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A Winnipeg Leaders’ Panel Discussion


  • Jino Distasio – Director, Institute of Urban Studies, University of Winnipeg
  • Robert Falcon Ouellette – Former Winnipeg Mayoral Candidate, Current Federal Liberal Candidate for Winnipeg Center
  • Judy Wasylycia-Leis – Former Winnipeg Mayoral Candidate, Manitoba cabinet minister from 1986 to 1988, and member of the Canadian House of Commons from 1997 to 2010
  • Dave Angus – President and CEO of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce

Moderator – Kristin Annable – Winnipeg Free Press

As part of the We are Cities campaign, the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) brought together a number of Winnipeg’s thought leaders in an open panel discussion to share their vision on roles the federal and provincial governments can play in making cities more livable. The discussion was especially interesting in light of the upcoming federal and provincial elections.  Views around the table covered topics including urban planning, federal funding and governance models for cities, and how to make our downtown more livable 

The panelists started with their own descriptions of Winnipeg as a city. They discussed the period of  the mid 1970s when the Winnipeg’s downtown was mostly warehouses with little vibrancy and the changes we have seen since then. They reflected on how Winnipeg has been fairly successful in revitalizing the downtown core and how livable cities are places that make you want to get out of your house, even in the winter. Livable Cities have accessible public spaces, full of life and diversity that bring people from different walks of life together. The Panelists agreed that Winnipeg is affordable and is a place where people can access high quality cultural and sports events at reasonable prices.  The issue for Winnipeg is that the ‘livability’ is in selective quarters or areas of the city. Looking at the north end community, there has been a real change and there are serious infrastructural needs, deteriorating houses and side-walks, economic solitudes with division on racial and geographical lines. Dave Angus from the Winnipeg Chamber emphasised that the next 50-100 years are going to be owned by mid-sized cities. Livability is about connectivity, Winnipeg has great potential. The changes in the exchange district as happening organically, including things like innovation alley, a growing arts community, and many creative industries and festivals. 

Panellists agreed that at the federal level, cities have to be priority. Return on investment/economic benefit determines everything in Canada and until we get to the point where the federal government can provide resources to be more livable, and cities are able to generate their own revenue, things are not going to change. On the theme of federal and provincial roles in making cities more livable the following suggestions were made: 

  • An alternative governance model – Change the city of Winnipeg’s municipal act to give cities more control and a clear revenue model.

  • Cities needs to develop alternative revenue streams. An example which was debated by panelists was the idea of leveraging major events to support public infrastructure.

  • Active transportation Vs car culture - demand a national urban policy and rapid transit policy. Ideas raised to address car culture and encourage active transportation included: improving bus services including taking into cognisance the needs of the seniors, which could be achieved through engagement on how to make transportation more accessible to them. Tax downtown parking lots in order to encourage people to develop building that are more economically viable, in which funds could be invested into fixing cracks in transit system. Move or change Winnipeg’s Rail lines to strategically use them for active transit networks. In Winnipeg the rail lines provide connections in the city and yet as they are a dividing force between neighborhoods.  The rail lines could be rethought along the lines of revitalization promoting connectivity and active transit.

  • A Cities Fund should be developed availing municipalities the freedom to develop priorities for federal government funding, while utilizing such funds based on individual city needs. Thereby promoting broad based Canada city strategies and innovation in urban planning, design and development.

  • Education and downtown revitalization – education is a driver of innovative change and educational institutions can bring large numbers of people downtown to go to school and live. Cities should take advantage of these opportunities by encouraging downtown campuses and utilizing students for innovation, research and pilot project implementation. This could change the model of learning, and really engage students in making their cities better.  

Over the course of the evening Panellists clearly articulated that Winnipeg has great potential to do many great things, though as Dave mentioned, we (the city) are undecided as to what we want to lead in, “we are in love with our diversity”. Nonetheless, panelists exuded optimism for future Winnipeg.