Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Plow talk is pandering

Sadly, politicians can't control snow

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If you're thinking about running for mayor in this city, infrastructure renewal and economic development must be awfully boring subjects.

Nine months before Winnipeggers go to the polls, the biggest issue facing this city, according to some of our illustrious potential candidates, appears to be the proper use and operation of a snowplow.

Over the past few days, mayoral hopeful Gord Steeves, potential mayoral candidate John Orlikow and incumbent Sam Katz have all issued statements about snow clearing, an apparent hot-button issue in one of the coldest winter cities on the planet.

Last month, as a result of a brutal December cold snap, the city did a lousy job of removing the white stuff. So now some of our potential mayoral candidates have politicized snow removal, a routine responsibility that has no business being a campaign issue, as important as it is to the functioning of the city.

"Streets and sidewalks need to be cleared quickly and in a way that ensures that the people of Winnipeg are able to get from place to place safely," Orlikow said in a statement on Wednesday, stating the obvious in spectacular fashion.

It's almost as if the River Heights councillor imagines his opponents are campaigning to ensure the people of Winnipeg do not get from place to place safely and are instead advocating all residents be confined to their homes until the snow melts or Victoria Day, whichever comes first.

Orlikow isn't alone, however. On Tuesday, former St. Vital councillor Gord Steeves -- the only Winnipegger to definitively declare a mayoral run so far -- issued a snow-clearing statement of his own.

"When my dad asked me to shovel the walk when I was a kid, I would sometimes say that there was no use because it would just snow again. That argument didn't work with Dad and it doesn't work in our city," said Steeves, who apparently spent his childhood as a character in a 1950s TV sitcom.

Not to be outdone, Katz also assured reporters snow clearing will be conducted more effectively in January than it was in December. While this mayor might not be running again -- a recent Probe Research poll placed his popularity somewhere between that of Octomom and Dennis Rodman -- he certainly wants to keep his options open this fall.

That means vowing to ensure Winnipeg's public works department does something it always tries to do: clear snow off city streets.

Of course, snow clearing is important in this city. Winnipeg receives an average of 111 centimetres of snow every winter, which is about 20 cm less than Toronto receives, half of what lands on streets in Ottawa every year and a mere third of the wallop received annually in Quebec City.

Despite our relative dryness, Winnipeggers have a right to care whether the snow we receive is removed effectively. But we'd be delusional to believe any mayor would ever attempt to suppress the operation of snow-clearing equipment just to save a buck or two. That simply is a myth.

Snow clearing happens to be one of three sacred cows in this weird and wonderful municipality, along with pothole patching and mosquito control. The fastest way to incite a riot in this town would be to mothball the pothole-patching trucks in the spring or keep the vats of malathion under lock and key during the summer.

It doesn't matter a quick coat of asphalt does nothing in the long term to combat the erosive effects of Winnipeg's freeze-thaw cycles. We want to see the pothole-patchers, whatever the cost might be.

It also doesn't matter adult mosquito fogging amounts to nothing more than a temporary reduction in summer skeeter numbers. Most Winnipeggers love the smell of malathion in the morning, long-term environmental effects be damned.

Politicians, unfortunately, are desperate to connect with voters. So they pander by promising better snow clearing, fewer potholes and smaller clouds of mosquitoes.

Unfortunately, no would-be Winnipeg mayor can control the weather, the key factor influencing the arrival of all three. So campaigning to control these phenomena is not just pointless but disingenuous.

What Winnipeg needs is a mayor who will tackle complex issues, starting with how he or she might possibly hope to manage the city's finances in an era of rising costs and diminishing resources. To date, that candidate has not emerged.

Again, there are nine months left before the election. The time has come for Winnipeg's would-be mayoral candidates to begin offering up something of substance, if they're serious about running -- and respect our collective intelligence.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 16, 2014 B1


Updated on Thursday, January 16, 2014 at 7:29 AM CST: Replaces photo, adds video

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About Bartley Kives

Bartley Kives wants you to know his last name rhymes with Beavis, as in Beavis and Butthead. He aspires to match the wit, grace and intelligence of the 1990s cartoon series.

Bartley joined the Free Press in 1998 as a music critic. He spent the ensuing 7.5 years interviewing the likes of Neil Young and David Bowie and trying to stay out of trouble at the Winnipeg Folk Festival before deciding it was far more exciting to sit through zoning-variance appeals at city hall.

In 2006, Bartley followed Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz from the music business into civic politics. He spent seven years covering city hall from a windowless basement office.

He is now reporter-at-large for the Free Press and also writes an outdoor-recreation column called Offroad for the Outdoors page.

A canoeist, backpacker and food geek, Bartley is fond of conventional and wilderness travel. He is the author of A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada’s Undiscovered Province, the only comprehensive travel guidebook for Manitoba – and a Canadian bestseller, to boot. He is also co-author of Stuck In The Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg, a collaboration with photographer Bryan Scott and the winner of the 2014 Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award.

Bartley’s work has also appeared on CBC Radio and Citytv as well as in publications such as The Guardian, explore magazine and National Geographic Traveler. He sits on the board of PEN Canada, which promotes freedom of expression.

Born in Winnipeg, he has an arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and a master’s degree in journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University. He is the proud owner of a blender.

On Twitter: @bkives


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