Archive for September, 2006

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A debate!

September 28, 2006

Mark your calenders, folks, because we’ve got a mayoral debate coming. The five major post-secondary students’ associations (the UWSA, UMSU, UMGSA, AECUSB, and RRCSA) along with CBC Manitoba are hosting a mayoral debate on October 11 at 12:30 pm in the University of Winnipeg’s Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall (3rd Floor, Centennial Hall).

More details to follow.

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The Youth of Winnipeg Today, Expressed

September 19, 2006

A comment piece appeared in the University of Winnipeg’s student weekly last week entitled “Stepping on Winnipeg’s Spirited Energy“. In it, its author James Patterson argues that youth issues have, once again, been largely being ignored in this year’s election – which would no doubt mean that the coming civic government would be equally youth-unfriendly – and have only been brought to the table by the youths themselves engaged in what many in this city have deemed to be unacceptable: a 75-minute bike through downtown and the inner city on the last Friday of each month at 5pm. Of course, this has ride sparked enormous debate in the city about cyclists, motorists and the rights to the road, but what has remained throughout is the condescension and skepticism that has remained with much of Winnipeg’s establishment views on the city’s youths. But, as Mr. Patterson points out,

“Critical mass is a perfect indication that Winnipeg’s youth are willing to step up and be part of this city. It shows a vested interest by youth for their community in a society that preaches that youth do not care, because they don’t vote.”

Has any official, elected or running, recognized this? If they have, I have yet to hear anyone come out and say “you know what, Critical Mass, while I may not agree with their tactics, they at least they’re out there making a point and showing that they care about the future of this city and I’m going to seriously get to work on that when I’m elected.”

Like it or not Winnipeg, those youth and many others like them (talk to people around one of the university campuses in the city), represent much of this city’s future. Ignoring them in this election campaign or, more critically, once the civic government is formed will be so at a risk to this city’s future. Mr. Patterson sums up his article quite succinctly:

“With a hype-filled civic election unfolding and given that in the last three years the city has gone from a sense of renewed optimism to having to defend itself against Globe and Mail articles that portray Winnipeg negatively, it seems like a good time to realize that Winnipeg’s future is at a very real crossroads. The question is: Are our supposed leaders going to simply continue the romantic prose of a dynamic, creative and progressive city found in their think tanks, focus groups, branded idioms and election platforms or will they move to the hard part? Action. The City’s youth have started to figure this out. Hopefully our appointed leaders can find a way as well.”

I hope so too.

(For alternate forms of media in this city, I urge Winnipeggers to pick up copies of many of the free weeklies that abound such as The Uniter or listen to radio such as CKUW, KICK or UMFM. The Free Press, Sun and CJOB have their places, but reporting on ‘the other side’ of things isn’t one of their strong suits. Hence this viewpoint not having an outlet until now.)

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A Civic Election Issue

September 12, 2006

I made mention a week or so ago that everyone’s ‘favourite’ city, Toronto, was holding its own civic election a mere three weeks after Winnipeg’s will have taken place. I also talked about Chicago’s Bike 2015 Plan, the comprehensive alternative human-powered transportation plan that the City of Chicago was implementing to make the metropolis an attractive place to cycle (and walk, and take public transit).

Put the two together and add some more progressive organizations (including the Sierra Club and Mountain Equipment Co-op) and what do you get? TCAT, or the Toronto Coalition for Active Transportation, a group aiming

“to make cycling and pedestrian issues a major factor in the upcoming municipal election. (from the spacing.ca/wire)

Furthermore,

it has developed a platform of important issues that should be addressed by the city, and will be conducting a candidate survey.”

Funny how the issue of sustainable transportation is rearing its head both in Canada’s largest city as well as in Winnipeg just before their respective civic elections. It would do the candidates in Winnipeg’s election (though some would be well aware of them already) well to pay attention to the questions and issues being raised in Toronto, because similar issues have been and will continue to be brought up here as long as there seems to be little action on Council to cater to forms of transportation other than the private automobile.

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The Winnipeg Green Party Enters the Fray

September 8, 2006

Just a few days ago I bemoaned the fact that the upcoming Winnipeg civic election what sorely lacking in interest, candidates and, ultimately, democracy. Today, things are a bit different, and my faith in the state of the city a bit more buoyant.

This morning, the relatively new Winnipeg Green Party announced that it was running a slate of six candidates in various wards around the city in an effort to bring various issues, including the Olywest Hog Processing plant and Rapid Transit, to the campaign trail. (For the record, they’re for rapid transit and against the Olywest plant).

Also, the six ridings they’ve chosen to run candidates in—St. Vital, Elmwood, Mynarski, St. James Brooklands, Transcona, and St. Norbert—include the four that were previously uncontested, bringing an element of grassroots democracy to those wards, and, most importantly, ensuring that the councillors in Transcona, Elmwood, St. Norbert and St. Vital will be kept honest and won’t be as easily acclaimed. The people have choices now when they approach the voting booth on October 25.

The Greens represent a significant leap in Winnipeg civic politics: One, they’re running openly as a party with the same essential platform (other councillors may be endorsed by a particular party – the NDP, the Conservatives, etc., but that’s usually more hush-hush). And, two, their platform focuses on Winnipeg as a whole, as one entity that can not simply be split up neatly into wards where one ward’s problems suddenly end at their boundaries. The challenges facing Winnipeg as we move forward—environmental, social, economic—can only be solved by taking the entire city into account and working together for the good of the whole. Like a particular human health problem, if one ward, one piece of the puzzle is faltering, then this living organism that is the City of Winnipeg as a whole suffers.

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The State of Democracy in Winnipeg and its Causes and Effects

September 4, 2006

In less than two months now, on October 25, Winnipeggers will go to the polls to elect the mayor and 15 councillors who will lead Winnipeg for the next four years, bringing with them the new ideas, vision and energy that elections toend to bring to governments everywhere.

Or not.

As was written in the Saturday, September 2 edition of the Winnipeg Free Press:

“On Oct. 26, the day after the election, Winnipeggers could wake up to a city council with only one new face, the rookie rep for St. Charles, a seat vacated by the retirement of two-term Coun. Peter De Smedt.”

And how telling that is. For a city that seems to be lacking an identity and a vision, we, its citizens, we’ll likely be getting what we ask for come the late fall election.

Four councillors out of 15 total are likely not going to face any opposition—Lillian Thomas in Elmwood, Gord Steeves in St. Vital, Russ Wyatt in Transcona and Justin Swandel in St. Norbert—and the culture of incumbancy that exists at City Hall means that there may only be four real races to mention: the aforementioned St. Charles, Daniel McIntyre, River Heights and St. Boniface.

Democracy doesn’t seem to be alive and kicking in Winnipeg.

For a point of reference, Toronto’s civic election set for November 13 this year sees all of its 44 city wards being contested, and, amazingly (from a Winnipegger’s point of view), 38 out of the 44, or 86.3% being contested by three or more candidates. A legacy, perhaps, from the tenure of Mayor David Crombie, elected in 1972, who had a clear vision for his city and left the attitude of a grassroots democracy in Toronto (if any Torontonians are reading this, I apologize for if I’m taking liberties and making assumptions that may be somewhat contentious).
John Lorinc’s view of the current Canadian city as presented in his 2006 book The New City describes this as

“a generation of idealistic, urban-minded reformers—spurred on by the likes of Jane Jacobs and … Crombie—infused new energhy into local politics.”

So where in Winnipeg is something like this “new energy” that Toronto saw thirty years ago (and ostensibly still seems to retain at least in the number of different voices and visions being heard (and actually debated!))? While the beginning of such a vision may be there with Mayor Sam Katz’s main competitor, Kaj Hasselriis, the rest of the election is turning out to be a matter basic civic duties that should be taken care of no matter what.

So why is there such a lack of enthusiasm in the City of Winnipeg to run or to for the populace to demand change?

It stems from a lack of confidence in the power of City Council to accomplish much and serve their constituants, and more imporantly the entire city. It comes from staleness of council as a result of no term limits when it seems to be something that—through a cursory (and admittedly unscientific) poll—the populace of Winnipeg seems to want, yet won’t stand up to the politicians and demand. It comes from a lack of real ideas and courage eminating from City Hall, touching the citizens they represent to make the changes needed to bring this city into the 21st century. It comes from a small Council where the promise of a promotion to the Mayor’s Executive Policy Committee (and its subsequent pay raise)—which in the end makes all the real decisions—overrides quality debate and conflicting, real visions for the city. And it stems from being a city that simply doesn’t take itself seriously anymore. No one’s shown Winnipeggers how their city can once again be a force nationally and beyond, so they don’t believe it’s possible or worth it.

Hopefully Winnipeg City Council will realise that real changes need to begin with them before the citizens of their city can and/or will be actively be engaged and made to be interested partners in the all around success of Winnipeg.

Too bad it likely won’t be this version of City Council. But prove me wrong, please prove me wrong.