My Winnipeg

A beginner’s guide to City Politics

As part of The Uniter’s in-depth look at who’s got the power, we realized most of us could not tell a city councillor from a porcupine, or know what a by-law is.

In the interest of making us all more city-savvy, The Uniter presents its City Politics for Dummies guide.

The Mayor

Since 2004 it’s been Sam Katz.

Unlike the premier and prime minister, the mayor is elected by a direct vote from citizens.

The mayor as head of council has the power to appoint from council the deputy mayor and the members of the Executive Policy Committee (EPC - to be explained).

He or she also has the power to suspend a by-law within 48 hours of it being enacted by council (it would then be voted on again on a later date).

The Councillors

Elected by ward, Winnipeg at one point had 50 councillors; today it has only 15.

Councillors do not formally align themselves with parties, but there is rough left-right divide in council.

The Administration

This is the bureaucracy that runs the city. From policing to water and waste, these are the 10,000 employees of the city.

Glen Laubenstein is Winnipeg’s current chief administrative officer; he runs the administration and reports to EPC.

There are a lot of committees in city hall; here are some important ones:

Executive Policy Committee (EPC)

With all its members appointed from council by the mayor, this committee is generally the most powerful body in City Hall, similar to the Federal Cabinet.

Its jurisdiction is wide-ranging: aside from supervising the chief administrative officer and ensuring by-laws are implemented, recommendations from all standing committees and all by-law suggestions must receive EPC approval before moving on to council for a vote.

No more than 50 per cent of council may sit on the EPC. Including the mayor, the EPC currently numbers seven.

Standing Policy Committees

Winnipeg’s city hall currently has five standing committees.

The chair of each comes from the Executive Policy Committee, with the councillors and mayor making up the remaining members.

These committees are where policies and by-laws begin: councillors discuss issues at the monthly meetings, which are open to the public. They then send recommendations to the EPC.

Standing committees also have the power to create ad-hoc committees to discuss more specific issues.

Current standing policy committees are:

  • Finance
  • Downtown development
  • Infrastructure renewal and public works
  • Property and development
  • Protection and community service

City Council

All policies, budgets and by-laws that emerge from the EPC are voted on at council on the last Wednesday of every month.

Council has the authority to enact by-laws and pass budgets.

During council meetings, issues can be debated and councillors can present their concerns, but once a motion passes through the seven-member EPC, only two more votes are effectively needed to have majority.

Council meetings are open to public viewing, but a maximum of two citizens per side of an issue can present their case for each motion. They must also apply ahead of time.

Published in Volume 63, Number 19 of The Uniter (February 5, 2009)

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