City & Politics, City Hall, Columns, Planning

Will the real Brian Bowman please stand up?

Cycling advocates are sadly misguided celebrating Mayor Bowman’s “leadership” on the active transportation file. A few supportive tweets are a far cry from what it and other important files deserve from Winnipeg’s supposedly urbanist mayor.

During last fall’s municipal election, many of the City’s mayoral candidates went to great lengths to establish their urbanist credentials. Winnipeggers, tired of Sam Katz’ visionless agenda of increased suburban sprawl and more shopping power centers, lapped up the candidates’ focus on downtown renewal, progressive urbanism and active transportation.

Bowman, while seen by many as the centre-right candidate, won by a sizeable margin. He took the reins at City Hall with a clear mandate for change, guided by a substantial policy manifesto published during his campaign. His platform, among other things, promised an end to the scourge of surface parking lots blighting the downtown landscape and robust active and rapid transportation plans; a renewed focus on smart city planning and sound decision making informed by evidence and experts. Exciting stuff for all those who wanted a real city instead of a provincial poseur.

“The lack of direction from city hall over the years has produced a downtown with too many surface parking lots that create safety concerns, and too little development that brings actual people to live in the area.”

–Mayoral candidate Brian Bowman, 2014.

What a difference eight months make. While there has been no shortage of teary-eyed press conferences or glamour shots of the Mayor posted to his social media feeds, there’s been little in the way of substantive policy coming from his office. Or leadership on his promised urbanist agenda. On the contrary, at turns it has been business-as-usual; others, the opposite of leadership, capitulation.

[related_content slugs=”city-cycling-plan-deserves-context,downtown-dog-park-dilemma-unnecessary,has-winnipeg-lost-its-bowmentum,17956″ description=”More from Kris Ade” position=”right”]Instead of an end to downtown surface parking lots, there’s been a glut of ad-hoc exceptions maintaining the status quo. A replacement surface lot for the Calvary Temple, which required the demolition of three buildings on Notre Dame; an exception to the City’s order for Young’s Supermarket to remove its surface lot on Elgin Avenue; an extension of the fifty-car surface lot at the northwest corner of Upper Fort Garry Park; approval of a massive surface lot adjacent to Sport Manitoba’s new complex in the East Exchange. In the case of Young’s Supermarket and Sport Manitoba, Council ignored the City’s own planning staff. So much for sound decision making and smart city planning.

On each of these files Bowman was either absent or in favour of more surface parking, not less. This is not leadership — and it is most certainly not what candidate Bowman promised last fall.

More galling than his about-face on surface parking has been his abysmal efforts to rally support for the passage of the City’s twenty-year active transportation strategy. Sure, he has tweeted about it and decried the use of public funds by Council’s Cyclophobic-5 to pay for shallow, misleading radio advertisements. However, he has done little to leverage the political capital he amassed with his decisive victory or the levers afforded the mayor’s office to speed the passage of this important initiative

When pushed by pugnacious Transcona councillor Russ Wyatt to reexamine the rigour with which City staff consulted on the aforementioned strategy, he punted the document to his newly created Office of Public Engagement. That group concluded, after a month-long review, that the City had, in fact, engaged in world-leading standards for public consultation on the file — something Mayor Bowman could have argued when Wyatt first balked. When fellow Executive Policy Committee member, Councillor Jeff Browaty, used taxpayers’ money to help fund those misinforming radio ads, Bowman simply expressed his disappointment but refused to strip Browaty of his post. That kind of muted response only fuels the likes of Wyatt and his anti-bike blokes; politicians without principle, motivated by crass populism and stinking of rank hypocrisy.

Where is Mayor Bowman’s editorial in the Winnipeg Free Press? Where is his public relations offensive in advance of Wednesday’s Council meeting? Most importantly, why does he continue to rely upon inexperienced political operatives to guide his back-room efforts to build alliances and secure easy passage of term-defining proposals? He’s being outmaneuvered and his agenda hijacked.

Platitudes only get you so far in politics. And as any seasoned campaigner will tell you, there’s a difference between campaigning and governing. For how much longer must Winnipeggers wait for Brian Bowman to learn these lessons?


Kris Ade is a former political advisor, communications consultant, debate educator and trained chef. You can find him on Twitter at @krisade.