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.
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.