Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Southdale's mess needs NDP help

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The next time a Manitoba government of any political stripe wants to help the city's community centres, it should hand the money over to the city, which has an orderly, if underfunded, process for doling out the cash on a fair and reasonable basis.

The problem with global funding, however, is that it's not as good a political strategy as targeting specific ridings, which is why the NDP promised during the 2007 election to help pay for the expansion of a community centre in Southdale, a tactic that paid off when the party took the seat from the Tories.

Southdale then moved to the front of the line and ahead of other more-deserving community centres that were waiting for funds. The people got what they wanted and so did the NDP, so now they will both have to live with the serious deficit that has emerged and is forcing parents to cough up more cash in facility fees.

The Progressive Conservatives tried the same tactic to win back the seat last year. They promised to spend $8 million on new facilities in Southdale, but the bribe didn't work and the NDP held the seat.

The General Council of Winnipeg Community Centres (GCWCC) developed a plan seven years ago for the funding and future development of recreational facilities. One of the goals of the plan, which was approved by city council, was to eliminate political meddling.

Operating grants are awarded on the basis of square footage and population, but there is no formula for major renovations, expansions and new construction. Those decisions are based on available funding and need, as determined by the GCWCC.

The city contributed only a small portion of the Southdale expansion, but that's because most of its capital funds went to support projects already approved by the GCWCC.

Some community centres have eased their financial struggles by merging, but that option isn't available or feasible in every case.

The GCWCC had recommended that community centres leverage funds through new partnerships with seniors groups, the disabled, immigrants and aboriginals, but very few clubs have pursued such an approach, which could involve new sports programs and other activities not traditionally offered.

The city could also do more to encourage or demand better business models from community centres, but it is not responsible for the Southdale boondoggle, which the NDP should be only too happy to accept.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 22, 2012 A10

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