On Nov. 26, the City of Winnipeg will table its operating and capital budgets for 2022. Given that the COVID-19 pandemic has limited the municipality’s ability to raise revenue and that their budget is required to be “balanced” under the City of Winnipeg Charter, Winnipeg’s finances are in a precarious position.
John Orlikow, city councillor for River Heights-Fort Garry, says “we’re going to have to make some really tough decisions going forward, because the City has limited dollars, and that’s just a reality.” Orlikow is also deputy mayor and sits on the Standing Policy Committees for Finance, as well as Innovation and Economic Development.
Despite the financial constraints, he stresses that investments are needed now more than ever in key areas. Specifically, Orlikow hopes to see “equity and environment” addressed in the budget.
“There are people out there that believe we should just deal with concrete and things that are in our legislative responsibilities only, but cities are just too organic for that,” he adds.
Yutaka Dirks, chair of the Right to Housing City Committee, hopes affordable housing is addressed in this budget.
“We called for an increase in the number of staff in the city that are helping develop affordable housing,” he says.
Dirks points to a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report entitled Staffing the Crisis: The Capacity of Eleven Municipal Housing Departments Across Canada to show that the City of Winnipeg is not providing adequate resources to deal with affordable housing. The report finds that Winnipeg’s municipal government only has 1.1 staff dedicated to affordable rental housing, compared to 50 in Vancouver, 20 in Edmonton, 14 in Calgary and 24 in Montreal.
Earlier this month, the city’s Executive Policy Committee approved the Poverty Reduction Strategy, which “will become the foundation for the City of Winnipeg’s work in poverty reduction going forward, by clarifying the City’s role, identifying priority short- and long-term actions and setting out an implementation plan that includes review and renewal,” according to their website.
Orlikow is strongly in favour of the Poverty Reduction Strategy.
“There is a void of strategy to start to address (poverty) in a sustained manner,” Orlikow says, adding that this plan was designed to do just that.
“It’s dealing with everyone from unsheltered peoples to equity issues to substance-abuse issues to mental health,” he says.
While Dirks views many aspects of the Poverty Reduction Strategy positively, he notes a major shortcoming.
“What we think is lacking is that there were no firm targets,” he says. “Without a clear way to measure it, you don’t know if you’ve actually made progress.”
The next City of Winnipeg election will take place in October 2022. Mayor Brian Bowman announced late last year that he will not run for re-election, ensuring that this will likely be a competitive race. Thus far, Shaun Loney is the only candidate to have announced a campaign for mayor.
Published in Volume 76, Number 11 of The Uniter (November 25, 2021)