Winnipeg mayoral candidates living in a dream world
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After listening to all of the promises uttered by mayoral candidates ahead this fall’s civic election, it’s not hard to believe a new and improved Winnipeg is within our grasp.
Imagine a city with EV-charging stations at every civic facility. And, what about grounding the police helicopter in favour of new police ground-level teams that would stamp out violent crime?
Let’s not forget safe-consumption sites for drug addicts to reduce overdoses and get more people into treatment and out of a life of crime that’s needed to feed their habit. And while we’re at it, how does hundreds of millions of dollars for youth recreation facilities and programs sound?
What this city needs are candidates who have more of a focus on “how” they are going to accomplish their lofty pledges, and less on “what” they would love to accomplish in a perfect world.
Concerned about climate change? Winnipeg could use new technology to become a net-zero emissions city. And how about a fleet of electric passenger vans to move people in areas not served by Winnipeg Transit? And why not come up with a new surcharge on vacant homes to encourage redevelopment? Oh, and there would be thousands upon thousands of new, affordable housing units.
All of these promises — all actual pledges made by actual candidates in the current campaign — would absolutely make Winnipeg a better place to live.
Unfortunately, what this city needs are candidates who have more of a focus on “how” they are going to accomplish their lofty pledges, and less on “what” they would love to accomplish in a perfect world. Because city hall is a most imperfect world.
Departing Mayor Brian Bowman could attest to that.
Bowman’s legacy is quite uneven, largely because some of the most progressive pledges he made were beaten into submission by the culture of inertia at city hall and his inability to overcome it.
Bowman promised to tear down the barriers and reopen Portage and Main to pedestrians. His pledge died under the weight of council’s chronic fear of change and a campaign of disinformation led by a suburban councillor.
Bowman wanted to make developers pay more of a share of new infrastructure needed to service suburban subdivisions. Poorly conceived and managed, the development fee did come to fruition before being sacrificed on the altar of the status quo.
The inability to translate ambitious campaign pledges into real change is hardly a Bowman-era trend. It would not be an exaggeration to say that city hall has long been the place where good ideas go to die.
Many a councillor and mayor have had their hopes and dreams dashed by a council that has limited quantities of imagination and will, and an overstock on self-interest and political expediency.
In keeping with that tradition, it is hard to find any mayoral candidate in the current campaign who has provided some sort of explanation of “how” they are going to bring their promises to fruition.
Coun. Scott Gillingham outlined a plan to cut down violent crime that included a worthy pledge to re-task police wellness checks and non-emergency calls to “civilian responders.” It’s an idea that has been discussed for a long time, but police claim it is difficult to sort emergency from non-emergency incidents. And no one has identified who would act as “civilian responders” and how much they would cost.
How would Gillingham find the money, the responders and devise protocols for this pledge? He may know, but he isn’t saying. At least not yet.
Rana Bokhari, mayoral candidate and former leader of the Manitoba Liberal Party, said her campaign will focus on increasing access to recreational spaces and facilities, and environmental sustainability. Among the pledges on the latter, she said she would like to stop raw sewage from being dumped into the city’s rivers.
That’s a very worthy promise that is completely absent of any plan to bring it to fruition. There is a strong suggestion Bokhari doesn’t know what’s involved in solving some of these problems; to stop sewage from overflowing into the rivers, the city would have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to replace aging combined sewers. Where would that money come from? Bokhari could not, or would not, say at this stage of the campaign.
Candidate Shaun Loney has been the most active mayoral candidate, recently pledging hundreds of millions of dollars to convert portions of the downtown CN rail high-line into a rapid transit corridor. It’s a fantastic idea except CN is still using the high-line, and the railways have done everything they can to derail (pun intended) all previous plans for redevelopment of things such as rail lines and yards.
How would Loney convince the railways to be a willing partner in the redevelopment of their assets, and where would he get the money to pay for his grand rapid transit vision? He won’t say right now, or doesn’t know.
Election campaigns are crammed with ambitious ideas about how to make life better, but starved of practical ideas on how to get things done.
Let’s hope that before we vote on Oct. 26, one of the 12 mayoral candidates starts telling us not only what they want to do, but how they they want do it.
Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.
Updated on Friday, July 15, 2022 8:33 PM CDT: Corrects spelling of Bokhari