This new budget process has been somewhat confusing though I do appreciate having earlier access to discussion points than in previous years. The previous process often seemed quite futile as by the time information was public, it was clear that decisions had been made and there was little to no room for change. However, it also meant that there was, at least, the possibility of change the next year. With a four year budget cycle, there is certainly added pressure to ‘get it right’ as we have not heard any discussion on any sort of yearly recalibration to deal with unexpected surpluses or deficits.
To date, to say that the news has been grim is an understatement. Forecasting generally lends itself to the most conservative goals and this is exactly not what we need from the City at this point in time. I do understand the current reality on expenses, conditions and revenue sources but as an organization that advocates for change, SPCW looks for opportunity where others might only see challenges or worse impossibilities. I offer SPCW’s comments today as food for thought in the hopes that we, and community partners, can continue to meet with you, other councilors and Mayor Bowman before final decisions are made in 2020.
In 1989, the parties present in the House of Commons unanimously voted to end child poverty by the year 2000. Here we are, 30 years later and 19 years late. Campaign 2000’s data is based on the Low Income Measure (after tax). This is one of the indicators identified by the federal government to evaluate its poverty reduction strategy. Research demonstrates that relative measures like Canada’s Low-Income Measure are more comprehensive measures of all aspects of poverty including material deprivation, exposure to harsh environments, social exclusion and stress related to social comparisons and insufficient resources. The Low-Income Measure is much more strongly correlated with the known health, developmental and social effects of poverty.
- More than one third (five) of Manitoba’s fourteen federal ridings (35.7%) are in the highest quintile of child poverty. This is among the highest in Canadian provinces and territories.
- Manitoba still includes the riding with the highest child poverty rate, Churchill–Keewatinook Aski (63.6%), the third highest and highest urban centre, Winnipeg Centre (40.5%), while the fifth highest is Dauphin–Swan River–Neepawa (37.5%).
While it may seem we just need to focus on Winnipeg Centre, the issue does go deeper as Manitoba and Winnipeg are somewhat unique. As the largest urban centre with more than half of the provincial population, people from smaller communities cycle in and out of Winnipeg looking for better housing and employment opportunities.
However, Winnipeg Centre offers the clearest proof of Campaign 2000’s point that poverty is systemic and racialized. The attached maps show income levels, Indigenous heritage and recent immigration status by city ward. Overlaying the maps clearly demonstrates that all pockets of poverty throughout the City are also the most racialized. Many of the systemic issues are not within the City’s control. However, the City has a choice in how best to recognize those conditions and address them. The City’s choices in how it spends the revenue they have and the direction the Mayor and Council want to set all comes down to what you choose to invest in.
Overall, crime has fallen steadily since 1991 and is still much lower than it was in that peak year. However, the last four years have shown spikes. Winnipeg’s 2018 crime index was up 10% from 2017 and is highest in the country. The previous federal government made sweeping changes to the criminal justice system in the name of being “tough on crime.” The current federal government has not made any substantial changes. In 2017-18, Manitoba jailed 19 for every 10,000 children. 8 out of 10 other provinces jail less than 5 children per every 10,000. Across Canada, we jail 83 adults for every 100,000 but in Manitoba, it is 231 for every 100,000. Most troubling though is that of all those serving federal, provincial and community based sentences in Manitoba, 75% are Indigenous. From 2007 to 2018, the number of Indigenous men and women entering custody in Manitoba rose by 60% for men and 139% for women.
My point being, we jumped into the rabbit hole of over-investment in enforcement over a decade ago and it has not had the desired effect. The cost in real dollars, $30 some for a supported housing bed but over $300 for one in jail.
Is any of this in the City’s control? Yes. You may not make federal law or be tasked to implement it through the provincial Justice department but you can do what you can to create the conditions that support all youth and their families as valued members of our community.
Obviously one major lever is what Mayor and Council choose to invest in the Winnipeg Police Service. The police budget has grown exponentially in this same last decade to now take up a 1/3 of revenues. I am not here to point fingers. The WPS presents its case from their perspective, the tools that they have or feel they need, to play their role. By and large, the electorate remains convinced that this is the best approach to crime despite the endless research to the contrary. Successive Mayors and Councils have largely agreed through providing this investment. I am here to make the point that just like with climate change, we really do need to stop kicking the poverty can down the road.
While I appreciate that Community Services did its best to spread out the harm caused by a mere .5% increase which is actually a cut when inflation is factored in, through all wards, people who are experiencing poverty will obviously be hit hardest. They have the least ability and resources to pay for services privately that could and should be provided through public funds.
Cuts and closures to pools, arenas, community centres and libraries will exacerbate poverty driven crime. Around the world, inclusive societies that support community are also the safest ones. When people feel they have a stake in their community, they are more likely to engage positively.
I am not here today to go through that long list that Community Services presented on. My take away from that presentation was that a legacy of underinvestment in facilities and services is now the reason for closing or cutting services further. Kinsmen Sherbrook Pool is a good example of short sighted investment. When it was closed the last time, there were community discussions that focused on getting some bigger and better for the community but fear of the austerity mentality won out and people settled for just getting it opened again. The result, despite a 4 million investment, with one million being from a single and record donation by the Kinsmen, usership did not go up but instead has continued to fall. So, not even a decade later, it will be once again on the chopping block.
The message this sends to the inner city communities, especially given the news of a proposed 26 million City investment in ‘mega-facility’ in Winnipeg South, is clear. Some matter more than others in this City. I would also note how unlikely it will be for other private funders to step in to partner with the City if their investment will be wasted in a few short years.
As I said, I am hoping that discussions will continue past today and can be productive and solution focused. To that end, I am here to offer assistance for the argument that we do need to raise taxes beyond what was promised in the last election.
SPCW was a contributor to the Alternative Municipal Budget (AMB). The AMB does educate, challenge and should inspire Winnipeggers to imagine a City that addresses climate change, stagnant economic growth, political polarization and growing inequality. The AMB replaces economic growth with a healthier concept of economic sufficiency, or ecologically sustainable economic development to meet human needs, as measured by Winnipeg’s PEG indicators.
The AMB made the following points and recommendations on the revenue side to avoid the proposed severe cuts:
- Winnipeg’s property taxes were frozen from 1998 – 2013 and then increases were all dedicated to road infrastructure and Rapid Transit. Winnipeg’s property taxes, at $1,700 on average, are lower than all major Western Canadian Cities.
- It recommends an additional 5% property tax increase to the 2.33% for a total of 7.33%. The additional increase will generate approximately $30 million (based on 2019 information).
- Business tax generated $17 million less in real dollars in 2017 compared to 2001, despite the fact that Winnipeg is consistently found to be one of the lowest-cost municipalities in North America to do business. The AMB 2018 increased the business tax rate 5% to 5.4% so businesses would pay their fair share for City infrastructure & services.
- The business tax went down again in 2019, this time to 4.97%. We once again suggest that it go up 5% (of 4.97%) to 5.22%. This increase would generate approximately $2.9 million.
- Other revenue ideas include a fee on surface parking lots and increasing the impact fee. Those two changes could bring in $34M and $5.5M respectively more/year.
In addition, I would highlight a recent report from the CCPA, The High Cost of Free Riding and How We Fix it. This report addresses the issue of bedroom communities. Those who live outside the City but travel in for work or to use City services but are not part of the tax base that pays for them. It suggests a ‘commuter fee’ approach. This is a longer term solution as the province would need to be engaged but it should be looked at as it could generate $42 million.
I have included some tables below to support my points but I won’t go into them now. I will be saving that for EPC tomorrow night. My main point is that we can access the necessary funds to do what is needed to ensure Winnipeg is a city that meets the needs, though maybe not all the ‘wants’, of everyone. We would want to see a tax rebate for lower income homes though. Those of us who can afford to pay more need to as we all benefit when everyone feels the full benefit of being in a sustainable, just, equitable and caring community.
Source: 2020 Council Budget Briefing
Source: 2020 Council Budget Briefing
Also check out the following maps:
By Kate Kehler,
Executive Director – Social Planning Council of Winnipeg