First in­dige­nous mayor faces chal­lenges, skep­tics

Cape Breton Post - - NEWS - BY CHINTA PUXLEY

Brian Bow­man had barely un­packed his sports mem­o­ra­bilia and fam­ily photos in the mayor’s of­fice when he was thrust into the na­tional spotlight.

It wasn’t for be­ing the first in­dige­nous mayor of a ma­jor Cana­dian city or for be­ing one of the younger mu­nic­i­pal lead­ers in the coun­try.

Win­nipeg had just been called “the most racist in Canada’’ on the cover of Ma­clean’s mag­a­zine.

The new mayor was faced with a dilemma — de­fend his home­town or ad­mit it has a prob­lem.

Within a few short hours in Jan­uary, Bow­man col­lected dozens of com­mu­nity, busi­ness and abo­rig­i­nal lead­ers to stand be­hind him as he fought off his emo­tions and promised to fight racism.

“I knew when I was run­ning for of­fice that these were some of the chal­lenges that we would have to face,’’ Bow­man says now. “I want all Win­nipegers to be proud of who they are.’’

Bow­man, 43, is part of a co­hort of hip, western big-city may­ors — in­clud­ing Na­heed Nen­shi of Cal­gary — who have risen to power on plans to rid the cob­webs from city hall and re­make the level of gov­ern­ment that is clos­est to the peo­ple.

“I think there has been a wave from the West in Canada,’’ he says. “There’s a num­ber of may­ors that have brought in what I call new-gen­er­a­tion lead­er­ship. It’s re­ally look­ing at a new way of think­ing _ long-term, more prag­matic, open and ac­ces­si­ble and a lit­tle bit more tech­nol­ogy lit­er­ate.’’

As a lawyer with a back­ground in pri­vacy law and so­cial media, Bow­man has hired a so­cial media di­rec­tor and has started live-stream­ing city hall meet­ings and news con­fer­ences. When a boil-wa­ter ad­vi­sory turned off taps across Win­nipeg for two days ear­lier this year, the an­nounce­ment that it had ended came first on YouTube and Twit­ter.

“I use it to lis­ten, first and fore­most and I also use it to be open and ac­ces­si­ble to Win­nipegers,’’ Bow­man says of his fond­ness for so­cial media.

He was low in the polls when the may­oral cam­paign be­gan last year, look­ing like a long-shot to beat front-run­ner Judy Wa­sy­ly­cia-Leis, a for­mer MP. But he swept to power in a sea of self­ies and prom­ises to make the in­ner work­ings of city hall trans­par­ent again.

The fact that he was Canada’s first in­dige­nous mayor came as a sur­prise to many, since he never em­pha­sized his Metis an­ces­try dur­ing the cam­paign.

His hon­ey­moon pe­riod was rel­a­tively short. The racist city story was fol­lowed by the boil­wa­ter ad­vi­sory, when E.coli was found dur­ing rou­tine test­ing. Fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion sug­gested re­sults were false pos­i­tives.

Bow­man ran afoul of busi­ness­man Mark Chip­man _ a man ad­mired by many for bring­ing the Win­nipeg Jets NHL team back to the city _ when he im­plied that some of Chip­man’s busi­ness de­vel­op­ment deal­ings with city hall were shady and “not cool.’’

While Bow­man an­nounced a mayor’s in­dige­nous ad­vi­sory cir­cle af­ter the Ma­clean’s ar­ti­cle, it took five months to ap­point its mem­bers.

Many are ex­pect­ing more from him.

Les­lie Spil­litt, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of abo­rig­i­nal or­ga­ni­za­tion Ka Ni Kanichihk, says it’s not enough to just be an in­dige­nous mayor or have an ad­vi­sory coun­cil.

CP PHOTO

Win­nipeg mayor Brian Bow­man speaks to media af­ter Man­i­toba Fi­nance Min­is­ter Greg De­war read the 2015 bud­get for the province at the Man­i­toba Leg­is­la­ture in Win­nipeg ear­lier this year.

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