City fails to look to the future
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Most Winnipeggers won’t know that on April 18, with the release of the agenda for our five city community committee meetings, they were notified of a chance to comment on the new city strategic plan or Strategic Priorities Action Plan (SPAP), a new guiding document for Winnipeg.
Unless you make it your business to know, you would be oblivious, because you had only two days to register by April 21 for the public meeting April 24-26. We have all been jammed by scheduling games like this, where someone doesn’t give the time needed to meet or complete a job. There are terms for this type of action in workplaces — weaponization of procedures, administrative harassment, or social bullying. What do you call it when governments routinely do it to citizens?
Governance procedures are often used to exclude, while creating the optics of inclusion with no meaningful engagement and participation. Our city governance routinely makes public meetings a charade, merely a token gesture or formality.
The recent community committee meetings of city council, discussing something as important as a strategic plan, were an example, even before disrespectful councillor comments.
Policy and procedure are connected. We need an inclusive, participatory process to get good evidence-based public policy, including evidence from lived experience. This was the main point of my presentation at the community committee that caused Coun. Jeff Browaty to confuse unsustainable privilege to drive SUVs around drive-thrus with civil rights.
Real democracy is required for real progress to address the climate and inequity crisis we face. Cities must become climate smart by design, through good urban planning, and connecting collaborative public engagement, research evidence, budgets, and public policy.
But there was not just a problem with undemocratic procedure related to what happened at the community committee, but with the SPAP itself. A strategic plan is mandated by and flows from the requirements of Our Winnipeg, the governing document approved by council to guide city planning and development. This plan to implement Our Winnipeg should not be pet projects cobbled together by councillors and called a strategic action plan — pet projects like Chief Peguis Trail incompatible with guiding policy.
The Our Winnipeg document and dozens of related policy documents call for complete communities, where people can access services and resources close to home and for mode shift. Meaning to meet our climate obligations we must reduce our personal vehicle-reliant mode share from 80 per cent to 50 per cent, by 2030. To do this, we must reduce the gasoline purchased and burned by 50 per cent, which requires the city to make transit, car-pooling, biking, and walking viable and convenient. Electric vehicles will help, but electric vehicles don’t address traffic congestion. This mode shift is impossible in a city designed for car reliance, like Winnipeg.
A strategic plan which prioritizes the extension of the Chief Peguis Trail expressway and other street widening megaprojects, like Kenaston is not aligned with Our Winnipeg and other policies. This infrastructure expansion makes it impossible for us to meet our transportation climate emission goals and responsibilities. Borrowing billions of dollars for vehicle infrastructure we can’t afford just can’t happen.
We can’t knowingly continue to design the city for cars, inequity, climate chaos and catastrophe. On May 30, council must not approve the SPAP.
After I made these points as a member of Transportation and Land Use Coalition (TLUC), Coun. Browaty, the finance chair, made shocking comments, implying he, and the constituents he represents, do not support the climate plan, that his constituents wanted to drive their SUVs around drive-thrus to get coffee.
Did he violate his councillor code of conduct not just with climate change denying comments but in support of the SPAP? Section 10 of the Code indicates council members will “adhere to all by-laws, policies and procedures adopted by council.”
If the integrity commissioner investigated, would they find elected officials not following public policy, particularly those who consider it irrelevant to support policy for addressing climate change?
This is important because Coun. Browaty leads city budget development. The mayor, who appointed him finance chair, was quoted saying he did not see anything wrong with Coun. Browaty’s comments.
We must stop this disregard for public policy and groups that, acting in the public interest, follow public policy development at city hall. These citizen groups take time to review the documents, prepare, sign up, and speak up, urging those elected to live up to their mandate to create a healthy city for all.
There are special interest groups who benefit handsomely from the unsustainable way Winnipeg has been developed and governed for decades. They presented to council meetings in support of the billion-dollar Chief Peguis Trail Highway extension. The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce spokesperson made some outlandish comments of his own, claiming the Chief Peguis Trail extension would help meet our climate goals by reducing traffic congestion.
Wow! Who is relevant? Who is speaking for public interests? Which councillors are going to stand for climate-relevant policy?
Marianne Cerilli is a former MLA and mayoral candidate.