Winnipeg city council will not defer its proposed multi-year budget amid the COVID-19 pandemic reaching the city, despite calls from some politicians, groups opposed to cuts in the budget and unions to suspend meetings.
Council will vote on the four-year budget Friday at a special meeting — five days ahead of schedule, after committee meetings were pushed ahead because of the pandemic.
Seventeen people in Manitoba have been diagnosed with either presumed or confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to public health officials.
Mayor Brian Bowman pushed back against calls to delay the budget during a press availability Wednesday.
“We are implementing the measures that are being recommended by Manitoba Health,” Bowman said. “Social distancing, cleaning practices you can see reflected in the mayor’s foyer, the gallery.”
More than 150 delegates were slated to present to a special executive policy committee meeting Wednesday, some of whom declined in protest over COVID-19.
Coalition group Budget For All announced late Tuesday night it would boycott the delegation process, urging council to postpone the budget approval process to allow for consultation from interest groups.
The group says it plans to hold “alternative budget delegations” Thursday, encouraging its supporters to record short videos about their concerns and post them on social media.
Some council gallery seats had paper placards warning attendees not to sit and to mind social distancing. Seats in the mayor’s foyer were set about six feet apart.
The city also said it would give delegates an approximate time frame for when it would be their turn to speak.
It’s important for government to keep working to allow for essential services to continue with full funding, Bowman said.
“It’s important to note that the public service has a certain authority to deploy funds — up to 30 per cent in a given year — before they will not have authority to spend money on services,” Bowman said.
“Police, fire and paramedic services, 311 — all of the vital services we need not just in the long term but in the immediate term… That’s why we need to make sure government continues to function.”
Bowman also noted council has a legislated mandate to pass a budget by the end of March.
Coun. Kevin Klein, a vocal critic of the mayor and his executive policy committee, pushed back on plans to vote in the budget.
“With what we’re going through, we should be focusing on our residents right now,” Klein said, saying council should call on the province to allow for a four-week delay on the vote, or drop parts of the budget that have seen vocal push back from community groups.