Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Sometimes the faster it gets, the less you need to know...

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Yes, it's a line from an all-time favourite rock and roll song by the incomparable Tragically Hip. It's also been a personal mantra, at times, that reminds me how to get things done in a maelstrom. You see, the rest of the song reminds us that "The smarter it gets, the further it's going to go." So, without further commentary on whether I fall into the "less you need to know" or "smarter it gets" category, here are a few things drawing my attention, some of which will become columns in the dead-tree version quite soon.*****Public art budget cut. Seriously folks, if anyone thinks that cutting a few hundred thousand dollars from the budget for public art makes for a better city, you haven't travelled much. As noted in a Free Press editorial today, this is a perfect example of small-minded thinking.We don't spend a lot on art, and don't pay nearly enough attention to architecture for that matter. (Just consider the awful appearance of the Maryland and Sherbrooke bridges, gateway to River Heights and Crescentwood, one of the premier areas of the city. The bridges lwere completed renovated a couple of years back, but no effort was made to give the bridges some aesthetic appeal. Now, they look like highway overpasses. Shame.)Property taxes are high here, despite effective efforts to allow property values to rise while keeping a relative lid on taxes. But a community is not built solely on utilitarian infrastructure. You've got to add a few bells and whistles here and there.Would anyone visit Assiniboine Park (and the Leo Mol sculpture garden) if it were just an unkempt meadow? Would the Forks and its controversial/bold Riel Esplanade attract visitors if it was a bunch of empty warehouses and a muddy river bank? Many other communities continue to do what Winnipeg used to do, which was build buildings and public amenities that were functional and aesthetically intriguing.Public art is one of the most important expressions of what a community wants to express about itself. Winnipeg city council, apparently, wants the world to know this is a place without artistic merit or creativity. Now there's a tourism slogan.*****The Free Press reported this week a committee of trade experts, assembled by Mayor Sam Katz, advised that Winnipeg needs an internal freeway to promote transportation and international trade opportunities. The idea is not without merit. But it is so completely and utterly ridiculous to discuss the construction of an inter-city freeway without dealing with other transportation issues first.Yes, it would be great if citizens and long-haul trucks could move about the city in a less encumbered manner. But to spend even a dime more on expanding or extending freeways without delivering on a rapid transit plan is just plain dumb. This is a city that has been told over and over again that it cannot prosper without rapid transit. A city with a downtown that is surrounded by rivers, and accessible from three sides only by bridges (that cross either rivers or rail yards) this city needs a way of moving people in and out of downtown via rapid transit. And spare me the whining about how Winnipeggers won't use it - they will if it’s designed effectively from suburb to downtown destination, if the service is timely, if the equipment is top notch, and if it becomes unpleasantly expensive to drive our cars and park downtown. (The oil market will take care of the former, the city might think about a surcharge on the latter.)Mayor Sam Katz needs to stop unleashing blue-ribbon panels on issues in isolation, and focus more on a broad approach to transportation problems.*****I'm puzzled about the current battle between the city and the Manitoba Hotel Association over who gets the right to add a tax to hotel bills. Both the city and the MHA want a tax: the city to help fund Destination Winnipeg and create a reserve to fund future Winnipeg Convention Centre expansion; and the MHA to promote tourism. The hotels have the advantage of knowing the hotel and visitor industry normally charges, collects and spends this money in other cities. The city has the burden of knowing it spends millions each year to support Destination Winnipeg and the WCC.On that last point, the WCC continues to require a $2-million annual grant from the city to make ends meet. I have trouble figuring out that equation. I am searching for information from other cities about whether ALL convention centres operate at a loss. Conventions and other CC events bring in millions of dollars in tax revenue and economic activity, to be sure. But if the WCC is doing its job,, surely it could operate on a break-even basis. No?Apparently not. Stay tuned for more on this curious, troubling issue.*****Brandonites have once again rejected the construction of a casino within their city limits, this time in a plebiscite that was not manipulated beyond recognition with silly questions as was the case in the past. Good for Brandon - democracy has spoken. However, given that it's quite likely the casino will be built anyway, just outside of the city in a rural municipality with no reservations about legalized gambling, was this the right decision?Brandon worked itself into a lather twice before when debating the establishment of a casino in the Wheat City. The plebiscite may have been more transparent this time around, but as colleague Curtis Brown points out in this analysis, they haven't really rid themselves of casinos.The first nation sponsors of the casino, who have permission to build another gaming facility in WesMan, are likely to go ahead just outside of city limits, if early reports hold true. Now, Brandon will have a casino in its midst, but lose out on some of the direct economic benefits, like property and business taxes which, while not nearly as formidable as proponents would have you believe, are still pretty big.Brandonites are trapped between a rock and a poker chip on this one.-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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