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.



  1. Stay tuned in the coming weeks… Things may not end up being as dull as they now seem…

  2. I’ve heard some rather interesting things that may possibly be brewing inside and outside of City Hall. Whether or not they boil over to add some spice to this campaign remains to be seen.

    Here’s to hoping they do before too many of the lawn signs sprout up around town.

  3. Thanks for the link ;)

  4. The author of this article looks to the media spotlight and sees only slick ad campaigns and self-promotion. Perhaps one should be looking to the grassroots for inspiration and innovation. Consider the following:

    FAQ’s of Mayoralty Candidate Gordon Warren

    1. You say the North End will not come alive without the helping hand of the First Nations people. Why focus on the First Nations people and why did you write an open letter to them saying that you wanted to bulldoze the North end?

    Sadly, First Nations people are the ones most often left out of the political decision making process. Consequently, many have withdrawn from society and have stagnated as a people when they once flourished. The open letter was designed to free imaginations that had been imprisoned by the hopelessness of their circumstance. Once people see beyond their circumstance, their imaginations are free to explore the possibilities that are available to them through the Spirited Energy movement. The people I spoke to in the North end understood the purpose of this exercise. It was the media and those outside the North end that took the “bulldozing” suggestion literally. It is my hope that through this campaign, all imaginations that are imprisoned by their circumstance will be freed by the Spirited Energy movement.

    2. You say you want to continue the Spirited Energy movement in our city, starting with the North End. Clearly, for the average citizen, describe what you believe the Spirited Energy movement is.

    The Spirited Energy movement is the invitation to all people from all cultures to join in community for the common good, as we did and continue to do at the Forks. If 9/11 has taught us anything, it is either all of us or none of us who will go forward in this world. I want to see the spirited energy we experience at the Forks grow throughout Winnipeg and beyond.

    3. If you are not going to physically “bulldoze” the area, then what specifically is your plan to bring the North end alive?

    I don’t have “the plan.” The plan will be realized by the awakened imaginations of the North End. For example, I was invited to a block party that took place on Boyd Avenue. It was like a mini-Folklorama for neighbours in the area–many who had not met previously. Child-focused activities exposed young children to the spirited energy I mentioned earlier. People I have spoken to see community centres as an important catalyst for positive change. As mayor, I would direct resources to these centres and would encourage an ongoing dialogue with residents to facilitate positive growth in the North end.

    4. People in Winnipeg will want to know how you plan to unleash this “Spirited Energy” What tangible
    information can you give them to convince them you are the leader that can make it happen?

    ’The Spirited Energy in Action’ platform will make that clear. It is a win-win for everybody. My knowledge of economics and group dynamics enabled me to do something other planners have failed to do–create a functional, economically sound taxation system that addresses the needs of all people without hindering the open-market economy.

    5. Being a mayor means being a leader and speaking on behalf of citizens. How would you lead the citizens of Winnipeg?

    Should the Spirited Energy movement prevail on October 25, I will lead how I have always led–by example. My primary leadership roles as mayor would be to function as a facilitator and goodwill ambassador rather than as an instructor, per se. Policy changes endorsed by the voters and city council will provide Winnipeg and other cities with a paradigm for functionality in the 21st century.

    Our Mandate: To create a functional, economically sound taxation system that addresses the needs of Winnipeg’s citizens without hindering the open-market economy.

    The Plan:

    •Eliminate property, business, and amusement taxes in favour of an infrastructure maintenance tax. The mayor will instruct councilors in each ward to gather information from his/her constituents regarding their desired preferences vis-a-vis the quality and quantity of infrastructure maintenance.
    •Supplement the healthcare system with alternative health practitioners that will be compensated in a similar way that M.D.s are.
    •Implement fast-track accreditation programs for immigrant professionals.
    •Introduce low-cost on-line courses that are accessible to all and can be put towards undergraduate degrees and diplomas.
    •Amalgamate Police, Fire, and Paramedic services and streamline these by having key administrators oversee the transition. There will be an increased use of street patrols, video equipment, and neighbourhood watches to provide city-wide coverage.
    •Empower street patrols to issue tickets to anyone giving panhandlers money. Issue “busker” licenses to qualified performers.
    •City administrators will ensure that all contracted services (e.g. snow & garbage removal, & street cleaning) will have clearly mandated standards & practices (e.g. public areas will be cleared before private ones), with the city being compensated for poor performance.
    • Begin transition to eco-friendly bus transportation and a rapid transit system. Decrease fares to encourage regular use.
    •Charge commuters from satellite communities an entry toll via license plate photos as they enter the city to ensure they are paying their fair share of infrastructure maintenance.
    •Award companies and institutions that achieve cartel or monopoly status. Adjust the fees they charge to open-market values and ensure that expenses are not passed down to consumers.
    •Offer “good-will” opportunities to these champions of capitalism in the form of city/life enhancing not-for-profit ventures.
    •Some of these might include:
    o Cleaning up the city’s rivers
    o Increasing “green-space” within city limits.
    o Building community centres and workshops in the inner city
    o Building more recreation centres like skateboard parks, rock climbing walls, and wavepools
    o Supplementing library resources
    o Restoring historical buildings
    o Supporting the arts, cultural, and science communities
    o Bringing back the Winnipeg Jets
    o Purchasing the Blue Bombers from the city
    o Creating a state of the art recycling system that offers free shuttle service to and from waste sites. Recyclables returned for deposit by interested citizens would be considered “windfall,” and would therefore be non-taxable.
    o Perhaps you have a few suggestions? Let us know.

    Other Candidates are banking on multi-media and self-promotion to win the mayor’s chair. I am relying on the Spirited Energy movement and the citizens of Winnipeg. We’ll see who is successful on Oct. 25.

    Gordon Warren
    Mayoralty Candidate

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