Winnipeg mayor asks Manitoba premier to strip him of power to appoint inner circle

Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham wants the provincial government to take away some of his power.

He wrote a letter to Premier Heather Stefanson asking her to change provincial legislation giving the person occupying his office the ability to all but guarantee a majority of votes on council.

“Too often it can lead to a group of councillors that feel that they’re on the outside … and it almost can create … this sense of a party system,” Gillingham said in an interview Friday.

The letter, dated Jan. 12, asks the province to amend the Winnipeg Charter to give council the ability to decide for itself whether to have an executive policy committee — a cabinet-like body with the mayor as chair, and including all heads of committees.

Other mayors, including Gillingham’s predecessor Brian Bowman, promised to do away with it but never followed through. 

Gillingham dismissed any concern that he might risk his ability to push forward with his agenda if he gave up his power to appoint EPC.

“It’s incumbent on any mayor, no matter who he or she is, to work with all councillors regardless of the governance structure,” Gillingham said.

Who the mayor is may play a role in determining whether or not they can accomplish anything without the leverage of committee chair appointments, according to one expert.

“I do get a sense that, you know, there’s a lot of councillors … that think highly of Scott Gillingham, and if he’s able to foster those relationships, then it might not be too bad for him,” said Aaron Moore, a professor of politics at the University of Winnipeg.

But Gillingham risks running into a council that is less willing to work with him at some point down the road.

“He may be putting himself in a position where it’ll be much harder to achieve many of the things on his agenda, because he won’t have any carrots to provide council to get them to support his proposals,” Moore said.

A man in a suit shakes hands with a woman in a dress.
Gillingham, left, made reforming EPC a platform during his campaign. A spokesperson for Premier Heather Stefanson, right, said the province is open to working with the mayor. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Although he would give up the ability to appoint EPC, Gillingham asked that new powers be created for the mayor of Winnipeg.

Specifically, he wants to have the power to propose a draft budget, which would be worked on with the chief administrative officer and public service, similar to powers now enjoyed by the mayors of Ottawa and Toronto. Council could still amend and approve the budget.

He also asks for the ability to direct public servants to develop proposals for council consideration, rather than going through committees to ask for reports.

Gillingham made overhauling EPC a campaign promise while running for mayor and followed through in part shortly after entering office. He reduced the number of standing policy committees, whose chairs sit on EPC, by one. 

That reduced the total size of the committee to six members, including the mayor.

He also ended Bowman’s practice of making additional appointments beyond the chairs of standing policy committees, with the deputy mayor and acting-deputy mayor as separate positions, a system sometimes referred to as EPC plus two. 

In doing so, Bowman had influence over a majority of the 15 councillors.

A spokesperson for the premier said the provincial government is “open to working with the new mayor” and the request to change the charter “is amongst other items subject to ongoing discussions between the city and the province.”

Any changes to the Winnipeg Charter would have to pass the legislature.

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