Bowman promises big things

Mayor-elect a beacon of transparency, progress and potentially long exercise in patience

Winnipeg’s new mayor enters the job with an ambitious to-do list, and many of his larger campaign pledges will require much more than city council’s support before they get off the ground.

Brian Bowman was elected in a landslide win against runner-up, Judy Wasylycia-Leis on Oct. 22. The lawyer pulled in 111,504 votes and dominated polls in neighbourhoods east, west and south of the city’s core.

He was elected on a campaign pledging to open Portage and Main to pedestrians by 2019 - a move which relies on cooperation from businesses, and one he can only see through if re-elected in four years.

“That one’s going to require some work, working with the local stakeholders who have the agreement to keep it closed,” he says.

On a larger scale, Bowman’s plan for rapid transit relies on billions of dollars in funding that will only come from business development and the co-operation of other levels of government.

“This is a long-term project to use transit-oriented development to fund the completion of the full rapid-transit system,” Bowman says. “It’s going to require a lot of work between now and 2030, well beyond when I expect to be in office.”

And one challenge looms even larger for the mayor-elect; Bowman proposed a municipal sales tax to replace property tax in Winnipeg. It’s a bold idea that would drastically restructure how the city funds itself, but Bowman admits it’s not going anywhere fast.

“We really are talking about what’s possible and getting that discussion going. I don’t have the powers to introduce a municipal sales tax, and so I won’t be introducing one,” he says, adding he plans to lead the discussion with the province and stakeholders.

In addition to big ideas stretching beyond his time in office, Bowman has plans he hopes to complete in his four-year term. At the top of his list is choosing a chief administrative officer and working for greater transparency at city hall.

“I’ll be opening up my calendar,” he says. “Whenever I work for somebody, they know if I’m at my desk, and they know who I’m meeting with.”

During the campaign, Bowman put forward plans to change downtown in a way that reflects his Charleswood background by creating a core with “similar amenities that many people currently enjoy in
the suburbs.”

“That means having a downtown off-leash dog park. It’ll mean having a seasonal downtown pedestrian mall,” he explains. He also plans to build a community centre in the city’s core and task Yes! Winnipeg with attracting a major grocery store to the area.

As for housing and safety, Bowman says it’s all about density.

“There’s going to be a lot of work to try to increase the number of residents downtown,” he says.

Bowman’s promise is to increase the number of people living downtown by 5,000 within his term, bringing the population to 20,000. Bowman says that requires incentives for developers to create affordable housing.

“Healthy downtowns aren’t just for millionaires. You have to make sure you’ve got options for a wide variety of financial wherewithal.”

Whether or not Bowman is successful in attracting a grocery store, building a dog park or creating a pedestrian mall downtown, achieving the density he wants will be a slow process, though he doesn’t seem to mind.

“I want to leave a legacy of getting the ball rolling.”

Brian Bowman and the new city council will be sworn in on Nov. 4.

Published in Volume 69, Number 9 of The Uniter (October 29, 2014)

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