New Winnipeg mayor’s first 6 weeks turn into a series of trials by fire

Fifteen days into Scott Gillingham’s first term as mayor, the front doors to Winnipeg’s city council building were locked to prevent an outdoor rally from spilling into the lobby indoors.

“Where’s the dignity, Mr. Mayor?” one woman shouted from the courtyard, where demonstrators called for excavations of landfills where the remains of missing and murdered Indigenous women are believed to be.

The demand for a more vigorous police response to violence against Indigenous women has reopened wounds that have never had a chance to heal in Winnipeg.

It’s only been eight years since Tina Fontaine’s body was found on the banks of the Red River. It’s only been seven years since the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls released its final report.

And it’s only been weeks since Winnipeg police revealed a man they charged with one murder in May is now suspected of killing three other Indigenous women.

The police in this city have had no choice but to acknowledge the anger and grief of an entire community even as they dispassionately state the technical grounds on which they based their decision not to excavate the landfills where at least two of the most recent missing women are now presumed to be.

Winnipeg’s new mayor, a politician who has never appeared all that comfortable in the spotlight, now finds himself contending with a daunting file.

All Scott Gillingham has to do is meet the expectations of the most vulnerable community in Winnipeg while preserving the sanctity of a criminal investigation into a suspected serial killer and maintaining objectivity about a police service that’s become a political hot potato.

And while he’s at it, the new mayor must also marshal enough city resources to prevent more unsheltered people from dying the way a woman did at a bus shack only weeks ago — and figure out a way to reopen the city’s largest library in a manner that prevents patrons from being stabbed to death, the way a man was only days ago, without enraging a segment of the community that views security measures as barriers to democracy.

Whatever agenda Scott Gillingham may have intended to pursue during his first six weeks in office, that’s out the window.

“They’re heavy files,” he told reporters Thursday during a break in his first council meeting as Winnipeg’s mayor, referring to the landfill question, the winter plight of the homeless and the library security conundrum. 

Scott Gillingham stands at a podium.
Winnipeg’s new mayor is facing crises more severe than his predecessor had to contend with six weeks in. Scott Gillingham says he’s up to the task. (Bartley Kives/CBC)

“But at the end of it, it’s people — real people in our community that are really hurting and really grieving and families who’ve experienced loss, and it’s incumbent on us as a city to make the changes necessary to protect Winnipeggers from that happening again.”

Gillingham’s predecessor, Brian Bowman, did not have to contend with multiple crises like this, early on. Far more popular than Gillingham coming in, Bowman experienced a genuine honeymoon for nearly three months.

That ended when Maclean’s magazine called Winnipeg the most racist city in Canada, followed by a dispute over the True North Square development that led the co-owner of the Winnipeg Jets to effectively call Bowman a liar only months after endorsing his mayoral run.

Bad press and a broken alliance, however, do not compare to literal life-and-death issues.

Gillingham insists he’s up to the task to deal with what’s on his plate.

“Unfortunately, this is part of the work that elected officials are tasked to do and I knew that coming in,” he said on Thursday.

“There’s an advantage I think, that I’ve been on council for two terms. Before being elected mayor, several of my staff have worked at city hall or in politics before.

“So some of the very difficult learning curve for myself and the staff is perhaps not as steep as it would be for someone and their staff that would come cold from the the street and into office.”

First budget still months away

In the days immediately after Gillingham’s election, some of those staff described Gillingham’s first budget as mayor as the first big hurdle he would face. But that will come several months down the road.

Its not clear when a feasibility study into the landfill excavation will wrap up. But more action is expected soon on the shelters and within days on the library file.

The return of airport-style security would anger some constituents. So would a decision not to bring bag checks and metal detectors back.

“Part of this role is making decisions knowing that not 100 per cent of the people will be pleased with it. But I will try to provide a rationale to my decision whether that’s accepted or appreciated or agreed,” said Gillingham, who nonetheless expressed some optimism.

“In the midst of all of these really, really difficult last few days, what has been abundantly clear time and again, is the number of people in all walks of life in all sectors that have come up and said ‘We’re here to help.’

“There are so many people in this city that are committed to this city, struggles and all.”

View original article here Source