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Winnipeg mayor asks Manitoba premier to strip him of power to appoint inner circle

Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham wants the provincial government to take some of his powers away from him.

He wrote a letter to Prime Minister Heather Stefanson urging her to change the province’s legislation to give the person who holds office the ability to virtually guarantee a majority of the votes on the council.

“Too often it can result in a group of councilors who feel outside… and it can create almost… that sense of a party system,” Gillingham said in an interview on Friday.

The Jan. 12 letter urges the province to amend the Winnipeg charter to give the council the power to decide for itself whether to have a political executive committee — a cabinet-like body with the mayor as chairman and including everyone Committee Chair .

Other mayors, including Gillingham’s predecessor, Brian Bowman, vowed to abolish it but never delivered.

Gillingham dismissed any concerns that he might risk his ability to advance his agenda if he relinquished his power to appoint the EPC.

“It’s the responsibility of every mayor, no matter who he or she is, to work with all councilors, regardless of the structure of government,” Gillingham said.

Who the mayor is can play a role in deciding whether or not he can achieve anything without appointing committee chairs, according to an expert.

“I feel like there are a lot of councilors … who hold Scott Gillingham in high esteem, and if he’s able to nurture those relationships, maybe it’s not so bad for him,” said Professor Aaron Moore of politics at the university of Winnipeg.

But Gillingham risks eventually encountering a council less willing to work with him.

“He could put himself in a position where it’s going to be a lot harder to get a lot of the things on his agenda done because he won’t have carrots to offer advice, to get them to support his proposals,” said Moore.

A man in a suit shakes hands with a woman in a dress.
Gillingham, left, made EPC reform a platform during his campaign. A spokeswoman for Premier Heather Stefanson, right, said the province is open to working with the mayor. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Although he would give up the ability to appoint EPCs, Gillingham called for new powers to be created for the mayor of Winnipeg.

In particular, he wants the power to propose a draft budget to be worked on with the chief administrative officer and the civil service, similar to the powers now held by the mayors of Ottawa and Toronto. Council could still amend and approve the budget.

He also asks for the possibility of directing public officials to develop proposals for consideration by the council instead of going through committees to request reports.

Gillingham made the EPC overhaul a campaign promise when running for mayor, and partially implemented it soon after taking office. He reduced by one the number of standing political committees chaired by the EPC.

This reduced the total size of the committee to six members, including the mayor.

He also ended Bowman’s practice of making additional appointments beyond chairs of standing political committees, with the deputy mayor and acting deputy mayor as separate positions, a system sometimes referred to as EPC plus two.

Bowman had influence on the majority of the 15 councillors.

A spokesman for the prime minister said the provincial government was “open to working with the new mayor” and that the request to amend the charter “among other things is the subject of ongoing discussions between the city and the province”.

Any changes to the Winnipeg Charter would have to go through the legislature.

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