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This article was published 18/3/2009 (3076 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
In a rare case of an esoteric university education proving valuable in real life, Winnipeg's newest city councillor plans to put his degree in conflict resolution to good use at city hall.
Newly elected River Heights-Fort Garry Coun. John Orlikow is about to join a council characterized by a combative relationship between Mayor Sam Katz's centre-right majority and a small left-of-centre opposition.
After he's sworn in at city council on March 25, Orlikow plans to rely on his dispute-settling studies to avoid adding adversarial fuel to the existing political fire. Before serving as a Winnipeg School Division trustee, he studied conflict resolution at the University of Winnipeg's Menno Simons College.
"I've learned it's OK to disagree. It's even healthy for democracy to do so, but if you do it you must do it on the basis of respect," Orlikow said as he visited city hall the morning after his St. Patrick's Day byelection victory over broadcaster Geoff Currier.
"You have to value other people's opinions. You have to listen to them. My job is to convince many other people my opinion is more appropriate."
Born in Oakville, Ont., Orlikow moved to Winnipeg as an infant and has spent most of his life in River Heights. He's the product of what used to be called a mixed background: His late father Lionel, a longtime school trustee, was a Jew from North End, while his mother Anne is a River Heights Catholic.
Although he spent 10 years as a school trustee, Orlikow acknowledges he will spend much of his abbreviated term as a rookie city councillor acquainting himself with the political players and culture at city hall.
"My biggest goal in these first 17 months will be just connecting with as many people as possible," he said, referring to city staff as well as constituents.
Orlikow said he hopes to build on the late Brenda Leipsic's successful attempts to communicate with residents in a ward where "not in my back yard" resistance to new development has been a problem.
"That takes a lot of leg work and people work. She did that incredibly well," he said of his predecessor, who succumbed to lung cancer in December. "There was a huge vacuum there (before)."
Orlikow is not sure how he will approach one of Leipsic's biggest concerns -- the traffic headaches caused by the railway crossing on Waverley Street, north of Wilkes Avenue. Orlikow said he is not sure whether it makes more sense to build an underpass on Waverley or to extend Sterling Lyon Parkway east to Pembina Highway through the Parker neighbourhood, as deputy CAO Phil Sheegl has proposed.
Orlikow also isn't sure how the city should proceed on two other major headaches alongside his ward: the Kapyong Barracks redevelopment and the widening of Kenaston Boulevard, north of Taylor Avenue.
But the rookie councillor did say he supports adding capacity to the city's transportation system, despite campaign pledges to lobby for more sustainable transportation.
Orlikow won the race by garnering 4,392 votes against Currier's 3,299. That translates into a voter turnout of 22 per cent in River Heights-Fort Garry ward, given that 35,015 people were eligible to vote.
Bypassing the byelection?
VOTER turnout for civic byelections typically isn't very high, but not all races have failed to attract people to the polls. Here's a sample of recent byelection turnouts:
2004 River Heights-Fort Garry byelection: 59 per cent
Five years ago, River Heights voters turned out en masse in a race that saw Donald Benham succeed Garth Steek, who had resigned to run for mayor. The high turnout was attributed to a hotly contested mayoral byelection that took place at the same time.
2000 St. Vital byelection: 49 per cent
When former councillor Al Golden decided to seek re-election after being forced to step down, St. Vital voters made sure he would not return. Gord Steeves won the race and has remained on council ever since.
2009 River Heights-Fort Garry byelection: 22 per cent
On Tuesday night, almost four in five River Heights residents couldn't be bothered to choose between John Orlikow and Geoff Currier.
2005 St. Norbert byelection: 22 per cent
The race to replace retired councillor John Angus inspired the lowest turnout in recent byelection history. Justin Swandel, now Winnipeg's deputy mayor, prevailed.
-- Bartley Kives