North End activists and inner city community groups are giving the city a failing grade on a round of public workshops it’s holding this month on the 2014 budget.
On June 11, the City of Winnipeg, along with business firm MNP, announced the dates of five public meetings to be held throughout June for residents to give input on next year’s operating and capital budgets — all located in the city’s outlying suburbs.
The nearest location for North End residents is a workshop slated for the Garden City Community Centre on Thurs., June 27 from 6:30 to 9 p.m.
"For a neighbourhood that is traditionally unengaged, especially in municipal politics, it is an injustice to Winnipeg’s core neighbourhoods," said North End resident and youth activist Michael Champagne.
The first workshop took place at Highbury School in St. Vital on June 18, and is followed by meetings at the Victoria Community Club in Fort Garry on June 19, the Assiniboine West Recreation Association in St. James-Assiniboia on June 22, and Park City Community Centre in Transcona on June 26.
No meetings were initially scheduled for downtown, though MNP confirmed it has since added a date at the Millenium Library on June 24 from 6:30 to 9 p.m.
Kathyrn Graham, a partner at MNP, said one meeting was chosen for each of the city’s five community committee areas — the Garden City meeting is aimed at residents in the Point Douglas, Mynarski and Old Kildonan wards, which comprise the Lord Selkirk-West Kildonan committee. Residents can also attend the downtown meeting, she said.
However, Champagne says the locations are not an option for many in his community who don’t have the means to access or afford suitable transportation.
That’s a shame, Champagne said, especially since he has been trying to educate young community members on the political process through his Aboriginal Youth Opportunities initiative. He’s trying to change course on low voter turnout and political engagement in the community.
The 50-plus people who show each week at the Bell Tower on Selkirk Avenue to talk shop on community issues is proof enough North Enders have something to contribute.
"Our community wants to be engaged," Champagne said.
Consultations unprecedented: Pagtakhan
The workshops are part of $300,000 the city approved in February for public consultations on the 2014 budget.
The level of consultations the city is getting with that money is unprecedented, said Point Douglas Coun. Mike Pagtakhan.
That includes a wealth of new data and charts available online that illustrate how the city collects and spends taxes, how the budget process works, along with a simulator residents can use to create their own budget for the city.
"Previous consultations haven’t gone to this level," Pagtkhan said.
"It’s a whole class on civics."
Residents can mail submissions to the city or contact their local councillors if they can’t attend a workshop, Pagtakhan said. He added the city’s library offers free Internet for those who don’t have access otherwise.
Pagtakhan doesn’t believe the North End is being shut out from the process. He suggested consultations in future years could be held at the North Centennial Recreation and Leisure Facility.
"It’s a good solid start," he said, noting he has sent contact information of his neighbourhood and business groups to MNP to consult with outside of the public meetings.
"Could we have it in every neighbourhood? Absolutely, but there’s a huge cost."
Schools, community centres best way to engage, group argues
Allan Wise, executive director for the Central Neighbourhoods Development Corporation, says the city should be taking a different approach.
"The usual bureaucratic approach of ‘go online, file your response or fill out this survey or show up at this meeting to speak,’ doesn’t work," said Wise, who has worked at CNDC for five years.
Wise said the city needs to engage communities on a more grassroots level, and work to engage residents through schools and community centres. The city needs to consider varying cultural and social factors as it engages different neighbourhoods of the city, he said.
"Going to the communities and having a more broad-based, down-to-earth approach to this through community centres and schools is more respectful and get more results," Wise said.
Rob Neufeld, executive director of the North End Community Renewal Corporation, said the meetings haven’t been scheduled in neighbourhoods that need a say in city services the most, from policing and emergency services to road repairs and garbage collection.
Neufeld noted area residents packed the North End Wellness Centre on McGregor Street a few years ago for a public consultation on the provincial budget.
"I don’t know if they’re avoiding us, but they are excluding us," Neufeld said.
Mark Head, who works with Champagne, suggested the Ukrainian Labour Temple, the Indian Métis Friendship Centre or even Neechi Commons could easily host a workshop, he said.
"There’s no shortage of space," said Head, 25.
"Let’s provide every neighbourhood with the resources to actually have a say in decisions."
Champagne said his group doesn’t have the authority to hold its own budget consultations, but added the city should be engaging community groups to host more workshops in more locations.
"We’re willing to do the work if they’re willing to meet us halfway," he said.
For more, visit www.wpgbudget.ca.