels of government to to get the support to come in a much more timely way where it’s been really acute for me, as is those with addictions. You know, if you’re I mean, I like other mayors I’m tweeting out a lot about physical distancing. My tweets are not going to influence somebody who is living with an addiction. If I mean that addiction is going to win out and if they have COVID, they they you know, that’s going to win out. And so it’s been that’s been really impressed upon me. Rick Leese is a community leader here in Winnipeg.
Mayor Bowman [00:38:07] He runs the Main Street project. I’ve had some really good conversations with him over the last month or two, just about the practical application of quarantining and self-isolation with the, with the citizens and the clients that he serves. And I hope that none of that that level of empathy that you need to have at all three levels of government continues to grow and the supports follow. Time will. Time will tell.
Mayor Bowman [00:38:34] But I do think the physical distancing, you can’t jam people in like sardines that we won’t go back to that we just we can’t go back to that.
Mayor Bowman [00:38:43] So I think the supports for for housing, obviously for affordable housing as well as as the shelter systems is going to be key moving forward.
Mayor Bowman [00:38:54] And that’s where I think policymakers are going to be shifting if they haven’t already, too, that the long term, the new norm, that that’s that’s really where our headspace should be right now,.
Mary Rowe [00:39:08] Yeah, addressing the precariousness, precarious work, precarious housing. We had Jay Pitter with us a couple of weeks ago. And, you know, she made this very strong point that there are forgotten densities in communities across the country where where the proximity that people do not have options to go and they cannot physically distance. And as you suggest, mental health challenges, all sorts of things. You’ve got a growing population in Winnipeg.
Mary Rowe [00:39:33] And as you suggested, you have the largest concentration of Indigenous. Do you see,
Mary Rowe [00:39:39] Do you see this as kind of, you know, positioning you as having some unique assets that are going to help you emerge from this?
Mayor Bowman [00:39:48] Well, I mean, we’re I mean, we are growing. You know, we’ve. Before I was elected, we were at six hundred ninety eight thousand. We’re pushing eight hundred thousand now. We have a raise. We haven’t experienced since the 1950s. And so, you know, ’90s, we had a couple of years where we were losing residents like net resident losses. And so we’ve been growing for many years and I’m really proud of that. We’re becoming more Indigenous by the day. I’m Metis and very proud to be Indigenous. And we got a lot of a lot of First Nations that call Winnipeg home and as well as Inuit.
Mayor Bowman [00:40:19] And, you know, I I think, you know, the sad vulnerability of the demographic, though, you know, we know from looking at our statistics that a disproportionate number of indigenous people in Winnipeg and in communities across Canada ah, ah, ah. You know, they don’t they don’t have the same. They’re not in the same situation as as the other demographics.
[00:40:45] So that vulnerability there’s a particular concern to me right now because we’re not through the storm. You know, I think what we are doing, we have created an indigenous advisory circle. And I’m increasingly relying on the wisdom of our elders and the knowledge that they have to to help guide us moving forward and to see what changes we need to make that we should’ve made many, many years ago. I think that wisdom resides in our in our elders across Canada. So that’s a that’s a takeaway for me that I’m I’ve been leaning on them a little bit more and will do so going forward.
Mary Rowe [00:41:23] You know that phrase teachable moment. I mean, you say this it feels like COVID has provided us with so many teachable moments, so many COVID moments. And as you just suggested, elders, of course, are at greater risk of contracting cold. It’s an unbelievable rupture to the continuity of life that that a particular demographic has been so hard hit by this. And how are we going to how are we going to come to terms with that, as you suggest?
Mayor Bowman [00:41:49] It’s been teachable moments for parents. So the parents that are here, I mean, we we have as I mentioned earlier, we’ve got two boys. Our twelve year old Hayden has been rolling with this pretty well.
Mayor Bowman [00:41:59] He connects with his friends every day by Zoom.
Mayor Bowman [00:42:02] He plays the clarinet, oh Canada to start the school day at home in the mornings. And. He’s been rolling with it pretty well. We talked to them about how they’re feeling. Our nine year old has had some anxiety. And so he’s been you know, he’s waking up in the night. And, you know, I asked him a couple weeks ago, I said, you know what? How are you feeling? He said, well, I’m really, really scared. And I said, are you what are you scared about? He said, well, I’m not scared about getting COVID because I know we know we’re washing your hands and we’re staying at home. But he says, I’m really scared about all the people that I saw on the news that are dying. And it was a teachable moment for me in empathy. I was really proud of him. I felt good as a parent that that we’ve hopefully done that right. I’m sure we’ve messed them up in many other ways. But but, you know, the fact that he was he had some empathy. And we’re seeing that throughout the community. We’re seeing that across Canada. We’re seeing that level of respect that people are demonstrating to our health care workers and first responders. I mean, you want to talk about heroes going into work every day in a hospital right now where you’re treating COVID patients. I mean, I won’t complain about the work I do here. You know, it’s it’s just not on. It’s not even in the same orbit as that level of risk. And so I’ve been really and I’ve been really inspired by Canadians. And I hope we keep this this spirit going, you know, going forward, because I’m seeing stories from across Canada. And it just makes me really proud to be a Canadian. And I hope people are seeing I mean, I hope those that are there are seeing some of the stories come out of Winnipeg are also motivating and inspiring Canadians to try to do some good in the community. We put out a video last week called Weathering the Storm. And I’ll plug it if you haven’t seen it. We asked we asked, you know, everybody from Blake Wheeler, a captain of of, of course, the best hockey team in the NHL, the Winnipeg Jets and our Gray Cup champion, Winnipeg Blue Bombers. And Nick Dembski and Adam Big Hill and many others Nia Vardolas from Hollywood. We had so many others join us, some video just to lend their voice. And they all jumped at the chance. And they were so kind and giving of their time to come out with a positive message of hope that we will weather this storm.
Mayor Bowman [00:44:26] And that’s the message that that that I think, I hope resonates with all Canadians.
Mary Rowe [00:44:34] Thank you, Mayor. And we’ll post a lot of these things that you’ve mentioned. We’ll post them in the chat and we’ll post them on social media. And when we repost your conversation so people can see that.
Mary Rowe [00:44:42] And what a poignant thing for you to end this exchange with us on, because you now are going to go and lay a wreath for VE day at another moment where there was extraordinary collective commitment to address the shared challenge, which is the moment this is yours and my were our generation’s experience of collective empathy, as we suggested. And we’ve seen a remarkable demonstration of it. Listen. Good luck on your campaign for a new financial deal with Manitoba. I agree with you completely that we just need one or two to step out and show how it could work. And it would be tremendous. And as you suggest, it’s one of those systemic things that we really do emerge from this understanding more clearly. Right. Thank you. Mayor Bowman, we’ve really been pleased to have you. I’m now going to just plug where we are with city talk going forward, which is that at today’s Friday. And so we’ve been very, very pleased to have Mayor Bowman and have a one on one with the mayor on the front lines providing such inspiration for people across the country. So thank you for joining us. Next week, a week from today, we have your colleague, Mayor Crombie, who will equally talk about all the challenges that Mississauga and the GTA region is experiencing. But on Monday, we were doing more next week than we’ve ever done. Next week is like Super City talk week. Monday we’re doing after Sidewalk, what’s the future of smart tech for Canadian Cities. You may have heard that news. Mayor Bowman Sidewalk decided yesterday to decamp. That has been an interesting conversation about the future of smart tech helping cities. Tuesday, we’re going to talk with two former federal ministers about the importance of infrastructure investment in stimulus and what that’s going to look like. Wednesday, we have a partner session with people from Berlin and from York University and across the world to talk about the impact of COVID. Thursday. We’re doing a session with all sorts of resilience practitioners talking about on the ground investment. And as I suggested, Mayor Crombie on Friday. So, Mayor Bowman, thank you so much for joining us. Keep the chat going.
[00:46:40] City talk, hash tag, city talk, please, and help us at CUI COVID response at Canurb.org. And again, Mr. Bowman, Mayor Bowman, good luck at the Cenotaph and thank you for joining us.
Mayor Bowman [00:46:50] Thanks very much, merci, miigwech. All the best I use if I if I’d known that. Mayor Savage was last week. I would never have agreed because he’s a tough guy to follow. And I. And you’re you’re in for a treat with Bonnie next week. So thank you for the opportunity. All the best to everybody out there. And if if anything I said today seemed like a good idea or a bad idea and you have feedback. My email is MayorBowman@winnipeg.ca, feel free to send me some some feedback or through the Canadian Urban Institute and I’d welcome any feedback or ideas that you have. I know there’s a lot of expertise on this call right now.
Mary Rowe [00:47:29] Thank you.
Mayor Bowman [00:47:30] OK. Take care.
Mary Rowe [00:47:31] You, too.
Note to reader: Chat comments have been edited for ease of readability. The text has not been edited for spelling or grammar. For questions or concerns, please contact email@example.com with “Chat Comments” in the subject line.
12:03:33 From Canadian Urban Institute: #citytalk
12:04:09 From Canadian Urban Institute: Folks, please change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” so everyone can see your comments.
12:04:32 From Jenna Grose: Hello from a former Winnipegger currently in Vancouver
12:05:01 From Emily Wall, CUI Staff: Today’s conversation is with Brian Bowman, Mayor of Winnipeg, MB.
12:05:15 From Canadian Urban Institute: CUI is looking for volunteers to help us continue the great work of our COVID-19 initiatives. If you can help, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
12:07:50 From Gloria Venczel: Nostalgic hello from a former U of Manitoba architecture student settled in North Vancouver!
12:09:09 From Amarpreet Guliani to All panelists: Hello from another former Winnipeger now living in Regina SK.
12:12:41 From Abigail Slater (SCT): Very apt analogy.
12:12:49 From Abigail Slater (SCT): same storm different boats.
12:13:41 From Abigail Slater (SCT): What form of ongoing supports does the Mayor see going forward? At all levels of government…? Who administers the relief going forward?
12:14:46 From John Meyer: I’m a neighbourhood litter picker and a member of an organization that heavily supports mass transit. Do you have any workarounds to mitigate the effect of Covid-19 on short-circuiting initiatives to mandate reusable mugs for all take-out food and get people out of cars?
12:15:53 From Abigail Slater (SCT): When Covid began coffee shops no longer allowed me to use my reusable cup. I think it was for the staff’s protection over my protection, but it was frustrating.
12:17:29 From Abigail Slater (SCT): Sales tax are regressive too,,,
12:17:34 From Canadian Urban Institute: You can find transcripts and recordings of today’s and all our webinars at
12:21:25 From Emily Wall, CUI Staff: Please help CUI improve its CityTalk programming with a short post-webinar survey – https://bit.ly/3drODeh
12:23:00 From Abigail Slater (SCT): There are times when deficit funding is warranted.
12:24:06 From Gloria Venczel: Cities need a “new green deal”-Mayor- great idea for a growth based tax revenue stream! Can cities be rethought as local economic power hubs? With ongoing covid issues, could part of the economy be repatriated to cities, neighbourhood based amenities supporting expanded home office practices? The “creative class” , drivers of the knowledge economies, love walkable cities, rich with amenities. Is this possible?
12:24:58 From Alan McNair: 1) Mayor Bowman seems very thoughtful but many municipalities are trying to sustain their local economies against contraction and depopulation, particularly in agricultural areas of Canada, rather than trying to develop a model that finances the city based on its growth. What if it has no growth? 2) It has been observed that the only organism that has continued growth is a cancer cell, until it overwhelms and kills its host. What can be an alternative model for sustainable communities rather than sustained growth?
12:25:54 From Amarpreet Guliani: Density plays a role in spreading the COVID-19 pandemic , but it also increases tax revenue for a City. How do you plan to balance this in the future?
12:27:59 From John Meyer: Agree we can’t focus on growth which is both environmentally and socially suicidal. We have to make our current workforce more productive – invest in people, training and equipment – to generate higher income and more tax revenue on the same number of service requiring bodies.
12:28:05 From Brian Owen to All panelists: Is is possible to go back to a Business Tax? I understand the history and why it was blended into property as is was harder to collect. The reliability of payment also funded the assessment to develop a BIA. Would the old BizTax formula ever work again?
12:28:31 From Canadian Urban Institute: Welcome new joiners! Just a reminder to please change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” so everyone can see your comments.
12:29:01 From Brian Owen: Is is possible to go back to a Business Tax? I understand the history and why it was blended into property as is was harder to collect. The reliability of payment also funded the assessment to develop a BIA. Would the old BizTax formula ever work again?
12:33:17 From Abigail Slater (SCT): Amazing what can get done when there is a will.
12:36:05 From Gloria Venczel: Canada has one of the most educated population in the world.. What would be needed to create city based, home grown, green “knowledge economy” jobs from a city perspective?
12:37:11 From Canadian Urban Institute: You can find transcripts and recordings of today’s and all our webinars at
12:37:22 From Anne Huizinga to All panelists: does the good will have to go away…?:(
12:37:25 From Emily Wall, CUI Staff: Please help CUI improve its CityTalk programming with a short post-webinar survey – https://bit.ly/3drODeh
12:40:12 From Canadian Urban Institute: Keep the conversation going #citytalk
12:42:45 From John Meyer: In the years when Winnipeg was losing population, did housing become more affordable? Demand drives prices.
12:43:32 From Canadian Urban Institute: CUI is looking for volunteers to help us continue the great work of our COVID-19 initiatives. If you can help, please contact us at email@example.com
12:46:31 From Gloria Venczel: Bravo Mayor Bowman!
12:47:51 From Emily Wall, CUI Staff: Please help CUI improve its CityTalk programming with a short post-webinar survey – https://bit.ly/3drODeh
12:47:59 From Abigail Slater (SCT): Thank you !!!
12:48:23 From MARYAM MOMENI to All panelists: Thank you.
12:48:25 From Emily Wall, CUI Staff: firstname.lastname@example.org
12:50:48 From Canadian Urban Institute: If you have final comments for the chat, please include them now as we will close the chat in a moment.