Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman used his first state of the city address since his re-election to take a few shots at the provincial government over funding levels and addictions treatment capacity.
He issued a challenge to local provincial politicians to push the Manitoba government for more funding to the city. For months, city officials and the province have argued over whether the Pallister government has reneged on funding commitments to the city.
The mayor and other senior administrators have argued the province is leaving the city with a $40-million shortfall for road renewal. During his speech at an event hosted by the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, Bowman told Winnipeg Members of the Legislative Assembly “to speak up for Winnipeg.”
“For MLAs in the room or listening today, it’s time to put political party interests second and the people you serve here in Winnipeg first,” Bowman told the crowd at the RBC Convention Centre.
Putting this year’s city budget together “was particularly complicated by ongoing uncertainty about provincial government capital funding to the city of Winnipeg,” Bowman said. Consequently, the 2019 budget was built with the expectation that capital funding from the province would be limited to only those projects the province had previously committed to funding, such as the Waverley underpass and bus rapid transit.
The 2019 Winnipeg budget, released earlier this month, allocated $86 million to fixing roads in 2019, down $30 million from the $116 million budgeted last year.
When the province released its budget last week, Finance Minister Scott Fielding called the province’s spending plan “good news” for Winnipeg, noting his government has increased capital funding to the city by 30 per cent over last year.
City won’t block safe consumption site: Bowman
Bowman also said he would not stand in the way of a safe injection site as part of efforts to combat an upswing in crime that has been partially blamed on the city’s ongoing meth addiction crisis.
“We need to put partisan ideology aside when it comes to establishing supervised consumption sites,” Bowman said. “When clinical evidence and medical experts confirm supervised consumption sites are what Winnipeg needs, I will work to ensure the city is not a barrier.”
The provincial government has long expressed skepticism towards the idea of establishing a safe consumption site in the city, while harm-reduction advocates argue it could help prevent overdoses and blood-borne infections, as well as make treatment options more accessible to addicts.
Following Bowman’s address, Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth told reporters safe consumption sites likely have a role to play, but he wasn’t sure they were the right solution for the city’s drug problem, given that opioids are not as big of a problem here as they are in cities like Vancouver or Calgary.
“The health experts would need to consider that, but I’m certainly not against exploring that,” he said.
Bear Clan patrol leader James Favel, who also attended Bowman’s address, fully supports a safe consumption site, which he said would help reduce the number of needles left lying on the ground. Last year, patrol members picked up 40,000 needles and they are on track to do the same this year, Favel said.
“This summer’s going to be really busy,” he said. “We have to be very careful that nobody’s poked by these syringes, so anything that can help us with that is a benefit and a blessing.”
Partial proceeds from the state of the city address were donated to the Bear Clan and Mama Bear Clan.
Bowman also demanded the province work towards encouraging ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft to operate in the city.
After the province passed legislation last year allowing ride-hailing services to compete with taxis, representatives of those companies said they would be willing to cover costs of insuring their drivers, provided Manitoba Public Insurance drops a requirement for those drivers to state in advance when they will be on the road.