Brian Bowman is replacing his unvaccinated acting deputy mayor with a fully immunized colleague he calls "a better fit" to help convince Winnipeggers to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
While the mayor linked the change only to the pandemic, the councillor who lost the role suggested the decision was made due to a series of "conflicts" with Bowman.
On Thursday morning, Coun. Vivian Santos (Point Douglas) was replaced as acting deputy mayor by Coun. Markus Chambers (St. Norbert-Seine River). Santos is the only city council member who has confirmed she hasn’t received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, citing an undisclosed medical reason.
The mayor said his decision to select a new acting deputy mayor was meant to align with the city’s COVID-19 response.
"As we enter the fourth wave and I continue to actively promote vaccines, as well as provide guidance to our efforts here at city hall, I am going to be increasingly looking to our deputy mayor and our acting deputy mayor to play a more public role in the promotion of vaccines. It’s for those reasons, that I thought (Coun. Chambers) would be a better fit," said Bowman.
The acting deputy mayor could be tapped to fill in as mayor, should both Bowman and deputy mayor John Orlikow become unable to act in that role.
Bowman declined to weigh in directly on Santos’s vaccination status.
"Matters of personal health information are just that, they’re personal. I respect that," he said.
Chambers said the change reflects the fact it’s "critically important" to increase vaccine uptake during the fourth wave of COVID-19.
He indicated having an unvaccinated councillor share the message could be seen as "inconsistent."
"That would be an inconsistent message in the sense (of), ‘Do as I say, not as I do,’" Chambers said.
Santos did not grant an interview request Thursday. In an emailed statement, she did not mention her vaccination status. Instead, she blamed a series of "conflicts" with the Bowman for his decision to replace her.
"During the pandemic, it has been... increasingly difficult to be in alignment with the mayor on major issues surrounding the future of Winnipeg and our community’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic," Santos wrote.
The councillor noted she voted against the 2021 municipal operating budget and believes the city is failing to address "pressing social and economic realities," especially "in areas of poverty and policing surrounding racialized communities."
"These conflicts, I believe, relate to me no longer (being) in the role of deputy mayor for a city I care deeply for and call home," wrote Santos.
When asked directly whether she feels her vaccination status played a role in the decision, the councillor declined comment.
Due to "a medical condition I am unable to provide details about, I have been unable to get vaccinated. I ask that my personal health privacy be respected," she wrote.
“During the pandemic, it has been... increasingly difficult to be in alignment with the mayor on major issues surrounding the future of Winnipeg and our community’s response to the COVID–19 pandemic.” – Vivian Santos
Prior to Santos’s statement, Bowman told media the decision to select a new acting deputy mayor did not reflect any non-pandemic issue with the councillor who was replaced.
Last year, Santos made headlines when she was replaced as a member of the Winnipeg Police Board after she was denied a Winnipeg Police Service security clearance. Media reports indicated the security clearance was denied due to a link to the councillor’s friend, who was accused of trafficking cocaine. Vehicles reportedly owned by Santos and her husband were lent to someone who was allegedly involved in the drug trade.
Santos has told the Free Press her husband loaned the vehicles as a favour to a friend, with whom the couple has since cut ties, and neither knew about any alleged illegal activity at the time.
Bowman said the police board security clearance did not play a role in his decision.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.