Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

When stories collide

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I love reading newspapers, in large part because regular attention to the printed media can provide to the reader a broad relief map of the news. Page to page and day to day, you can scan stories from Winnipeg and the rest of the world and connect the dots between issues.I had that experience just this week when three stories on different days collided. First, just this morning I read a very good story by colleague Joe Paraskevas about a report on its way to city councillors with a stern message to consider raising property taxes. Winnipeg has enjoyed a property tax freeze for more than a decade. This is thanks in part to provincial funding efforts, and some intestinal fortitude at city hall. But as the cost of repairing basic infrastructure continues to rise, and revenues remain relatively stagnant, something's gotta give, according to the report.A stark statistic in that story: Winnipeg actually collects $58 million less in property taxes now than it did in 1998. For all those who think the city is a wasteful monstrosity, name another business that could operate with that kind of revenue trend.Large corporate entities, of which the city is one, should always strive to do more with less but there is a point where that equation is no longer legitimate. Without an effort to modernize revenue streams for the city, we're all headed to a crumbling, pot-hole-filled, decaying future.If that wasn't enough to freeze the property taxpaying blood in my veins, I was confronted by a Statistics Canada report telling me that Winnipeg's infrastructure is second oldest in Canada, next to Saskatchewan. At an average age of 17.1 years, our bridges, roads, water and wastewater systems and sewer networks are about one year older, on average, than the rest of Canada. That year doesn't seem like much, but it certainly underlines the concern that our infrastructure is going to fail much sooner than it will in other jurisdictions, and we're one of the least prepared from a fiscal point of view.How interesting then that Manitoba Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard should surface a day earlier with a proposal to have the province contribute $75 million to Winnipeg to jump start a rapid transit plan. Grand designs for a rapid bus freeway were shelved when current Mayor Sam Katz came to power. The Free Press story notes that although Katz spearheaded a plan to set aside the most recent Winnipeg Transit fare hike in a reserve account for rapid transit, there are no immediate plans to proceed with any specific project.Gerrard may be, as many Grit insiders have suggested, a lame-duck leader, but he is no dummy. He knows that rapid transit is not just a good investment for environmental reasons, it also takes vehicles off roads which means those roads last longer, and require less repairs and reconstruction. How refreshing that he should remind Winnipeggers of the critical need for both rapid transit and new revenue to get it done. (Perhaps Dr. J sees a future in municipal politics? There's a fascinating prospect to consider.)No, the city doesn't have enough money to take care of basic services and infrastructure. And yes, that's a bigger problem here because that infrastructure is already among the oldest in Canada. And finally, yes, (IMHO) the province should help prime the pump at Winnipeg City Hall on a rapid transit plan.Two days, three different stories. But all connected to the same issue, and reaching somewhat the same conclusion.Now, if only leadership at city hall and the Manitoba Legislature could make the same connection.-30-

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About Dan Lett

Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school.

Despite the fact that he’s originally from Toronto and has a fatal attraction to the Maple Leafs, Winnipeggers let him stay.

In the following years, he has worked at bureaus covering every level of government – from city hall to the national bureau in Ottawa.

He has had bricks thrown at him in riots following the 1995 Quebec referendum, wrote stories that helped in part to free three wrongly convicted men, met Fidel Castro, interviewed three Philippine presidents, crossed several borders in Africa illegally, chased Somali pirates in a Canadian warship and had several guns pointed at him.

In other words, he’s had every experience a journalist could even hope for. He has also been fortunate enough to be a two-time nominee for a National Newspaper Award, winning in 2003 for investigations.

Other awards include the B’Nai Brith National Human Rights Media Award and nominee for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism.

Now firmly rooted in Winnipeg, Dan visits Toronto often but no longer pines to live there.


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