City board members warn of frustrations as Winnipeg looks for 112 new citizen reps

The City of Winnipeg is looking for 112 residents to sit on advisory boards, but some members suggest newbies need to bring their patience.

“I would say go for it, but the other part is to acknowledge the fact that there will be frustrations,” said Rachel Sansregret, a current member of the vehicles for hire advisory committee.

“Nothing will happen overnight. Due to municipal processes and the bureaucracy, don’t expect to go into a meeting and be like, ‘My voice was heard and change is coming.'”

The city has 50 groups that help make a vast variety of decisions, from which organization gets a grant for gardening to whether someone can keep their job.

City staff say 19 of the groups are looking for new citizen members, with 112 positions to fill, since many terms came to an end in 2022.

“It’s a great way for citizens to get involved in the civic process,” said deputy city clerk Carlos Gameiro.

“A lot of these boards have the final decision-making authority, and other boards will actually act in advisory capacity to the standing committees, executive policy committee or council.”

Frustrations

Sansregret, the CEO of the Winnipeg Indigenous Friendship Centre, said she joined the vehicles for hire committee because she wants to make taxis safer for Indigenous women and girls in Winnipeg.

While she’s been on the board since March, real change came outside meetings, she said.

She and others appeared before several committees and city council a handful of times to try to convince councillors to add harsher rules for misbehaving drivers.

“I don’t think that our voice was heard because of sitting on the vehicles for hire advisory committee,” Sansregret said.

“I believe that our voice was heard because, unfortunately, 17 members of the Indigenous community and myself went to the mayor’s chambers and sat there for eight hours and recount and reshare our stories of injustice.”

The committee meetings can be frustrating and “change is always a slow-moving process because of all the red tape,” Sansregret said.

Winnipeg city staff are looking for 112 people to join advisory boards and committees before the end of October. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

“I would recommend to people who are interested in joining those boards to also question the process of what happens in those meetings. If you feel like it’s going nowhere, say something.”

Still, representation matters, she said.

“I would rather be in the room than not be in the room because I feel like any sort of incremental or small contributions that we as the community can make to expedite creating positive change — in terms of the practices of the taxi operations — is worth it,” she said.

Police board resignations

Coun. Brian Mayes (St. Vital) has felt similar frustrations.

“Some days I don’t feel like my voice is heard and I’ve been there for 10 years,” he said Thursday.

“It tends to be a battle with the civil service and with other councillors and the mayor. I think that’s the nature of our democracy. So I have some sympathy for that.”

In March, Mayes abruptly resigned from the Winnipeg Police board, calling it “dysfunctional.”

His spot has since been filled by Coun. Ross Eadie (Mynarski), but the board is still looking for three residents to serve for a two-year term.

Mayes said his frustrations with the police board are based in how city council interacts with the group.

“Also, the police board tended to attract a great deal of scrutiny and social media criticism,” Mayes said.

Coun. Brian Mayes (St. Vital) says he resigned from the Winnipeg Police Board in March due to frustration with the board’s relationship with city council. (Sam Samson/CBC)

“Other boards, it’s not the same sort of volume of criticism or combativeness at the hearings. I hope people wouldn’t be scared off thinking, ‘I’m just going to get trashed on Twitter’ or something [in other boards].”

Mayes doesn’t believe the police board should be scrapped, just adjusted. He’s endorsing Scott Gillingham’s idea to have the mayor sit on the police board.

As of Thursday, the city has received 44 applications for the vacant positions. The deadline is Oct. 21. Staff said they normally receive hundreds of applications, and Mayes said he believes there is still an interest in being on boards.

“I was door-knocking for my election campaign a few weeks ago, and a woman started talking to me. I said ‘Your name’s familiar,’ and she said ‘Yeah, I applied to be on the food council. You didn’t take me,'” Mayes said.

“It matters to people. They want to take part. I do think this is a valuable part of how we run the city.”