As Brian Bowman starts his final full year as Winnipeg’s mayor in the middle of a deadly pandemic, his priorities for the next 12 months won’t come as a surprise.
After a year he calls “no doubt” his most challenging in office, Bowman says the city’s ongoing efforts against COVID-19 will remain his top focus and he calls on Winnipeggers to continue their fight against the virus.
“It is making a difference — it may not feel that way on a day-to-day basis when you see the number of deaths and infections — but it is making a difference,” Bowman said in a year-end interview with Global News.
“That’s going to be a challenge in the new year, to keep that focus on those fundamentals, when people are tired and they just want this nightmare to be over.
“We need to make sure that we stay strong and we keep finding ways of supporting each other.”
As of Sunday the greater Winnipeg area has recorded 15,165 cases of COVID-19 and seen 476 deaths from the virus since March.
But a year that saw streets thin out as many heeded warnings to stay indoors, also saw 43 homicides — one shy of a record set just a year earlier — and seemingly no slow down in levels of meth and opioid use that advocates had already been warning was becoming an epidemic in Winnipeg.
Bowman says social problems facing the city before COVID-19 hit have been amplified by the pandemic.
“It’s exposed, kind of, the state of affairs when it comes to mental health, addictions, and homelessness,” he said.
He says it’s why the city is working to bring in the federal and provincial governments together to create an illicit drug strategy, work he says he’ll continue in 2021.
“It’s why I have and will continue to support its implementation, notably the 24-7 safe spaces,” he said. “We know that there’s more work to do.”
And while Bowman praised the province for its support the Bruce Oake Recovery Centre, a long-term, residential treatment facility for clients suffering from drug and alcohol addiction being built in St. James, he acknowledged his office had issues communicating with provincial leadership in 2020.
He said he hasn’t personally met with Premier Brian Pallister since April, something he’d like to see change in 2021.
“We have and will continue to do what we can to work collaboratively with the provincial government — because we all want the same outcomes — we all want our residents to be safe, we all want what’s best for our health-care heroes,” Bowman said.
“I always find when we have that opportunity to have direct dialogue, we both benefit, and more importantly our residents benefit.”
“So we have and we will continue to try to engage directly with the premier, but that being said, appreciative of his efforts, and we’re trying to do what we can.”
In October Bowman, who was first elected mayor in 2014, announced he won’t be seeking a third term when Winnipeggers head to polls again in 2022.
Bowman says his other priorities for the remaining time he has in office include seeing the city’s transit masterplan implemented by council, work started on the city’s recently approved $50-million recreation and library investment strategy, and continued work on human rights and reconciliation.
“There’s a lot more work we need to do, but I think the bright spot for this year was looking at how Winnipeggers responded to the pandemic, with empathy and care and concern for their neighbours and their families and their friends,” he said.
“What we’ve seen this year is what so many people love about this community — this is a community that cares about itself and about each other.
“We will get to the other side of this, but we’ll do that by working together as a community.”
–With files from Gabrielle Marchand