Councillor Klein’s address to Item #6 of the Standing Policy Committee on Finance April 27, 2020
First, I appreciate the efforts my colleagues on Council and the Administration make daily to navigate the uncharted waters of the impacts of COVID-19 pandemic. Concerns are growing for residents and businesses which is why it is vital for City Hall to maintain business continuity that provides stabilization to our economy.
I’m not here to simply complain or highlight the errors in presented material, and I’m not here to simply oppose the leadership. I am asking for a chance to do my job, to work with others in making a positive difference. I just want to help my City, neighbours, friends and family through this storm.
Following the same old solutions would be dangerous. After conversations with residents, small business owners, community organizations, and executives from corporations in our City, I commonly heard “What is the City’s plan?” Many in Winnipeg are worried about the future and want to have confidence in our decisions.
The three scenarios provided today are not financial plans, they are estimates and worst-case scenarios. I don’t believe they provided specific actions or defined strategic milestones that would launch initiatives. The three scenarios were not discussed or debated by all members of Council. There was no opportunity to offer alternatives prior to being introduced to the public. They were done behind closed doors.
I offered suggestions in a letter form to all Council members on March 19th the day prior to council and the vote on the budget. That was over a month ago and since then I have asked repeatedly to be included. Instead, it was said I should know better by now. The motion was simply to gather ideas. As it turns out, those apparent ideas were actually the plan.
I know the Chair will say, the developed plan reflects input from councillors, including myself. The Chair will say the plan reflects action on at least 3 of the ideas I put forward, in particular; reducing discretional spending. My suggestion was much more than reducing discretional spending. I proposed that we STOP all non-essential spending. Another suggestion was to freeze all fleet purchases, which would have a savings of $15 million. The current plan is only to reduce fleet purchases. The city is freezing non-union salaries. Given that 6 of our Administration and the Mayor make nearly $2 million, I am suggesting that we freeze salaries at 2019 levels, before this year’s raises.
I’ve since offered a sliding scale of reductions for all salaries – We’ve had no discussion on that proposed $50 million in savings which is 2/3rds of the projected shortfall that the City is predicting. I had also suggested we immediately put transit on a Sunday schedule - 39 days and after losing $6 million, the Mayor finally considers it and implements a Saturday schedule, which still doesn’t begin immediately and will result in a few more millions lost. Also, why did we open the SRT and spend thousands on advertising when less than 20% of people will use it now?
All financial decisions should be scrutinized by each member of Council. Now, more than ever, it’s important to be open to new ideas. We need to be open to other potential solutions from everyone.
I know the Chair has said we’ve had a Council Seminar or a council briefing on the Economic Scenario Analysis and Cash Flow Management Plan. Everyone was able to ask questions, get input and discuss the content. That facts are, the presentation itself took over an hour to present. This left a little under an hour for 15 people to ask questions of a financial plan with millions in implications and we were all looking at it for the first time with no time allowed to scrutinize it. Is that what Councillor Gillingham means by “everyone was involved"? I’m just asking for a chance to do my job. I want to make a difference, to help our City through this, not just be a cheerleader for something I have not been involved in developing in the best interest of our City.
The chair has said; this plan is on the SPC Finance agenda to allow others to speak and the plan will be discussed at committee.
Let’s be honest with taxpayers and the media - as a delegation we’re not allowed to ask questions, As the chair, he can question the delegation, but the delegation cannot question the chair or the administration. Why? These meetings are consent agendas and despite what is fed to taxpayers, this means that the meeting is closed and controlled. It has been said many times “You’re new to Council and you should understand things are done differently at City Hall”. The fact is, I do understand that it’s done differently at city hall and that is the problem. We can do it better.
With respect, this process lacks democratic debate or even pre-decision discussions. This plan is not an acceptable financial strategy. It’s a politically controlled, engineered narrative for media.
A weekly “confidential” meeting to tell us what has been decided followed by press releases the same day are an insufficient. For the leadership to continue to stand before residents and publicly claim that all members of Council are involved is very misleading.
If it were me, I would ask every member of Council to take a role in a working group focused on specific options and areas of concern for our city and residents. But this Administration, EPC and its leadership doesn’t believe they need or want our involvement.
This is our chance to make positive change for the City. To actually start working together improving policy and implementing low cost and low risk actions. Residents need to be reassured that elected officials at City Hall are managing their tax dollars appropriately. We can achieve this through improved processes, discussion and debate, starting now.
Let’s proceed together with a concentrated and reasonable approach in the reduction of non-essential expenses while simultaneously developing a strategy to re-launch our local economy. All we’ve done for residents is put payments on hold. How is that helping taxpayers? We can help and be fiscally responsible at the same time. But not the way it’s being done now.
In closing, I appreciate the differing opinions we share, and I don’t blame any one person. I’ve learned over the years working through fiscal management crisis' that properly utilizing the skills and talent of those around you is the path to success. I believe we can get on that path. I am just asking for a chance to do my job and make a positive difference. I want to help my City through this storm.
Watch the full presentation with questions from the Committee to Councillor Klein below.
Kevin E. Klein / Councillor for Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood
Chair of the Winnipeg Police Board