Was it a political campaign stunt or a legitimate protest?
River Heights-Fort Garry council candidate Michael Kowalson insisted Wednesday that dozens of strangers had come together at 8 a.m. to protest new traffic control measures in River Heights.
Incumbent Coun. John Orlikow says Kowalson orchestrated the event and "is manipulating voters with a phony grassroots group."
Orlikow released an email Wednesday afternoon which he says Kowalson campaign staffer Peter Smith sent out to Kowalson supporters urging them to attend a planning meeting at Kowalson's office Tuesday evening.
The email read: "Tonight at 7:15 to discuss talking points and plans for tomorrow morning. Please get your family, friends and neighbours to come...we have only the big event left and we need to make it big!"
Orlikow said that people genuinely concerned with traffic issues have been hijacked by Kowalson's campaign.
"The main organizers are all Kowalson supporters, the group met for the first time in his campaign office, they're handing out flyers from there and they're inviting people to his office to spoon-feed them spinlines for the media, but Kowalson denies he has anything to do with it? He says we should debate 'issues of substance,'" said Orlikow. "I think that whether a candidate for city councillor would run an anonymous front group from his campaign office -- and when caught, deny it -- is an issue of substance."
Approximately 50 people came to the morning demonstration organized at the traffic circle at Waverley Street and Grosvenor Avenue.
During the demonstration, Kowalson vowed that if constituents want him to remove traffic circles and curb bump outs on Grosvenor Avenue he'll do it -- even if he has to use money given to him as a city councillor for road improvements.
"If that is the will of the neighbourhood, I will work with the residents," Kowalson said. "With today's turnout, it appears that is the will of the neighbourhood."
Kowalson said he didn't know the majority of the people at the demonstration, and several of the residents there said they weren't there to support the council candidate.
"This is not an election issue -- this is a safety issue," declared Kowalson.
Some demonstrators said they're afraid to let their kids go on the street now.
River Heights resident Andrew Steiman used to let his young children bicycle on Grosvenor, but not since the city put up new bike paths on the street. Steiman said he's now fearful his children, aged eight and five, will get injured because of the new traffic circles accompanying the bike paths.
"I'd sure like to see them taken out," he said. "We're not comfortable with the safety there anymore."
The work includes traffic circles on several intersections on Grosvenor, curb bump outs for bus stops, a concrete barrier blocking Harrow Street at Academy Road, and the loss of parking on Grosvenor for Westworth United Church.
Area resident Andrew Minor said city planners who came up with the bike path plan "forgot to realize this is a neighbourhood first. The speed of traffic has increased here."
Cyclist Mark Cohoe likes the traffic calming measures and is unhappy one candidate is making so much noise about removing them. Cohoe's group, Bike to the Future, supports bike paths and he said Kowalson "is trying to create fear where there is no fear."