Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Bold' 'visions' of 'change' just won't do

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Dear sirs and madams:

At the opening gate of this civic election, an open letter to any women and men who would see themselves as Winnipeg's mayor.

Me? Oh, I am just a simple Winnipegger, raised in the shadow of the University of Manitoba along the city's southern hem, and sheltered there from the gnawing maw that consumed the city's guts. The gaping mouth that chewed up old neighbourhoods and spit them out to rot, just chunks of unloved space left to fester in the prairie dust. Call it time, or sprawl, or progress, but that is what it was.

This is the city you are angling to run, and it will take more than incentives kicked at $400,000 condominiums to build it back up. (Yes, I know about the heated underground parking. Yes, I know about the granite countertops. Yes, I... thank you, that's enough.)

But you, candidates, you have ideas. Some people are eager to hear them, no matter how faintly fleshed. For the next five months, you will be surrounded by supporters. They will raise your signs toward TV cameras and gleefully tweet out your slogans. Some of them really believe in you. Others are banking favours, finding the odds favourable that they will be repaid by a mayor.

Remember, these are only a small fraction of your potential voters. (Don't worry, we'll all be sick of the V-word, come October.)

The rest of us will be spread out across the city, watching your candidacy go by. We will consider your latest pledges only after our morning coffee and a restless sigh. Do not mistake our exhaustion for apathy, or our silence for endorsement. We've been riding this carousel long enough to realize that the horses are pinioned in one place. No matter how much they believe themselves to leap.

Maybe you are different. Maybe you really are a candidate in motion. If that's the case, you'll have to show us.

While you're doing this, please remember that "vision" is not, in itself, a platform. "Change" is not one either. Nor are the following items: cookie trays, neatly co-ordinated ties and "strong leadership." The word "bold" is not a platform, or "vibrant," or any other word that could describe a paint scheme as well as a civic plan. If you want to sell us on the colours of your Winnipeg, it will have to go deeper than that.

Look, I get it. It's hard to perform surgery before the scalpel is in your hand.

Of course, if you are elected, there are many things you cannot do to make this city better. It is generally understood, with a few anonymous dissensions, that you can't do much about the weather. You cannot bend the winds to breathe more gently on the city, and you can't stop the fury they annually unleash upon our battered streets. Your signature cannot jump off the page and hit the streets and clear the snow.

Also: You cannot heal a hurting child from a world that history and hard knocks already broke.

Also: mosquitoes. Whatever. We will argue about those li'l titchers forever.

But as mayor, you do have a chance to pull this sprawling city together. You can help install a civic policy based on sober fact, even when facts aren't immediately popular. You can describe a vision that includes not just glittering new loft-style condos and suburban rows of picket fence, but the tenacious streets of the city's core. To include the voices of all the families aching to be heard above outbursts of violence.

They are your potential voters too, don't forget, as so many civic leaders have forgotten before. Or worse than forgotten: simply ignored.

So candidates, this is your chance. Time to show us who you are fighting for.

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 24, 2014 D3

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