Are Bowman’s best-laid plans starting to go awry?
Confusion over Portage and Main project timelines and growing criticism about roads spending doesn't look too good for mayor Brian Bowman.
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A crack in Mayor Brian Bowman's leadership may be starting to show.
It happened on Wednesday when Bowman very publicly rejected a senior staffer's suggestion it could take two years to plan for the reopening of Portage and Main – making his own hope to see the barricades fall before the 2017 Canada Summer Games seem downright naïve.
And by the way things are going at city hall, this crack could keep widening.
Two years into Winnipeg’s top job and it appears, at least to the average observer, some of Bowman’s best-laid plans may be close to unravelling.
Look, for example, at the growing criticism of the city’s spending on road repairs.
When the city released its 2016 spending plan, councillors like Russ Wyatt voiced concerns that the slight bump in the $105.2 million roads budget from the previous year didn’t match up with the revenue coming in from a two per cent property tax hike.
That two per cent increase raises money that's dedicated to pay for roadwork through previously established reserve funds.
Fast-forward eight months to when the 2017 preliminary budget is tabled.
The document pegs roads spending to stay the exact same, even with another two per cent property tax increase that equals roughly $11 million worth of new revenue.
This makes it harder for the mayor to dismiss accusations the money is being used to balance the books, or that a "shell game" is being played, which results in long term spending on road renewal to fall flat compared to what the program initially projected.
It does, however, add more legitimacy to the arguments of his council opponents who, this year, are joined by Chris Lorenc, president of the Manitoba Heavy Construction Association.
Lorenc has been a supporter of Bowman's previous budgets, but criticizes the current one as "disturbing," questioning the changes to the future forecasts on roads spending.
But even before budget season began, the mayor experienced quite the public lashing over the impact fees debate.
Dozens of developers and business leaders took their turns on multiple occasions barraging the process Bowman continues to champion as open and transparent, even in the face of an impending legal challenge.
Bowman, for his credit, took the criticism in stride saying he knew the policy would be a divisive one.
Still, with the 2017 budget featuring a $23-million drop in cash to capital— the amount of money transferred from the operating to capital budget—some, such as Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce president Loren Remillard, question if this reduction isn’t paving the way for impact fee revenue to backfill future budgets.
This is, of course, something Bowman has repeatedly said isn't true. But it looks like he has some convincing left to do.
Bowman’s leadership over the rest of his term is also poised to enter a new phase of scrutiny from the likes of former inner circle member Coun. Janice Lukes.
The first-time councillor and longtime advocate exudes an energy and outspokenness that make her well-suited to be a tireless opposition councillor, if she so chooses to be.
Then there’s reopening Portage and Main.
The 2014 campaign promise of the mayor’s features a not-yet-public price tag and impact to traffic that is of growing curiosity to residents.
You can add mounting confusion over project timelines to that pile, too.
But regardless of whether pedestrians will be able to cross Portage and Main after the next two years, or before, they will have to go to the polls in 2018.
That means Bowman has two years to keep his plans on course, and that’s one timeline he can’t argue with.