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Shake up city hall, for Winnipeg's sake

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The Chamber of Commerce says a big idea would target Winnipeg's crime-severity rating.

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The Chamber of Commerce says a big idea would target Winnipeg's crime-severity rating. Photo Store

The current thinking and approach at city hall is failing Winnipeg. Two-thirds of citizens don't trust council to manage the city effectively. There are 68 properties that, as of June 20, are still battling frozen water pipes. Add to the mix potholes and 'voids.' The never-ending rapid transit saga is a prime example of the dog chasing its tail -- dizzying, tiresome and fruitless.

The appetite for an overhaul at city hall appears stronger than ever. Historically, candidates have attempted to feed that hunger with platforms short on innovative, long-term action and long on bland, short-term patchwork fixes.

Have vision, inspiration and creativity become Kryptonite to candidates' election prospects? Must we accept the 30-second elevator pitch as the high-water mark of Winnipeg political thought?

Election 2014 is our window to demand more from candidates. If a different result from city hall is needed, reject status quo ideas promising different outcomes. If elections are about electing leaders, speak up and demand leadership.

For starters, let's insist candidates set measurable goals tied to each campaign promise. A trip without a destination is just a leisurely countryside drive; at the current price of gas, wandering aimlessly is a luxury the city cannot afford.

Goals must be ambitious. Let's aim to have the most head offices per capita in Canada by 2026 -- Calgary led at 17.7 per 100,000 in 2011, followed by Toronto (12.6) and Winnipeg (11.9). Or push Winnipeg's score on Statistics Canada's crime-severity index to the bottom third (Winnipeg scored the fourth highest of 33 cities in 2012). There are no shortage of goals to target -- eliminate our infrastructure deficit by 2034, increase urban density by 10 per cent by 2022, or become the continental leader in civic services cost efficiency per capita by 2022.

Bold goals require diverse, outside-the-box ideas. A freeze on taxes, simplifying permit and zoning applications, spending more on roads, improving accountability are some of the ideas we've heard in 2014, 2010, 2006, 2002. We can do better.

On taxation, we should discuss a fundamental redesign of municipal taxation that ties revenue to economic growth to support Winnipeg's infrastructure needs. Current municipal zoning regulations and codes, rigid and focused on single-zone uses, are a challenge to urban revitalization. A move to character-based development bylaws that code according to desired outcomes, not uses, represents a potential solution. Few will argue with the need to spend more on infrastructure. Strategic, thoughtful ideas such as the completion of the inner-ring route with grade separations to alleviate congestion throughout Winnipeg should be part of the equation, yet the silence is deafening.

Bold ideas can be simple and inexpensive. An online record of councillors' voting history has potential to promote accountability for next to no cost.

These are not panaceas. Our demand for more is not a call for the magic solution.

How do we know all this is possible, or that Winnipeggers are ready for something different? During the past two years, The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce has been spearheading BOLD Winnipeg, a community-driven movement that provides a means to the different result sought. Forums and social media are being used to solicit Winnipeggers' exciting ideas. And Winnipeggers are responding en masse, invigorated by the chance to confidently offer ideas without fear of criticism or ridicule. Some of those ideas you've just read, others will be announced as part of upcoming BOLD Winnipeg campaign.

Critics have called for a stop to the so-called visioning exercises and to focus on the here-and-now issues. We make no apologies for engaging Winnipeg in a process to define daring goals and spur dynamic ideas. All are unapologetically optimistic and refuse to accept the naysayers' book of excuses, which has framed public debate for far too long. If the naysayers had had their way, there would be no floodway. Fortunately, bold thinkers won, saving us a few billion along the way.

On October 22, no matter which candidates emerge victorious, let's demand more and ensure a BOLD Winnipeg carries the day.

 

Loren Remillard is the vice-president, policy and public affairs at the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 23, 2014 A9

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