COLLEEN SKLAR

Municipal leaders in the Winnipeg Metro Region were dealing with tough questions before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived.

Even before COVID-19 arrived in our province, municipal leaders across the Winnipeg Metropolitan Region were wrestling with important questions:

How do we make our communities more resilient in the face of constant change and uncertainty?

How will we attract economic investment as the nature of work and business evolves?

How can we ensure the places we live are healthy, prosperous and livable, not just for today’s residents, but for our children and generations to come?

The pandemic has given questions like these new urgency and relevance. The 18 municipalities that make up the Winnipeg Metro Region, which includes the City of Winnipeg and the fast-growing municipalities that surround it, are working together to find answers.

By the end of this year, the Metro Region expects to complete a first draft of its new long-term growth plan — Plan 2050 — reflecting input from municipal leaders, provincial and Indigenous governments, businesses, environmental groups, land planning professionals, and individual citizens.

Plan 2050 emphasizes the fact we’re strongest when municipalities work together. Regional collaboration will strengthen our post-pandemic economic recovery and will let us harness future opportunities that create jobs, attract investment, and enhance our quality of life.

One important aim of Plan 2050 is creating an investor-ready climate across the region. Investors increasingly expect seamless, real-time access to relevant data such as available land, availability of skilled labour, and access to resources and zoning information. Only through a collaborative approach can we create and maintain this type of regional economic dashboard.

A critical outcome of this process will be a data-rich prospectus that we can use to market and champion the Winnipeg Metro Region to investors around the world.

Plan 2050 will enhance quality of life for all Manitobans, making it a competitive region with other Canadian provinces.

The long-term health of our environment also demands a shared approach. Climate-change adaptation, flood and drought resistance, and long-term protection of water, air, and soil can’t be addressed by any single municipality. Plan 2050 will ensure effective, consistent approaches to environmental protection across the region. The plan will also contribute to long-term certainty with respect to sensitive lands and planning, while protecting the environment for future generations.

Plan 2050 will also enhance quality of life and ensure citizens’ needs can continue to be met as the region grows. The Winnipeg Metro Region is already the population centre of our province, home to two-thirds of all Manitobans, and is also the fastest-growing.

Consider, however, that our population is also changing. As one example, we know from our data that the region can expect to welcome 4,000 to 6,000 new residents per year, yet we also know older adults aged 70 and over are the fastest growing segment of the population. Good long-term regional planning is critical to making sure the estimated 110,000 new housing units we’ll need over the next 15 years account for these population trends.

A bird's eye view of a plethora of houses. Winnipeg Metro Region is expected to grow significantly in coming years.

Similarly, the regional transportation needs of a fast-growing, fast-changing population will also continue to evolve and these changes must also account for how land is used in the future as the nature of business, industry, and agriculture continues to shift. A long-term regional growth strategy is essential to effectively anticipating and planning for these future needs.

The creation of Plan 2050 has been a long time coming. The need for a cohesive and coordinated approach to planning, development, and economic growth in the region was chronicled two decades ago in a 95-page Capital Region Review. We’ve been talking about it since. Today, with new provincial legislation in place mandating a collaborative approach in the Winnipeg Metro Region, we have both the need and the directive to get it done.

Working together, we’re creating a plan that reflects months of consultation, including seven stakeholder engagement sessions, direct consultation with more than 60 different stakeholder groups, and a webinar series that will continue through the summer. The plan will also reflect the results of public and stakeholder surveying that will take place through the fall including online tools where any citizen, business, or organization in the Metro Region can share their views.

While our plan will be uniquely ours, having a long-term regional growth plan will also put us in good company: the collaborative metropolitan model has been adopted by capital regions across North America and abroad. A recent academic review from the Institute on Municipal Finance and Government highlights metro region partnership and collaboration across Canada.

The creation of Plan 2050 reflects a proven best practice — one that will enhance our regional competitiveness and ensure the Winnipeg Metro Region remains a great place to live or do business for years to come.

Three people jump for joy as Manitoba becomes an economically competitive province in Canada.

Find more information about the Winnipeg Metro Region and Plan 2050 at www.winnipegmetroregion.ca