It’s been one year since Scott Gillingham was elected as Winnipeg’s mayor, and a local political science professor says the former city councillor has created a good rapport with his colleagues at City Hall within that time.
The University of Winnipeg’s Aaron Moore told Global Winnipeg that the heightened tensions within the council chambers near the end of previous mayor Brian Bowman’s administration seem to have cooled down with Gillingham in the big chair.
“There seems to be far less tension on council than there was under Bowman,” Moore said. “Although whether that will continue going forward … I think things were nicer under Bowman when he began as mayor.”
Moore said Gillingham’s ability to work with the newly sworn-in provincial government will be crucial for the city, but he’s already expecting a more cordial relationship between the mayor and new premier Wab Kinew than the famously prickly one between Bowman and former premier Brian Pallister.
“I think the relationship between the two Brians was particularly fraught — I hadn’t actually seen a lot of examples of something that bad for a while,” he said.
“We already saw some thawing when (Heather) Stefanson became premier, but I suspect that Scott Gillingham and Wab Kinew are going to be able to work well, and I think a lot of their priorities are very similar, and I think that’s very important for the city.”
Despite the positive signs over the first 365 days, Moore said there are a number of issues Gillingham and council will have to tackle that are a high priority for Winnipeggers, including the public’s concern over homelessness and the perception of crime in the city.
“I think Scott Gillingham inherited some issues and some of those have become more acute.”
Coun. Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge—East Fort Garry), who was re-elected a year ago and had previously served on council with Gillingham, said he’s the right leader for the city.
“For me, I still have my colleague Scott Gillingham — he just happens to be mayor now, and that’s a really good thing for Winnipeg,” she said.
“He was very familiar with city hall, very familiar with many components of the team that he is now leading as mayor.”
Rollins praised the mayor’s ability to focus on large-scale issues affecting Winnipeggers while also being able to devote time to more localized community items.
“We need a mayor with his eye on the prize of those large rocks, making sure we’re working on community safety, housing, making sure we’re working on ecomomic development and jobs in the city of Winnipeg,” she said. “And he’s doing all of those things.”
Coun. Russ Wyatt (Transcona) is more critical of the job the mayor and council have done in the first 365 days. Wyatt told Global Winnipeg there are a number of issues facing Winnipeggers that have yet to be dealt with.
“The new mayor needs to let everybody know there’s a new sheriff in town and that hasn’t happened,” he said.
“If we’re going to get out of the challenges we’re facing, we have to face them head-on, and we’re not doing them as a council a year in.”
Wyatt said the city needs to take action on traffic congestion, broken-down roads, and the mental health and addiction crisis, among other issues. And while he remains optimistic about working with the new provincial government on some of those files, council needs to take the initiative.
“We must drive creativity in this city, and we’re not doing it, in terms of public policy development, in terms of innovation, in terms of making things happen.
“We as a council could be doing a ton of things to make life better for the citizens of Winnipeg, but we need to have courage. That courage is something that we seem to be lacking here, to have those honest and frank conversations with the citizens of Winnipeg.
“The amazing thing about problems and challenges is they don’t go away, they just get worse and that’s what we’re dealing with here.”
The mayor himself said that while council is undoubtedly going to clash on certain issues, he’s pleased with the way he and the council have been able to work together so far.
“I’m pleased that we’ve tried to change the dial and work more collaboratively, and I think we’ve been able to do that,” Gillingham told Global Winnipeg.
“We’re not always going to agree and nor should we, but I think there’s been more collaboration and working together. … But there’s been some really difficult things that no one can predict.”
Gillingham said he feels confident that the new provincial government will be able to help take on Winnipeg’s homelessness problem going forward. Kinew, he said, seems to be on the same page as to how to approach the issue, and the city has numerous community organizations and agencies engaged in the situation as well.
“We’re committed to working together to make sure we can get more people off the streets into housing with the wraparound supports that are necessary. We’re committed to a housing-first approach,” the mayor said.
“We have to make sure now that we’re all operating on a coordinated approach with one plan, and that includes not only those agencies, … but also the city, and the province, and the federal governments as well.
“I’m looking forward to working with Premier Kinew and minister Bernadette Smith, who will oversee homelessness, addictions and mental health to find ways to work in a coordinated fashion.”