Budget 2021: Councillors Denied Access to In-depth Briefing Information, Again.
This week the 2021 budget narrowly passed at Council. It did not have the support of seven (7) Councillors. These seven Councillors are regularly denied access to in depth briefings from the Public Service on financial information, risk level, legal, business operations, budget details and other critical information.
Please take a few minutes to read this to understand how information is denied to Councillors; Councillors who are elected to represent citizens interests, citizens tax dollars, and who ultimately vote on many multi-million dollar decisions at City Hall.
There are 15 Councillors and the Mayor.
- Nine (9) votes are the majority, and nine votes are required to pass the City budget. This week, the 2021 City budget passed with just nine votes.
- In addition to the Mayor, the eight (8) Councillors who supported the budget were Councillors appointed by the Mayor to his Executive Policy Committee (EPC) and the Deputy and Acting Deputy Mayor roles. This ‘voting block’ of Councillors is often referred to as EPC +2.
The Mayor chooses to provide these eight councillors (EPC + 2) with weekly behind closed doors – in depth briefings by the Public Service on financial information, risk level information, and detailed information on legal issues, operational issues and other pertinant information. These meetings occur weekly throughout the year. The remaining seven Councillors to not receive these in depth briefings.
- Why would the Mayor not share information will all Councillors and not just those on his EPC +2 ? His 2014 campaign commitment was to abolish this practice.
- By providing eight councillors with more information than others (and a higher salary), a loyalty is created, and reduces the time the Mayor is required to deal with the seven other Councillors.
- Time is extremely valuable when you are the Mayor and nine votes moves an agenda.
The seven (7) remaining councillors do not have access to any of this detailed information, YET are expected to vote on the same critical issues. On issues that cost millions in tax payer dollars, and on issues that set the future of our City. Imagine voting on critical issues when you don’t have the same information as other Councillors.
This year, these seven Councillors chose not to vote for the budget due to a lack of information.
The budget still passed, because majority is nine.
A recent Freedom of Information and Privacy Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) revealed (see FIPPA details):
- 2017 – EPC + 2 met 60 times behind closed doors
- 2018 – EPC + 2 met 43 times behind closed doors
- 2019 – EPC +2 met 58 times behind closed doors (between Jan 1 – Oct 22)
In this week’s media budget coverage, ‘Mayor Bowman defended the transparency of the budget process telling reporters there was “unprecedented access to financial information” for all councillors.’
Frankly I find it incredibly disingenuous and disrespectful that the Mayor would make a statement like this. He makes this statement because he knows the majority of residents do not know how he governs.
- Seven Councillors do NOT meet weekly throughout the year and do not have access to comprehensive weekly updates from the Public Service.
- They are NOT provided the same level of financial information that EPC + 2 receives.
- They do NOT attend upwards of 50 behind closed door meetings with the public service
- They simply do not received ‘unprecedented access to financial information’
The governance model the City of Winnipeg hasn’t been updated in 23 years. It allows this kind of behaviour. It’s taken myself and others 5 years of pressure to secure and fund a governance review that is about to begin. I know we can do better. I know we can make better decisions on behalf of taxpayers with fulsome information. I know under strong leadership we can have all Councillors working together vs the divided approach that currently exists.
Thank you to media for covering this important issue:
Winnipeg council passes budget in 9-7 squeaker
Winnipeg city council narrowly passes budget
Winnipeg city council narrowly passes 2021 budget loaded with significant federal support
CBC VIDEO on 2021 Budget