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Interpret how you will

October 11, 2006

Taken from a mid-September weekly email update (which are always fun to read) by a centrally-located used bookstore:

On my way to pick up the books from the not dead person, I noticed that Mayor Sam Katz had set up his campaign headquarters in the former Uncle Willy’s on Pembina Highway. Uncle Willy’s, if you’ll recall, was the all-you-can-eat restaurant with the never-ending supply of bland and predictable food. Best of luck to Mr. Katz and his opponents in the upcoming election. [emphasis mine]

Oh, those booksellers…

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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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…and it’ll be a muted debate

October 4, 2006

Today’s Free Press (unlinked because it’s subscription only) has an article telling us that there’s nine, NINE mayoral debates scheduled (after so long hearing of none). By all accounts, Kaj Hasselriis, Marianne Cerilli, Ron Pollock (though he says he wasn’t inivited to the CJOB or Global TV debates) will be attending all nine, but Sam Katz will only be attending four.

“All three other mayoral candidates are criticizing Katz for passing up other debates, but his campaign manager Ryan Craig said the mayor simply has no time to accomodate more events.

Funny that the other three candidates have the time to show up to all nine and hear from and talk directly to the people. That’s too bad, especially for the students at the University of Winnipeg who were no doubt hoping that the incumbent mayor would show up to their debate on the 11th. Instead, he’s doing CJOB and Red River College’s KICK 92.9 radio stations, Global TV, and—the only debate where the public will be allowed to participate—the traditional Chamber of Commerce/Winnipeg Real Estate Board.

So what’s he showing the public (and the university student population specifically) is that he doesn’t need to care about their concerns, doesn’t need to listen to them. For a candidate who declares that he wants to create “a city where there are jobs and opportunities for our youth,” he’s sure not doing much to listen to them and what they really want (and I can guarantee it’s much more than an inner-city Christian rapper is telling him behind closed doors).

In the end, Katz is losing out though. He’s likely facing a much stiffer test from challengers Kaj Hasselriis and Marianne Cerilli on the campuses in the city than he is from the general public, so this would have been an opportune time to tap into a constituency he may not have had in his grip before. So his absence means that the other two will be able to further cement support for them for October 25th. Unfortunately, if they don’t win, then the youth’s voice in this city will be lost—again.

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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.