Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

They're called social problems for a reason

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CentreVenture CEO Ross McGowan responded to comments I made on this blog in successive posts on February 16 and 18 that were republished in the Winnipeg Free Press shortly thereafter.

I'm pleased he chose to respond to the comments I made. I'm pleased he took the time to clarify and defend his position. I trust him to be genuine in his assertion that "Centreventure's door is always open and participation in productive dialogue can only make downtown a better place for all. Your feedback is welcomed and appreciated."

He feels his comments have been taken out of context. I disagree. I feel his comments were inappropriate, his analogy was too simplistic and his words were poorly chosen. That's it, that's all.

Mr. McGowan's intention was to communicate the importance of personal responsibility.

"There is an expectation that as a society we are responsible for our own behaviour and there is a personal code of conduct that defines the boundaries of acceptable behaviour that comes with being a member of society."

I don't disagree with him that each of us is responsible for respecting the boundaries of acceptable behaviour. I would place more emphasis on collective responsibility and the role that communities play (or have failed to play) in developing the skills, values and knowledge we all need to in order to thrive in society. Unfortunately, social problems are exactly that -- social. It is not simply a question of personal choice.

"It takes a village to raise a child." "There is no such thing as a self-made man." I hold these to be true. Whether one grows up to succeed or to struggle is largely (though not exclusively) dependent on the support they have or have not received from their community. Some of us learn to make it on our own. Many of us continue to need support. I feel that as a community we need to offer more support.

Though we would likely disagree on a few fronts, I don't think what Ross McGowan wants for the downtown is all that much different from what I want for it. The challenge is that the social ills we're talking about are complex. Discussing issues that are as complex and loaded as mental-health, addictions, violence and poverty is an ongoing process. I took issue with comments he made on the subject but, in fairness, he was conducting a short radio interview on the CBC. Not exactly enough time to offer up an argument that would do the issue justice.

To get back to what was originally at the heart of this whole discussion, let me state I feel it would be a mistake to close the Ellice Avenue liquor store.

I disagree with the closure on two points: First, it will exacerbate income inequality (hence the comment about Tavern United in my blog post) and second, it will be bad for downtown renewal (downtown residents are crying out for more services, not less).

To finish off, here is a comment made on the Winnipeg Free Press website by luvstb.

"This discussion can get reductive very quickly. One is either in favour of a thriving downtown while ignoring poverty (or sweeping it under the carpet), or one thinks downtown renewal is a low-level priority compared to social justice and income inequality.

"I think both of these views miss the mark. We need to address both. It is not in the interest of the poor to have a declining downtown. It is also not in the interest of society to have a robust downtown unless that is providing income and employment opportunities for those in need.

"I do think that downtown areas have a special role to play in the development of cities and regions, including the creation of employment-intensive service industries and small-business opportunities. The challenge it seems to me is to couple these renewal efforts with sensible inclusion strategies.

"We do not need to apologize for wanting a downtown that is inviting for travellers and tourists. We do need to apologize for any approach that does not make concerted efforts to accommodate the less fortunate."


Ekimsharpe thinks it's about time someone opened up a brew-pub downtown. Follow his blog at

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 7, 2013 A10

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