The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – Manitoba released a new report that examines the model of civic governance in Winnipeg, highlighting serious concerns with the centralization of power in the hands of the Mayor.
“Winnipeg is an exemplary case of the lack of democracy in civic governance across the country,” reads the report, titled Winnipeg Free for All: Towards Democracy at City Hall. “The overriding power of the Mayor is one of the most glaring barriers to democracy in civic governance in Winnipeg.”
Author Owen Toews, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Alberta and author of the upcoming book “Stolen City: Racial Capitalism and the Making of Winnipeg” outlines the long history of Winnipeg’s governance and the ongoing efforts by the “corporate class” to keep power away from the people.
Beginning in the late 1800s, the report discusses the disenfranchisement of Indigenous peoples, women, and the working class from civic participation. It plots the course of the various tools used over time to erode citizens committees, prevent lower income neighbourhoods from strong representation, culminating in the model currently used today, and established by right-wing governments in the 1990s, whereby most power now rests in the hands of the Mayor and the mayor-appointed Executive Policy Committee (EPC).
“Winnipeggers know, especially under the previous administration which was plagued with scandals and closed-door meetings, that we need a more democratic governance model,” said Gord Delbridge, President of CUPE Local 500 representing Winnipeg’s municipal workforce, in response to the report. “We need to find ways to increase citizen engagement and open discussions on our governance model, and this new report presents intriguing ideas on how to improve our civic democracy.”
The report notes the historic role of CUPE Local 500 in speaking against the erosion of municipal democracy, in particular in the 1990s.
The report also observes various governance models used elsewhere in Canada, and offers some suggestions on how citizens can reclaim Winnipeg’s democracy, and highlights the need to eliminate or reform the Executive Policy Committee to ensure all councillors have a fair and equitable say in municipal affairs.
“It’s not about the people around the table,” notes Delbridge, “It’s about the table itself.”
In addition, the report recommends eliminating or reforming the Mayor’s selective Executive Policy Committee, reigniting citizens committees and increasing direct citizen engagement at City Hall.
To read the full report, visit: https://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/reports/winnipeg-free-all