If I were mayor…
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/10/2022 (222 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It happens almost every election: after a month or more of spewing unsolicited advice and analysis about the candidates’ platforms, someone writes to me with a pointed question.
“Have you ever considered running for office?”
Sometimes it’s asked, ‘wow, you have great ideas — have you ever considered running for office?’ In other instances, it’s ‘if you’re so smart, why don’t you consider running for office, you poser?’ Either way, it’s a fair question.
For the record, I’m never going to run for elected office.
I’ve watched with a front-row seat as a lot of good, smart and well-meaning people were ground up like hamburger by the stress of election campaigns. It is a horrible way to apply for a job.
I’ve watched with a front-row seat as a lot of good, smart and well-meaning people were ground up like hamburger by the stress of election campaigns.
Still, I’d be lying if said journalists don’t dream of being the person in charge of some level of government.
A year ago, I wrote about how Nicholas Kristof, Pulitzer-prize winning columnist with the New York Times, retired to run for governor of Oregon. Kristof was ultimately declared ineligible because he did not meet residency requirements. It is unclear whether he’ll try again, but it would have made for a great story.
Short of pulling a Kristof, I will try to imagine I was brave enough to put my name on a Winnipeg mayoral ballot. Here’s my platform:
My platform is entirely dependent on reimagining the city’s revenue. Some candidates in this election have proposed tax hikes, others have talked about a new deal with the province for one percentage point of the provincial sales tax. I favour the latter option.
Cities such as Winnipeg need new sources of revenue other than property taxes that will grow in lockstep with the economy. PST is the best way to do that.
Start by eliminating most of the grants now provided by the province to the city (transit, operating, etc.) and replacing them with a full point of PST, which is worth about $340 million annually.
Intergovernmental horse trading would be needed to make this work, but there is a win-win: a simpler, more transparent funding formula that stabilizes city finances. It’s also an accomplishment any provincial government could use to win support in the seat-rich capital.
A key responsibility for any municipal government, and my city hall would be no exception. However, I would trigger a massive shift in the way it spends infrastructure money.
Instead of endlessly increasing the amounts dedicated to roads, I would find the “sweet spot” — the level of funding that allows for incremental annual improvements in the overall state of roads without stealing money from other important projects. Along with increased revenue that comes from the new share of PST (dare to dream), slowing the increase in the roads budget would allow Winnipeg to expedite the expansion of rapid transit, which is much more important to the future than filling potholes.
I would also abandon the Chief Peguis Trail extension and widening of Kenaston Boulevard, two projects with a combined billion-dollar price tag that will do nothing to alleviate traffic congestion. Bigger wider roads don’t improve traffic, they draw more vehicles.
Police and fire
I hate it when politicians promise to solve a problem by consultation. But when it comes to police and fire services, I don’t see any other way.
Policing costs are not sustainable. There is so much money going into firefighter/paramedic salaries that fire trucks and firehouses are falling apart. High-level discussions with the leadership of both services, and their unions, needs to take place to make both more affordable.
Some progress might come from reassigning duties now handled by police (wellness checks, mental health crises) to multi-disciplinary intervention teams, and from figuring out — once and for all — the right mix of firefighters and paramedics.
Social and recreation
Now that all of the city’s revenue problems have been solved, we can start to build a city where the needs of people come before the needs of vehicles.
Social and recreational programming, and not more policing, are the keys to lower crime and better overall wellness. My city hall would establish multiple safe injection sites, more permanent shelters for the homeless, more funding for libraries and recreation opportunities, and a housing strategy that would leverage money from the other levels of government and private sectors to create affordable options for lower-income citizens.
It’s a bit disrespectful to the real candidates to bang off 800 words of promises and call it a “platform.” And it should be noted, all of my ideas have been promoted by one or more actual candidates on the Oct. 26 ballot.
I’m never going to run for office. However, I’m happy if my regular work or the absurd prospect of my candidacy keeps the debate going.
Which brings me to my last pledge: I’m going to open the Portage and Main intersection to pedestrians. If you don’t like it, vote me out of office in four years.
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.