Explained: Why the city-province relationship truly matters

Seeing Winnipeg’s mayor and Manitoba’s premier interacting and socializing recently was a new thing for Manitobans after years of a frosty relationship between the two political offices. (Twitter)

By Bryce Hunt

If you’ve been following Manitoba political news over the past five years, you’re aware the relationship between Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman and former premier Brian Pallister was lousy on the best of days.

While Manitobans didn’t need the two to be harmonizing to Kumbaya together at a Salisbury House, expecting they would have a serviceable working relationship wasn’t a tall ask.

There was noticeable friction between the two from the time Pallister became premier in 2016 until his resignation in 2021. One instance that headlined local media outlets in 2018 came after all but one member of the Manitoba Hydro board resigned, citing a lack of meetings with Pallister. Bowman echoed that, saying it was easier to arrange a meeting with the Prime Minister than the premier of Manitoba.

The relationship continued to spiral and was exposed again in 2020 during a Bowman press conference regarding COVID-19 restrictions. Bowman couldn’t answer questions in confidence and said he couldn’t remember the last time he spoke to Pallister. CBC reported at this time that the city and province were miles apart on funding for city services.

A few months before Pallister left office, people got the last significant indication of the soured relationship when Bowman said he was angered by Pallister’s comments about Canada’s colonial past and called for him to apologize in a public statement.

The importance of the intergovernmental relationship

A healthy relationship between the provincial and municipal governments is more important than some might think. They collaborate on funding for major issues such as public transit, roads, ambulances, treatment plants and other major infrastructure projects. If a productive working relationship isn’t established, these areas could be neglected or not given the attention they need.

Since the municipal government holds less power, the support of the province is especially important when it comes to funding and addressing major issues they can’t solve on their own.

“Having a clear channel with the premier, who’s in a position to provide aid is really important for a lot of the issues the city is dealing with, including COVID-19,” said Aaron Moore, Political Science professor at the University of Winnipeg. “Beyond the things they work together on, there are a lot of issues the municipality can’t really address on its own such as the opioid and meth epidemic.”

As one would assume, it would be hard for those problems to be solved on time if the sides can’t talk to each other.

Has the relationship between the premier and mayor always been tainted?

The short answer to this question is no. Former mayor Sam Katz had a positive relationship with former NDP premiers Gary Doer and Greg Selinger that included frequent phone conversations.

Even in recent months, newly elected premier Heather Stefanson seems to be on far better terms with the mayor than her predecessor, going as far as tweeting pictures of them at breakfast days and at last year’s Grey Cup in Hamilton.

On a professional level, Bowman and Stefanson have already collaborated on funding plans for the North End sewage treatment plant.

Why voters should care

When it comes to the upcoming election, we can use the Pallister/Bowman rivalry as an example that politicians from the same party don’t always see eye-to-eye.

“Ultimately, it’s more a question of the personalities of both of the individuals involved,” Moore said. “If there’s clear existing strife or discord between the two, that might be something you want to consider as a voter.”

While this is a factor to consider as a voter, it would be surprising to see the candidates reveal their personal views of the premier.

Twitter: @brycehunt15

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