Election Extra: Plebiscite pondering

Greetings, plebiscite ponderers and collectors of thickening stacks of mailbox-dropped campaign brochures,

When we think of debates, we usually conjure up images of spirited exchanges of ideas by individuals with opposing views on questions of public interest. Sort of an ideological parry-and-thrust, with each side seeking to score points with palpable verbal hits.

The intersection of Portage Avenue and Main Street as seen from the roof of the Fairmont Hotel. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)

The intersection of Portage Avenue and Main Street as seen from the roof of the Fairmont Hotel. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)

The current conversation regarding the question of reopening Portage and Main to pedestrian traffic is anything but that.

While it's true that the Oct. 24 ballot will consider both sides of the issue with a simple YES/NO question for voters to answer, the truth of the matter is that the lead-up to the plebiscite has been marked by a singularly one-sided expression of viewpoints.

The "Yes" side — those who favour reopening the intersection to above-ground foot traffic — has been organized, vocal and aggressive in presenting its arguments to Winnipeggers. Monday's missive from the pro-opening partisans included a detailed and ambitious plan for reorganizing downtown traffic in order to alleviate the transit-bus-backup delays that are predicted to be part of reintroducing pedestrians to the intersection.

The "No" side, in response, has said basically nothing. In fact, other than the presence of the word in the question, "No" has been invisible.

You'd be hard pressed to find anything or anyone representing a formal anti-reopening movement, aside from council opponents and plebiscite proponents Jeff Browaty and Janice Lukes and mayoral hopeful Jenny Motkaluk, who seemed intent on making Portage and Main a frontrunners'-showdown issue until incumbent Brian Bowman — once a very vocal supporter of the reopening effort — backed away from his old campaign promise and declared he will honour the results of the election-day referendum.

Given the effort, energy and information flowing from the "Yes" camp, one might expect a groundswell of public support. No such luck for the pedestrian-positive purveyors of pre-plebiscite PR — in fact, polling released during the election campaign suggests Winnipeggers continue oppose the reopening by roughly a two-to-one margin (67 per cent to 33 per cent).

Complicating matters, of course, are new revelations reported by the Free Press that the crumbling below-ground infrastructure at Portage and Main might force removal of the controversial pedestrian barriers to conduct necessary repairs -- regardless of the plebiscite's outcome.

To summarize, then: "Yes" is passionate, omnipresent and plan-focused, with little hope of succeeding; "No" is basically nonexistent as a movement but will probably triumph anyway; and "reality" is likely to rear its ugly, demanding head to determine the intersection's fate, regardless of who votes for what and why.

— Brad Oswald
Free Press Perspectives editor.

More from the Winnipeg Free Press

  • Vote Open proposes building a north-south transit corridor along Fort Street to reduce traffic concerns if Portage and Main is reopened to pedestrians. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

    Vote Open proposes building a north-south transit corridor along Fort Street to reduce traffic concerns if Portage and Main is reopened to pedestrians. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

    Portage proposal: Vote Open suggests building a north-south transit corridor along Fort Street to decrease traffic congestion if the barriers come down at Portage and Main after next week's referendum.
  • Iffy endorsement: Coun. Ross Eadie is encouraging residents in his North End ward to vote for Jenny Motkaluk, even though he thinks her campaign promises are unrealistic and will result in service cuts.
  • Fringe festival: Everyone should get a chance to run for office, and if this means the process includes kooks and chaos, that’s the price we pay for democracy, writes Carl DeGurse.
  • About that old Facebook post: School-trustee candidate Tracey Drexler is apologizing for social media posts she made mocking Premier Brian Pallister’s pain after he broke his arm and suggesting she was going to run down illegal protesters blocking the road.
  • Ill-conceived and ill-timed: The referendum on Portage and Main won't satisfy people who want it open to pedestrians or people who want traffic flow in the area improved, writes our editorial board.

We've got election fever and the only cure is... more forums!

  • Springfield: The Springfield Chamber of Commerce hosted a series of well-attended community forums with candidates for reeve and wards. Residents who missed the forums can catch up with the candidates via video on the chamber's website.
  • Morden: Council and mayoral candidates in the Morden area took part in a forum last week. Major topics of discussion included a proposed roundabout and city restructuring. Lauren MacGill reports for the The Morden Times.
  • Thompson: Voters in Thompson heard from nearly 20 prospective councillors in a forum on Oct. 3. The Thompson Citizen's Kyle Darbyson says they fall into three categories: incumbents, vocal critics, and fresh perspectives.
  • Selkirk: Candidates vying for a seat on the City of Selkirk council faced questions about affordable housing, tourism and infrastructure, writes Lindsey Enns in the Selkirk Record. (To read the story, follow the link and flip to page 2.)
  • Who are we missing?: If you know of a forum we should feature or an election-related news story from around Manitoba we should highlight, let us know! Email

Ward profile: Daniel McIntyre

  • Daniel McIntyre incumbent Cindy Gilroy is facing two challengers – Josh Brandon and Sarowar Miah.

    Brandon lives in Wolseley and is a social justice advocate, environmentalist and community organizer. Restaurant owner Miah lives and works in the West End and is heavily involved in the Bangladeshi community.

    Gilroy was first elected in 2014 and promoted to the mayor’s executive policy committee in 2016. She’s supported public transit and active transit and pushed to have the West End Library renamed for her predecessor, the late Daniel McIntyre Coun. Harvey Smith.

    Two of the three candidates in ward filled out our questionnaire. Learn more about them and their platforms in our ward profile.

Looking back: 1942

In last Friday's Election Extra we told you about the municipal vote in 1940, when Winnipeggers opted to extend suffrage. Nov. 27, 1942 marked the first civic election with adult suffrage in effect: all British subjects and naturalized Canadians over age 21 were allowed to vote, regardless of whether they owned property. The voting list increased from around 105,000 in 1941, to 152,000 in 1942 -- but only 57,492 people turned out at the polls. Alderman Garnet Coulter was elected mayor, a position he held until 1954.


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