Election 2022 Winnipeg’s next mayor

October 6, 2022 

I’m being asked which mayoral candidate with the potential to win Winnipeg’s election has the better platform when it comes to policing, recreation, housing, taxation and equity, topics we regularly publish on at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) Manitoba office. 

For the purposes of this analysis, I am focusing on comparing the platforms of the top three leading mayoral candidates in Winnipeg, according to the most recent Probe Research poll published on September 23rd, which found Glen Murray leading with 40 percent of decided voters, Scott Gillingham second with 15 percent and Shaun Loney third with 14 percent. Winnipeg’s mayoral race is chock full of other interesting candidates, some with very good policies, but there is little likelihood of them being elected mayor. For the sake of brevity, this blog focuses on these top three candidates. The list of all 11 mayoral candidates and how to find more information on their platforms is at the end of this post. It is problematic that the top three candidates are white men, and this blog notes where they have made commitments, or not, related to gender, race and equity.

On September 29th, Glen Murray’s campaign was set back by the CBC exposé about his time as Executive Director at the Pembina Institute in Alberta, with allegations of sexual harassment and poor management. Murray denies this and claims he resigned for “personal and family reasons”. The allegations of sexual harassment are very serious. Murray states they were never raised with him while at the Pembina Institute or after and denies them. Murray has indicated he’s staying in the race. It remains to be seen how the CBC investigation will impact voters’ decisions at the polls. 

When it comes to fairness and equity, all three candidates have their strengths and weaknesses. And they have not yet released their full platforms at the time of this writing. Since advance polls are already open and the Thanksgiving weekend is upon us with people having more time to do some reading, it is a good time to publish this blog. It has been peer-reviewed. 

This blog starts with a brief discussion of the Alternative Municipal Budget, and then conducts an analysis of the platforms of leading Mayoral candidate Glen Murray, then Scott Gillingham and then Shaun Loney. 

Winnipeg at a Crossroads

Winnipeg at a Crossroads: Alternative Municipal Budget 2022, a community- based fully costed budget involving 27 authors from a wide variety of 18 non-profit, environmental and labour organizations finds that after two decades of austerity and two pandemic years, the City of Winnipeg is at a crossroads. Policing now eats up 27 percent of Winnipeg’s budget, up from 18 percent in 2002 and the highest of all major cities in Canada. The Black Lives Matter movement catapulted forward community pleas that police make the lives of Black and Indigenous people less safe, to the point of risk of death. A documented rise in violent crime in Winnipeg this summer, and a traditional civic focus on crime and safety, meant that all three candidates had early announcements related to policing. However, it is disappointing overall to see a lack of progressive commitments in solidarity with racialized communities from candidates. 

Despite the tremendous public push to defund the police across North America and in Winnipeg, including the 100 organization-strong local Police Accountability Coalition, all three candidates chose not to take up this call. 

Glen Murray, former mayor of Winnipeg from 1998 – 2004, has stated he would replace the Winnipeg police helicopter with less expensive surveillance drones. This would continue police surveillance on racialized people and, with drone recording technology, could be more insidious. Murray’s announcement appears to be motivated by the cost savings that could be gained by grounding the helicopter. 

Winnipeggers who lived here for Murray’s time as mayor will remember his “new deal for cities”: his work to propose a new funding model for municipal governments, long held captive by provincial governments’ limits on their power to raise taxes. Riding Off in All Directions: Glen Murray’s Failed New Deal, published by our office in 2004, is a good primer on Murray’s new deal proposals. Murray’s efforts did lead to the creation of the Federal Gas Tax Fund in 2005, a dedicated annual source of revenue for Canadian municipalities that yielded Winnipeg $44 million in 2020/2021.  Murray left his post as mayor in 2004 to pursue federal politics and continue his new deal campaign at the federal level, however, he failed to win a seat. 

Notably, when Murray was Mayor he instigated Winnipeg’s municipal tax freeze, which was from 1998 to 2013. This meant that the police, with more power than other departments in the city, secured ever-increasing proportions of the frozen city budget “pie” at the expense of most other departments.

Murray did state on Twitter, about the police budget compared to city services, that he would “reprioritize spending” but has not committed to any specifics. Murray has not yet stated where he stands on revenue and property taxes to date.

Murray did announce he would support neighbourhood residents committees and safety action groups in a model following the Point Douglas Powerline safety network. Glen Murray’s safety and crime press release stress closer ties between residents groups and police to deal with gangs and “drug houses”. Notably absent in this release is an acknowledgement of the distrust many racialized people feel of police and the disproportionate abuse experienced by these groups at the hands of police. 

Murray has committed to improving access to addiction and treatment services via partnerships with addiction treatment centres and community organizations. Absent from this announcement was a commitment to safer consumption sites, a public health approach to reducing the harms related to problematic substance use, and something the city has the power to establish if funds are committed. 

Absent so far from Murray’s campaign is a gendered response to violence against women and girls and racialized people. Perhaps these announcements are coming later, but this is a glaring omission from Murray’s presentation of himself as a progressive.

Murray did state he’d improve recreation services in Winnipeg’s inner city. Recreation funding in Winnipeg overall has been cut by a whopping 31 percent in real (inflation-adjusted) dollars since 2008, with cuts to hours, programming and a loss of 83 full-time equivalent staffing positions in recreation. In media coverage of Murray’s announcement on crime and safety, he indicated his crime prevention through recreation project would be staffed by volunteers. Families are juggling paid and unpaid care work, and lower-income communities struggle to survive, leaving little time in 2022 to do more volunteerism. As the labour-endorsed candidate, it is disappointing Murray has not yet indicated he would staff up recreation, library and other community services decimated by years of city funding cuts. 

Murray’s promise of social liveability and performance standards to measure the city against sounds promising. If elected, he says he will work with diverse community members and groups  to set these standards. 

On housing, Murray has promised a larger role in affordable housing creation for the Winnipeg Housing and Rehabilitation Corporation (WHRC), a city-owned corporation. This was also a recommendation of Winnipeg Without Poverty, the community-based poverty reduction plan for the city published by our office. Murray envisions WHRC selling and redeveloping land and buildings for affordable housing initiatives. However, he does not articulate if the ownership structure of these initiatives would be public or private. Make Poverty History Manitoba and the Right to Housing Coalition are calling for the city to create 150 new units of housing per year and to prioritize Indigenous, nonprofit and cooperative ownership. Murray has not indicated how many units he would create. 

Murray says that this housing will grow the tax base, “Build the tax base. You don’t have to build the tax burden” (Winnipeg Sun). In the short term, property taxes are the only revenue source the city controls, and they must rise to pay for the myriad of problems left by Murray’s frozen tax legacy. Additionally, creating affordable and non-profit housing requires public funds, and the city’s housing and planning offices require staffing to amp up housing development. 

On labour, he is the endorsed candidate for the Winnipeg Labour Council, the umbrella body for labour unions in Winnipeg and has stated publicly that he supports a fair deal for CUPE Local 500, who are poised to strike over low wages and recruitment and retention issues. 

Falling Behind: Service and Wage Decline at the City of Winnipeg, a report released by our office in September 2022 found that the City of Winnipeg is experiencing difficulty retaining and recruiting employees to deliver key public services due to low wages in select positions. During the summer of 2022, the City closed wading pools and splash pads, failed to reduce 311 wait times, and restricted public library hours due to staffing shortages. Murray, or whoever is elected as Mayor, will require adequate revenue in the form of taxation to ensure workers are paid a living and adequate wage and the city can attract needed workers. 

Scott Gillingham is a two-term city councillor, served as chair of the city finance committee for five years and was Winnipeg Police Board chair. He has stated he will hold the police budget in line with the inflation rate. Gillingham announced he would expand upon pilot projects by sending outreach workers with crisis expertise instead of police to lower risk mental health calls and to fund a 24/7 safe space. It is good to see him taking up these community priorities, however the “devil is in the details” on how they will be implemented. This will be something for racialized communities and allies to monitor if Gillingham is elected. 

Gillingham released his property tax policy, which would expand the existing budgeted 2.33 percent annual increase in 2024 to 3.5 percent annually for 2024 – 2028. Under his plan, the council will continue to allocate the 2.3 percent property tax increase to roads and rapid transit, with the remaining 1.2 percent to transit and a small amount for recreation (described below). Our office estimates this will bring in $8.16 million more in revenue above what’s budgeted in 2023.

Gillingham also announced an increase to the frontage levy of $1.50 per square foot. This means the frontage levy increases from $5.45 per square foot to $6.95 per square foot and would bring an estimated $17.6 million more per year. This would fund Gillingham’s previously announced commitment to widening Kenaston boulevard at an estimated cost of $500 million and extending the Cheif Peguis trail, which is also estimated at $500 million. These $1 billion dollar projects were not in the current capital plan, and detailed estimates need to be done. Their costs are likely to increase. 

During the climate crisis, it is not responsible to expand fossil-fuel-dependent road infrastructure like widening Kenaston and extending Chief Pequis Trail. The city should instead prioritize spending on infrastructure to get Winnipeg off of fossil fuels by modernizing public transportation and installing geothermal systems to get city buildings off of fossil gas. 

A new report released by our office earlier this week, “Code Red: Fire and Paramedic Infrastructure in Winnipeg,” uses the City of Winnipeg’s own data to document the decline of Winnipeg’s Fire and Paramedic Service (WFPS) infrastructure, including backlogs in basic station and equipment maintenance. This is now impacting service delivery and workplace health and safety. Addressing the infrastructure deficit in the WFPS requires nearly doubling the currently planned capital expenditure ($74 million) over 10 years, or approximately $7.4 million per year more than currently budgeted. Addressing this critical infrastructure gap is not in Gillingham’s announcement. 

Gillingham commits to freezing the business tax and then phasing it out. The Alternative Municipal budget has supported rolling the business tax into commercial property taxes if the commercial property tax rate increases. Taxes paid by Winnipeg businesses are on a sharp decline, but they rely on city roads and infrastructure to operate. The business tax was 9.1 percent in 2001. The Winnipeg Chamber has lobbied hard for tax cuts, which removed $19.1 million in real dollars in 2021 and shifted the tax burden to residential property owners. 

As the recent chair of the finance committee, Gillingham has in-depth knowledge of the huge infrastructure and operating funding gaps in the City of Winnipeg. His small tax increase announcement means that if elected, Winnipeg would have more cuts to community services, recreation, libraries, arts and grants to community groups and would have no money to act on urgent priorities like climate change. 

Given Gillingham’s interest in crime prevention, his recreation announcement is minuscule. He pledges 0.25 percent of the property tax increase to go to the Parks and Recreation Enhancement Program, a fund managed by city councillors that provides $120,000 in funding for each of Winnipeg’s 15 wards. These would be tiny pockets of money at the community level. He is promising to work with newcomer groups to diversify hiring practices in recreation and support more students to become recreation staff; this is an excellent initiative that is actually already underway in the city.

Gillingham opens up the door to public-private partnership (P3) funding for recreation centre infrastructure in his “Partnership-friendly Recreation Infrastructure Projects” to find funding through “alternative funding sources”. It is disappointing to see a single to P3s in Gillingham’s platform. Copious amounts of research show that P3s are more costly to the public purse in the long term, with lower quality outcomes and higher levels of risk. 

On housing, Gillingham plans to build 270 units of modular housing in his term— using funds from the federal government’s rapid housing initiative. Gillingham proposes the city would waive permit and land costs, as well as property taxes, while also speeding up the zoning approval process. If Gillingham is truly dedicated to affordable housing, he should extend this treatment to all affordable housing initiatives. 

The Right to Housing Coalition and Make Poverty History Manitoba have a well-developed call to action to address housing and homelessness issues in Winnipeg, based on research, community consultations and years of experience advocating at the municipal level. The current policy frameworks on housing in the city are thanks to the tireless lobbying of these groups – the Winnipeg Poverty Reduction Strategy, in which affordable housing was one of two key pillars, the City of Winnipeg Housing Policy and Housing Policy Implementation Plan. Community groups hope all mayoral candidates take up this call to action and prioritize resources to address homelessness and core housing need in Winnipeg. 

Gillingham has no announcements to date related to reducing racialized and gendered violence and inclusion. 

Shaun Loney is a social entrepreneur and author. He co-founded Building Urban Industries for Local Development (BUILD), a social enterprise for people with barriers to employment, while on paid secondment from the provincial government in the mid-2000s. His campaign has captured the attention of many progressives impatient with the pace of change and lack of emphasis on social justice from mainstream politicians. 

A closer look at Loney’s proposal about crime prevention and policing is warranted. Loney does not commit to defunding the police. He proposes a new yet-to-be-used approach at a municipal scale outlined in “The Winnipeg Model”, a paper Loney co-authored with Lucas Stewart. Non-profit organizations would get paid to do crisis intervention and rapid rehousing of homeless people based on calls to the police within a previous time frame. This prevention work of non-profits is financed by endowments from foundations like the Winnipeg Foundation.

Loney’s upstream approach to addressing homelessness in Winnipeg is laudable. His passion and drive to make a change in Winnipeg are inspiring to many and likely the reason he’s risen six percent in the polls. I have read his books and written positive endorsements for the jacket covers. 

I must ask how would Loney’s ideas work within the context of a municipal government. As a candidate for mayor, Loney is not proposing using normal public finance civic government tools managed by elected officials. Instead, he looks to private foundations to solve city problems, transferring public resources to private entities that are not directly accountable to Winnipeggers. 

The above model he’s proposing for crime prevention is effectively a Social Impact Bond (SIBs), whereby investors finance social services in exchange for a return on investment. SIBs have been widely criticized for being administratively burdensome and costly to establish. SIBs have limited scope for impact as they have been difficult to scale up and hand investors disproportionate influence given the public funds underpinning the model. The Winnipeg Foundation, nor any foundation, has not publicly endorsed its participation in Loney’s proposal. 

Loney proposes city departments will fund prevention-focused solutions to poverty and cut city expenses on police, fire and paramedic service and states that savings will be achieved to compensate for these cuts since fewer emergency services will be necessary.  While there is strong evidence that the social benefits of prevention often outweigh the costs,  Loney’s optimism that these savings can be realized and cut from budgets has not been borne out where this SIB model had been tried elsewhere.  It takes time and money upfront to develop meaningful alternatives, and the savings are spread out over long time horizons and across the budgets of many stakeholders. 

Loney’s plan is likely to fail to realize its bold claims and risks disappointing and undermining support for poverty reduction programming, which is worth funding regardless of savings to police and fire paramedic services. 

Governments have powerful fiscal levers: they bring in revenue through taxes and amortize capital expenditures over time. Governments can borrow at lower interest rates than private firms due to their large equity holdings and special standing as public institutions. Loney’s transformative goals can be achieved with progressive taxation and public financing. Creating a new mechanism involving private foundations is not necessary and likely not realistic.

Loney’s strengths lie in the important action areas of Truth and Reconciliation and empowering Indigenous self-determination. The Reconciliation Action Plan he announced on September 30th is exciting and includes many initiatives, including action on the MMIWG Calls to Justice and creating social enterprise jobs for women. He supports the creation of more urban reserves and 1,000 social enterprise jobs. 

Social enterprise jobs in Winnipeg are generally non-unionized and are offered as a pathway to support people, most of whom are racialized, into meaningful work. Union membership comes with improved wages, working conditions, benefits and a pension. More needs to be done to create pathways into unionized jobs with the City of Winnipeg for racialized workers. The City of Toronto Community Benefits Agreement Framework, a partnership with community and labour, with apprenticeship and hard targets for hiring residents from historically marginalized communities is something the new Mayor and Council should adopt. Loney’s platform does state he will enhance the City’s current efforts to employ more Indigenous people in the civil service. 

Loney has committed to establishing a $100 million dollar Community Housing Land Trust, whereby non-profits would then be transferred the ownership of the land upon which nonprofits develop a property. The land trust would be funded by “foundation investments, community bonds and creative partnerships with all three levels of government“

Land trusts have met with varying levels of success in North America. The West Broadway Land Trust was established in the mid-2000 to provide affordable homeownership. I was the Executive Director of the host organization and came on just after the Trust had failed. The West Broadway Land Trust did not work as the low-income homeowners the trust intended to serve did not have the income required to maintain their homes and fund ongoing housing expenses. The West Broadway Land Trust homes were eventually sold on the open market, and the Trust dissolved. Establishing a land trust in Winnipeg would take time and careful attention to lessons learned from the past. 

Loney has stated he’d roll the business tax into commercial property tax, which he stated would be revenue neutral: the equivalent of the current 4.84 percent business tax rate would be added to commercial property taxes. This is better than Gillingham’s approach to cut the business tax and lose this revenue completely, but not as fair as businesses paying the equivalent to taxes they paid in 2002. 

Loney has not stated a position on property taxes or on recreation to date. 

Tough love and taxes

In Winnipeg’s Financial Cupboard is Bare, an op ed in the Winnipeg Free Press, University of Manitoba Economics professor Ian Hudson and Katherine Burley, MA Economics student, write:

 “The city’s financial report, released last month, predicted a $60 million deficit in the operating budget and an additional $15 million shortfall for Transit.  The city is attributing this to a perfect storm of hopefully temporary circumstances, including high gas prices, gigantic snowfalls and the lingering impacts of COVID-19. However, the fact snow can ruin the city’s finances shows how precarious they have become.” 

With neoliberalism permeating mainstream politics these days, no candidate is willing to give Winnipeggers the “tough love” needed: the City of Winnipeg’s problems stem from the fact that needed services and infrastructure are starved of money because Winnipeg has the lowest property taxes of all major Canadian cities. Just next door, for example, Reginans pay an average of $400 more per year. 

Taxes are the gift we give each other to address the needs of our city. For more on how out of step Winnipeg’s revenue is with other major Canadian cities, please see the Revenue section of the 2022 Alternative Municipal Budget

The Alternative Municipal Budget introduced progressive revenue options that would yield $104 million dollars more per year in revenue for the city, with a willing provincial government. $34 million of this is via a 7.33 percent property tax increase, 5 percent above what’s already budgeted for 2024. Taxes on surface parking lots, an improved impact fee, a commuter charge on bedroom communities are evidence-based ideas that have worked in other cities and are needed in Winnipeg. 

Concerned Winnipeggers have a difficult choice to make for Mayor at the ballot box on October 26th. I hope this analysis has given you more information on the current state of affairs in the City of Winnipeg and some implications of these three Mayoral candidates’ platforms.

Molly McCracken is the Manitoba director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. 

For information about how and where to vote – please visit the City of Winnipeg Election website. 

More information can be found on this webpage round-up of CBC articles on candidates’ positions and by searching out the candidate’s own websites.

Winnipeg Mayoral candidates 2022 

Idris Adelakun

Rana Bokhari

Chris Clacio

Scott Gillingham

Kevin Klein

Shaun Loney

Jenny Motkaluk

Glen Murray

Robert Falcon Oulette

Rick Shone

Don Woodstock