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An agnostic's new year

What are the answers to these questions facing Winnipeg? Damned if I know

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DEPENDING on your weakness, you most likely engaged in some form of cliche when the calendar flipped over.

If you have no resolve, you seized the opportunity to make resolutions. If you believe in fate, you turned to astrology to validate your belief in the futility of free will. If you suffer from delusions of omniscience, you made predictions you knew, deep down, would fail.

My own weakness is agnosticism. I am not certain of anything, except that I do not know anything for certain.

As a result, here are some questions facing Winnipeg in 2013:

1. Will the city grow or stagnate?

TO cheerleaders who find validation in the form of any positive economic indicator, Winnipeg is a growing, vibrant city. To cynics who still believe we’re stuck in the morass we experienced in the ’90s, the city is still going nowhere.

The reality lies in between, as positive indicators such as a long-awaited resumption of downtown high-rise construction is tempered by the loss of important businesses such as IMRIS, the surgical-device company that’s moving down to Minneapolis. The loss of high-end researchand-development positions is hardly offset by the addition of low-wage jobs at new retailers such as IKEA or Target.

In the absence of any semblance of an economicdevelopment strategy on Broadway or at city hall, it’s up to the private sector to figure out a way to diversify the economy and attract new businesses here. So far, Centre-Port remains embryonic and Yes Winnipeg’s claims of success are modest, to put it charitably.

2. Can the Selinger government make tough decisions?

BACK when he was Manitoba’s finance minister, Greg Selinger used to chide the City of Winnipeg for not borrowing money to improve infrastructure. He may have had a point, but it’s clear the man who’s now our premier has been a little too loosey-goosey with our cash.

While it was former premier Gary Doer who failed to capitalize on a decade of growth in this province, Selinger is the one stuck with the task of either cutting services or raising taxes in order to eliminate the growing deficit. It’s time to do what this NDP government has failed to do since 1999 — take a political risk and make some tough decisions, even if that means alienating huge portions of the electorate.

The Dippers can’t govern forever, so they might as well do what’s right — as opposed to what is safe — when the provincial budget comes down this spring.

3. Can the Katz administration do anything?

ON Wednesday, when Mayor Sam Katz tables both the operating and capital budgets for 2013, Winnipeg property owners will get hit with another property-tax increase that may wind up being as high as 3.8 per cent. It’s not like council has much of a choice, as property-tax revenue remains the city’s primary source of funding and the province is in no position to shower the city with cash.

Cuts to basic services are politically untenable, though the upcoming budget is rumoured to include across-theboard reductions in grants to non-profit organizations. With few other options, Katz and council will continue to serve as municipal caretakers all but incapable of delivering new programs or generating new ideas.

City hall is also crippled by an ongoing war between some councillors and senior administrators such as chief administrative officer Phil Sheegl and chief operations officer Deepak Joshi. This goes far beyond the current circus surrounding the administration’s refusal to divulge fines meted out against garbage-and-recycling contractor Emterra.

After surviving calls for his dismissal over the fireparamedic construction scandal and other messy files, Sheegl now appears immune from criticism from executive policy committee members such as Russ Wyatt (Transcona) and Paula Havixbeck (Charleswood). If the mayor continues to shield the CAO from unfriendly elements on EPC, the War of the Courtyard will continue.

4. Will Katz survive the year?

ON April 2, a judge will consider restaurateur/activist Joe Chan’s conflict-of-interest complaint against Sam Katz. In the event the judge sides with Chan, the mayor would lose his seat.

While it is unlikely that would actually force Katz from office — an appeal would be expected — the uncertainty would only make it even more difficult for the mayor to govern during a year that will also see auditors disclose the results of the fire-paramedic construction review and undertake a real-estate audit.

5. Will Winnipeg get a new rapid-transit deal?

IN December, Katz put $137.5 million on the table to build Southwest Transitway’s second leg, which comes with a $350-million price tag. Local Government Minister Ron Lemieux responded by pledging $116.7 million, which is $20.8-million shy of the city’s ask.

With Ottawa poised to contribute $75 million, this deal doesn’t appear all that tough to close. But the egos involved make this just as unpredictable as NHL labour peace.

6. Will the goodwill for True North continue?

IF and when the NHL lockout ends, Winnipeg Jets fans will hardly miss a beat. This hockey-mad city will not hold its resentment of the league and players against True North Sports & Entertainment.

But if a long-planned True North-operated sports lounge does in fact open at cityplace, will taxpayers be able to stomach more VLT revenues flowing toward professional sport? The political climate today is quite different than it was in 2011, when Selinger signed off on a plan to fund the new Jets.

7. Will Idle No More issue a political dividend?

THE Idle No More movement got off to an extremely successful start in December and is now visible in many North American cities. While the initial focus involved the environment and treaty rights, the movement has immense potential to serve as a political force in Winnipeg, where First Nations and Metis make up at least 10 per cent of the population.

A fully engaged indigenous community would do no nothing less than transform politics in this city, where elected officials have tended to ignore the aboriginal population. That would never happen again if Idle No More organizers put their formidable skills to work in the mainstream political arena.

8. Can the human-rights museum get its act together?

THE revolving door at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights suggests the organization suffers from humanresource issues, despite CEO Stu Murray’s assertion heavy staff turnover is a normal part of starting up a new national institution. Whatever the cause of the problems, the museum must resolve them quickly and have a strong opening next year.

The CMHR’s failure thus far to communicate its mission to Winnipeg is an embarrassment. The easiest way the museum can win over its many critics is to be a great museum. Let’s hope that happens.

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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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