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This article was published 15/8/2018 (456 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Forget potholes, slow buses and the debate over the opening of Portage and Main. One council candidate said the major concern in the civic election campaign is crime and public safety.
Former city councillor Garth Steek is making a bid for his old council seat of River Heights-Fort Garry by focusing on the issues he said have become an epidemic in Winnipeg
"I’ve knocked on about 2,000 doors while campaigning so far and the number one issue in River Heights-Fort Garry is clearly public safety," Steek said. "Crime isn’t peculiar to River Heights, it’s everywhere. It’s not an over-dramatization — people are frightened."
You’ll find many of the city’s prettiest neighbourhoods in River Heights but in recent years it’s also developed the unenviable reputation of the car vandalism capital of Winnipeg. Steek said the situation has grown worse, claiming the city’s meth problem is fuelling an explosion in house and garage break-ins.
Steek, 69, grew up in River Heights, went to Kelvin High School, did his undergraduate degree at the U of W and graduated from law school at the University of Manitoba. After the family’s furniture store business went under, Steek made the move to politics, winning the River Heights-Fort Garry council seat for the first time in 1995 and won re-election in 1998 and again in 2002. He made an unsuccessful bid for the mayor’s chair in the by-election of 2004 and then disappeared from public life for a short time.
But he’s been a frequent visitor to city hall in the past year, mostly motivated by what he said was the city administration’s questionable conduct and mishandling of the south Charleswood corridor debacle.
At the July 19 council meeting, Steek addressed council in opposition to the downtown safety strategy, which he dismissed as nothing more than hiring additional BIZ street ambassadors to walk the streets at night with flashlights.
Steek treated council and the public that morning to one of his blistering, baritoned speeches, a trademark of his first tenure at city hall, this one on crime and safety that appeared to presage an alarming news conference that Chief Danny Smyth and Mayor Brian Bowman would give a few days later with the release of the WPS annual 2017 crime statistics report.
"It’s time to acknowledge the fact this is (a) violent city and frankly what we need is more police officers," Steek told council. "I came here today in a car that just had its windows smashed out. In the last two years I’ve had 10 (car) windows smashed out. I’ve had my cars wrecked. Two houses away from me, one of my neighbours had a drug deal go bad in front of her home, in front of her four kids, a person was violently assaulted. Crime knows no socio-economic boundaries. It’s everywhere in this city. Let’s cut to the chase. This is a violent city."
That was on the 19th of July. On the 23rd, Smyth and Bowman held a news conference to say essentially the same thing. "This is a community in crisis," Smyth said, as he blamed a dramatic increase in methamphetamine addictions to a similarly-dramatic increase in criminal acts.
Police have even blamed a spike in bike thefts this year to meth addicts.
Steek distributed a flyer to residents in the ward inviting them to a town hall meeting Aug. 21, where leaders from the Winnipeg Police Association will talk about policing and residents will be invited to share their experiences with crime.
"There’s no singular strategy that is going to address everything but you have to get feedback from the community," Steek said, adding he expects strong community turnout for the event at the River Heights Community Centre and says the evening is open residents from all parts of the city.
Steek pointed to the findings in the WPS annual crime report, saying it support the anecdotal evidence from his neighbours and concerns raised across the city. The report shows:
Another candidate, Gary Dale Lenko, said he hasn’t found crime to be the voters’ biggest concern, explaining that in the southern portion of the ward where he lives, residents appear most upset about city hall’s practice of condoning inappropriate infill development.
Incumbent Coun. John Orlikow, first elected in a 2009 byelection, did not respond to interview requests.
Steek is critical of council’s decision to rein in police spending, singling out the decision to limit police budget increases to the rate of inflation.
To be fair, the police budget has been one of the fastest-growing draws on city finances. Even with an inflation-increase cap, council allocated a record amount of dollars to the WPS in 2018, at $291.5 million, which accounts to 27 per cent of the city's $1-billion operating budget.
Steek also believes that police have become saddled with dealing with social issues rather than policing, adding the province needs to provide funding, resources and facilities to deal with drug addictions, mental health issues and child and family services issues.
Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.