Manitoba's Progressive Conservatives would invest $10 million to improve downtown safety in Winnipeg if re-elected to provincial government, a move the NDP says doesn't address the root causes of addictions and mental health issues that are contributing to a spike in urban crime.
The Tories would look at a raft of measures that have worked in other cities, which could include more foot patrols, surveillance cameras and better lighting to reduce crime. They would instruct the Manitoba Police Commission to study the Minneapolis downtown safety model and provide recommendations on best practices within 60 days of the Sept. 10 election.
In a mandate letter addressed to the police commission and its chair, David Asper, the PC party said it would also like the commission to examine better ways of enforcing existing panhandling laws and coordinating between the Winnipeg Police Service, Manitoba Justice and the private sector "to target prolific violent and property offenders."
PC leader Brian Pallister said Monday safety must be a priority in downtown Winnipeg. "Look, this is a great place to come to. We know that," he said during a news conference held downtown at True North Square.
"And we know that when a family comes (downtown) to shop for a present for grandma for Christmas, they should feel safe when they do it. When grandpa and grandma take their grandchildren out to a Jets game, they shouldn't be worried when they leave the game about getting to the parkade safely...Our real concern for downtown Winnipeg is that it's a beautiful place, but it needs to be safer for the vast, vast majority of people who abide by our laws. They deserve to feel safe in their own hometown."
Afterward, Asper noted there are many good safety initiatives already underway in Winnipeg, including work being done by the Downtown and Exchange District BIZ groups, but there may be room to develop one cohesive strategy.
"I really think it's a question of bringing a lot of work that's already been done together into a single, coherent plan. If re-elected, the government has said that it would be prepared to invest in these strategies and I think that's new," he said. "And I think the city would welcome that."
Councillor Kevin Klein, who chairs the Winnipeg Police Board, declined to comment on any election promises made by political parties during the provincial campaign. In a short statement, a spokesperson for the Downtown BIZ said they welcome the focus on downtown issues during the election "as we know a healthy and vibrant downtown creates a strong city and province."
Pallister said a provincial government stepping into downtown issues would show leadership and mean "no disrespect to the City of Winnipeg or any other local government to say this is an issue of provincial concern."
NDP candidate Uzoma Asagwara, who is running in the new inner-city Union Station riding, said the Tory announcement doesn't address the root causes of mental health and addiction issues that are contributing to increased crime and safety concerns in downtown Winnipeg.
"The tough-on-crime approach obviously doesn’t have a long-term positive impact on communities and essentially can end up further targeting and marginalizing folks who are already targeted and marginalized," said Asagwara, who works as a psychiatric nurse.
"As someone who works in health care and works alongside folks who really try and do this work in a way that is compassionate and is progressive, the tough-on-crime approach isn’t a long-term solution for any of the areas the Tories are saying they’d like to address."
At an afternoon campaign stop in Selkirk, Pallister announced an additional $2.8 million that a re-elected PC government would invest in preventing rural crime.
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.