By Jim Peters
Photo: Douglas Little Photography
Open. Proud. Thriving. Growing. Those four words may sound like platitudes when you read them, but they don’t when you hear them—coming from Winnipeg’s biggest booster, that is. It’s been almost a full year since Brian Bowman took his place behind the desk and in front of the cameras as Winnipeg’s 43rd mayor. After his landslide election win in last year’s civic election on October 22, it’s safe to say voters had high expectations for the new leader—and that hasn’t changed. To find out how those expectations have caught up to reality for Brian Bowman, Winnipeg Men sat down with the busy mayor for an interview:
WM: What have been some of the biggest surprises you’ve experienced coming into the office?
BB: There have been many, but one of the biggest has been discovering the way the budget process works. During my campaign, I spoke for the need for some modest increases after the last 14 years of tax freezes in the city. So I was surprised at how the budget was balanced every year because sometimes money from other assets will be used to make up for shortfalls. So we really had to work hard to balance that first budget. Clearly, we need to change the way the system works but the city is a very big ship and changing course won’t happen overnight.
On the positive side, I continue to be amazed at the community’s capacity to embrace change. That remained my biggest hope coming into office—that my ideas for change would be endorsed at the community level.
WM: What are some of your proudest accomplishments thus far?
BB: A number of the key votes in council have been very decisive, such as the long-term planning document and latest budget—overwhelmingly endorsed by the majority of councillors. The long-term planning document was started over two years ago but someone needed to take it over the finish line, which I was proud of doing. We’ve also had some very tangible outcomes for infrastructure—such as the historic funding now available for road repairs. At $103.3 million, it remains the largest investment in road infrastructure in Winnipeg’s history.
We also created an innovation fund of $1 million within the city that has generated some great ideas. For example, the fund allowed for the creation of a command and control centre for the synchronization of traffic lights that will create better traffic flows for everyone—general commuters, first responders, even Jets fans leaving the game. I know this item has been on the minds of many Winnipeggers for years and I’m anxious to see it roll out next fall.
WM: You built your election platform on more openness and transparency at City Hall. Has some of this been put into practice? Has transparency been more difficult to achieve than you thought?
BB: I think we’re off to a strong start. We now live-stream all of our EPC meetings and all of my scrums—including the ums and the aws. The Mayor’s Office was open to the public for the first time for the Doors Open Winnipeg event and the lighting of the Christmas tree. I now present my calendar online, which includes who I’ve met with every month as well as my expenses. I continue to attend a lot of community events and have regular appearances on radio and TV. Winnipeggers will only continue to see more openness and transparency as we progress.
WM: Can you shed any more light on some of the more highly publicized events in your first year—such as the drinking water emergency and the True North Square controversy?
BB: The boiled water advisory was the first time we activated our Emergency Operations Centre downstairs and I was very impressed with the way our emergency staff, and many others, responded to the crisis. These people did some outstanding work and it was a pleasure to witness the level of coordination between departments in action. Another demonstration, I think, of greater openness and transparency.
In terms of True North Square and CentreVenture, the issues that I raised were also raised by council and we simply had concerns about process. As Mayor of the city, I had every right to ask pertinent questions and it’s unfortunate that much of the focus seemed to be on personalities alone. The short answer is I just didn’t have the details I was looking for at the beginning.
But I said repeatedly from the start that I have the utmost respect for Mark Chipman and his organization and the great things he has done personally for Winnipeg. To resolve some of these misunderstandings I held a meeting with Mark and the Chair of CentreVenture to talk about our concerns face-to-face—and we’ve had a great working relationship since. I think the bottom line is that misunderstandings can occur in any relationship but you need to keep the channels of communication open.
WM: What about the strains of managing your time as mayor of a large city?
BB: Of course the demands on my personal time are much greater now. On average we get 75 to 100 requests for meetings and appearances per day. So you simply have to triage those requests and still try to attend as many as possible. I guess it shows people are interested in what’s going on in the mayor’s office. But I really have a good team that make my life a lot easier by managing my time for me.
WM: What about your personal time? Are you achieving anything close to a work/life balance?
BB: I’ve got a very understanding wife and two young boys but I’ve been adamant about reserving Friday nights and Sundays for family time. So far, I’ve been pretty successful. I’ve also been reasonably fit throughout my life but I exercise even more now so that I can make the best decisions for Winnipeggers throughout the day.
WM: Anything you’d like to add?
BB: Just that it would be easy to get caught up in the theatrics of city hall but I’ve worked hard at maintaining a separation between what happens on the job compared to my own personal life. You don’t want to lose who you are. I won’t be the Mayor forever and I want to be able to look at myself in the mirror and know my kids feel their dad did his best. So far, so good.