Archive for the ‘Links’ Category

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Winnipeg’s Civic Electoral Parties, or Dissenting Voices Unwelcome?

October 10, 2006

Even though they’re officially not allowed (insofar as they won’t be indicated as being members of a party on the actual ballots come October 25), there’s a couple civic political parties running this time around.

The Winnipeg Green Party is running a slate of six candidates across the city, bringing much-needed democratic choices to their respective wards. The Greens share a platform, campaign website and manager and the strength their collective voices and the voices their supporters adds up to.

The second party running (aside from the traditional union- and NDP-backed candidates), however, is much more low key about its party affiliations, so much so that the media had to give them their (fitting) name: The Sam Katz Party.

Yep, the incumbent mayor’s got his own political party and he, the leader himself, is doing a lot for the rest of his candidates: signing nomination papers, handpicking campaign staff for others, knocking on doors, opening campaign headquarters (and vice versa)… needless to say, the man sure knows who he wants joining him in the Council chambers come October 26.

The Winnipeg Free Press’ Mary Agnes Welch wrote on September 22:

“Katz rejected the suggestion he has an organized slate, saying instead he is simply helping out quality candidates. “I would actively campaign for any individual who I thought would make a good councillor,” said Katz.”

Unsaid, but assumed, of course, is that those “good councillors” in Sam’s eyes will be ones who will support the mayor many more times than not.

For the past two years, Katz has arguably been building his team and its easy to see who’s already on it: Councillors Pagtagkhan, Clements, Magnifico, O’Shaughnessy, Steeves, Swandel—basically EPC plus more who wish they were. That’s already almost half of Council, and he’s looking for more this time around.

In wide-open St. Charles, Grant Norman is Katz’s go-to guy.

“Grant Nordman understands how to invigorate a community through economic growth and attention to infrastructure. His solid track record and experience as President of the Assiniboia Chamber of Commerce make him an ideal Council choice for the residents of St. Charles.”

In River Heights, Brenda Leipsic’s endorsement by the mayor’s office has been quieter, but the desire to work with the administration is evident:

“Winnipeggers want action and results,” she told a crowd at her campaign office. “Not endless bickering.”

As well, even her campaign slogan: “A Positive Voice” [emphasis mine] is a jab at incumbent Donald Benham and his perceived role as an unofficial Sam Katz critic (and here) in Council.

In North Kildonan, former Tory youth wing member Jeff Browaty wishes to “work with the Mayor and City Council, not sit as an ‘opposition’ councillor” (as opposed to sitting councillor Mark Lubosch who has taken the opposite side as the mayor on various contentious issues lately) while his counterpart in St. James-Brooklands, Scott Fielding, has the same political history (and alleged friendship of Sam Katz’s chief of staff Ryan Craig) was recently appointed by Sam Katz himself to the Winnipeg Convention Centre’s Board of Directors to represent on the City’s behalf.

Should these candidates get in, Council will be heavily stacked in Katz’s favour.

Now no one is rationally suggesting tha tthe mayor has some diabolical scheme up his sleeve that he needs an overwhelming majority on Council to bring forth to and then have support, but a Sam Katz Party—often being yes-men and women (or at best totally like-thinkers)—would do little for reasoned debate (as it exists even now in its battered form) for the next four years at least. It is interesting that one would need to be marketed as a new “positive” councillor in wards whose incumbent is more of a critic and as a councillor who would “work with” the mayor on the issues. Isn’t the implication there that being a critic, or disagreeing with the mayor on issues is somehow incorrect or wrong?

Those councillors who don’t automatically support Katz may be seen as “negative” or “against cooperation” but their roles are very, very important in light of decisions that will affect Winnipeg’s future well-being. They may have different visions for the future of Winnipeg—but because he’s mayor, Sam Katz’s vision is somehow the better one worth pursuing? So much for the reasoned voice of dissent in this democracy then; we don’t need it.

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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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A Cycling Chicago of the North someday?

August 7, 2006

While browsing various urban and alternative transportation blogs, I came across this post at Toronto cycling blog TorontoCranks.com. Most of the post is dedicated to a City of Chicago press release from June of this year, entitled “Bike 2015 Plan features 150 strategies to encourage bicycling”. In light of the craziness in Winnipeg surrounding Critical Mass that has permeated the media and local message boards and blogs, polarizing the population on both the issues of Critical Mass and cycling in general, this is especially interesting and, from some Winnipeg perspectives, depressing. Chicago seems to actually be encouraging cycling as a viable and attractive alternative transporation option with the adoption of Bike 2015 Plan, as its Executive Summary and two main goals indicate:

“The Bike 2015 Plan is the City of Chicago’s vision to make bicycling an integral part of daily life in Chicago. The plan recommends projects, programs and policies for the next ten years to encourage use of this practical, non-polluting and affordable mode of transportation.

The Bike 2015 Plan has two overall goals:

  • To increase bicycle use, so that 5 percent of all trips less than five miles are by bicycle.
  • To reduce the number of bicycle injuries by 50 percent from current levels.”

Most impressive are the recommendations for a “500-mile bikeway network” that reaches to within a half-mile of each and every resident, the identification of cyclists’ needs with all new and restorative infrastructure development, thousands of additional bike racks and longer-term storage spaces, using rapid transit stations as bikeway hubs, and many more. [full Plan available here: 4.5 MB pdf file] Very ambitious, but, given the right dedication, funding and commitment of the city’s leadership, there doesn’t have to be much doubt that it’ll happen.

Which is in stark contrast to Winnipeg. There’s little reason why Winnipeg can’t follow suit with a vastly scaled-down, yet thorough version of this plan save for leadership. And we haven’t had it on the topic of cycling for 13 years. The now-outdated, yet still valuable 1993 Final Report entitled “Winnipeg Bicycle Facilities Study” (of which an online link seems to be lacking) has now seen a third mayor essentially ignore it, prompting cyclists and all who strive for viable alternatives to the private automobile to say on the topic something akin to what the initial TorontoCranks.com post is entitled: “Chicago’s mayor proves Toronto’s Mayor Miller SUCKS!”

The benefits of cycling abound for both the individual, his/her pocketbook and health, and for society as a whole. The Critical Mass movement in Winnipeg, with all their faults, alleged or true, likely don’t realistically believe a bicycling system akin to Chicago’s comprehensive Plan will come through (though I’m sure they won’t complain); they, and all other cyclists simply want cycling as a valid commuting and transporation choice to at least be taken as a priority by the leadership of this City. With the amounts of money going towards highways and roads built decidedly for cars, is asking for a fair share too much these days? If we have never become the “Chicago of the North” as far as our economy (and size) has been concerned, then perhaps, with the right leadership, we can one day follow in their path as a cold-weather, midwestern alternative transportation hub.