Mayor Bowman's 2021 State of the City reflects on the impact of the pandemic and how Winnipeg will continue to build for the future
Released: 1:55 p.m.
Winnipeg, MB – Today marked Mayor Brian Bowman’s seventh State of the City since being elected in 2014. With provincial public health orders that restrict gathering sizes, this year’s State of the City was like no other in years past, and was held virtually and accessible to more Winnipeggers.
Mayor Bowman sat down with Shreeraj Patel, Chair of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, to discuss how the global pandemic is impacting our community, businesses and City of Winnipeg operations. The Mayor also discussed the importance of local democracy, city building, Winnipeg Transit, and ensuring human rights and care for our community are priorities for the City of Winnipeg.
“We’ve weathered a lot of storms in our history and I’m proud of the way our community has come together to weather this storm,” said Mayor Brian Bowman. “We have a long way to go yet but as we continue to inch toward vaccines for more of our residents, I believe our community is positioned to emerge from this storm stronger than before. The sooner we see vaccines in the arms of more Winnipeggers, the sooner we’ll have a chance to gather with our friends and family again and that’s why I’m calling on all Winnipeggers to get vaccinated once you are eligible.”
The Mayor discussed the impact the pandemic is having on local businesses and the supportive measures the City has put into place in 2020 and 2021.
For 2020, this included most prominently, the deferral of penalties on property and business taxes and also included one-hour free parking, additional loading zones to support curbside pickups and a city-wide relaxing of residential parking restrictions for those working from home.
For 2021, property and business tax deferrals were again provided. This builds on the COVID-19 Economic Support Grant Program, which provides businesses directly impacted by the provincial public health restrictions, a $1,500 grant that can be used for things like rent, utilities, wages and Personal Protective Equipment. The City also significantly increased the business tax exemption threshold, which has resulted in nearly 1,000 more businesses being exempted from paying $1,900 on average, now and into the future.
One of the most significant measures has been to ensure capital spending has remained whole because capital infrastructure investments are one of the most important tools available to governments to support economic growth in times of uncertainty. The 2021 Balanced Budget Update approved a robust, six-year $2.3 billion capital plan that includes investments in roads, recreation centers, transit, water and wastewater infrastructure. This plan will create over 10,000 person-years of employment while generating incremental tax revenue to the provincial government of $111 million and $139.2 million to the federal government.
The Mayor touched on how the pandemic has highlighted just how essential City services are like clean and safe drinking water, emergency response services, waste management and Winnipeg Transit.
On the heels of passing the City’s first ever, multi-year balanced budget, which put the City in a better financial position than most cities, the world was thrust into a global pandemic. Facing a forecasted deficit of almost $80M in the spring of 2020 due the pandemic, the City’s COVID-19 Crisis Cash Flow Management Plan helped the City navigate a changing economic landscape. Strategic use of debt was utilized within the City’s debt policy to preserve the capital program while protecting the operational budget and services for residents.
The Mayor acknowledged that the pandemic has had an impact on how the City has provided services and there will be ongoing reexamination on how some of those services could be changed going forward.
The Mayor concluded the pandemic-related discussion by reinforcing the need to continue supporting local businesses, and how weathering storms is in the DNA of Winnipeggers.
“Whether it’s the flood of the century, blizzards or in this case, a global pandemic, we weather it by leaning on each other and doing what we’re known for,” said Mayor Bowman. “That’s the care and compassion that Winnipeggers show to each other and we’ll get through this storm by working together.”
The Mayor moved on to highlight the needs of a growing city and addressed how important it is for cities to collaborate with third-party stakeholders and other governments. Some examples of success included the Waverley Underpass and the Southwest Rapid Transitway, both of which were delivered on time and under budget by $68 million and $169 million, respectively. Going forward, the City is now in need of support from provincial and federal governments for the $1.8 billion North End Sewage Treatment Plant upgrades.
The Mayor emphasized the impact of the provincial government’s Bill 37, a bill that was introduced in the middle of the pandemic. “We want to be sure that local democracy is ultimately successful and you do that by making sure local Councils are making the decisions for the communities they serve,” said Mayor Bowman. “This controversial legislation contemplates giving unelected, less accountable provincial appointees a veto on planning decisions made by democratically elected local Councils. I’m calling on all Winnipeg MLA’s, of all political stripes, to stand up for our local democracy.”
The Mayor highlighted how important city building is as Winnipeg continues to grow to a million people. From 2015 to 2020, the Mayor has led on $665.6 million in investments in road renewal, modernizing our public transit and supporting growth in our downtown. Winnipeg is seeing downtown development like never before with the Artis REIT Tower, the Richardson Innovation Centre, True North Square and Red River College investments.
“Three years ago, I announced during my State of the City that I wanted to see the Public Safety Building demolished,” said Mayor Bowman. “Now we’re looking at what’s going to go into that space!”
Other exciting developments include the redevelopment of the former Southwood Golf Course and the development of the former Kapyong Barracks by Treaty One Nation, the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s Qaumajuq opening next week and the Assiniboine Park’s Diversity Garden.
“It’s not all about steel and concrete, we have to be mindful of a city that’s green,” said Mayor Bowman. “In their 100th anniversary year, I want to thank the Winnipeg Foundation for their commitment of $1 million to the One Million Tree Challenge. 2021 is a great year to plant a tree and I want to invite Winnipeggers to join us as we plant a million trees in our community.”
Building on investments in rapid transit, the Mayor discussed significant improvements to Winnipeg Transit including a low-income bus pass, free transit for children 11 and under, improvements to Transit Plus and the proposed Winnipeg Transit Master Plan.
“The Winnipeg Transit Master Plan is a significant step forward for those who want to see a modernized public transportation system,” said Mayor Bowman. “Exciting developments include a new transit network, increased frequency, On-Request Transit and Zero Emission Buses. Once we have Council’s support, we’re going to need the support of the provincial government to prioritize this to the federal government to flow the $203.6 million of federal funds that is earmarked for Winnipeg.”
Following the discussion on infrastructure, the Mayor addressed questions about the more vulnerable residents in our community. The Mayor also talked about how municipal governments are the safety net when the support systems and outcomes aren’t being delivered effectively by other levels of government.
“When individuals are in need, they call 911 and we answer the call. But unfortunately, we only have 3 dispatchable options,” said Mayor Bowman. “Far too often, individuals need other services and one of the things we’ve been exploring through the Bloomberg Harvard initiative is a 4th dispatchable option to better connect individuals with the support they need, at the right time.”
This work and the continued support of community partners like End Homelessness Winnipeg and United Way are critical to growing a city where no one is left behind.
The Mayor concluded the discussion by addressing what is being done to truly make Winnipeg a city for human rights.
Since 2018, the City created the Human Rights Committee of Council, a Newcomer Welcome and Inclusion Policy, anti-oppression training, allowing permanent residents to serve on City boards and commissions and the City’s first ever Anti-Racism week that will begin on Sunday.
“I’ll be introducing a motion at next week’s Human Rights Committee asking the City of Winnipeg to consider creating an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Policy to ensure our hiring practices better reflect the community we serve,” said Mayor Bowman. “All of this work is important because we want Winnipeggers to know and feel in their hearts that they’re respected and they’re getting the dignity that all Canadians should come to expect. Ultimately, we want to make sure every Winnipegger feels that Winnipeg is a place they’re proud to call home.”