Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 4/9/2018 (534 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Since declaring her intention to unseat Mayor Brian Bowman in this fall’s civic election, Jenny Motkaluk has worked to establish herself as a credible alternative to Winnipeg’s incumbent mayor. To date, however, she has been a candidate in search of a signature issue.
At the outset of her enthusiastic electoral effort, Ms. Motkaluk seemed intent on seizing on the reopening (or not) of Portage and Main to pedestrian traffic as the "hook" issue upon which she could hang her campaign, by defining herself as the common-sense candidate who would bring an end to Mr. Bowman’s (in her view) nonsensical effort to fulfil a (in her opinion) frivolous campaign pledge.
"The Winnipeg I lead will not spend another single minute or dollar talking about that issue," was Ms. Motkaluk’s defiant declaration on June 18.
Alas, Winnipeg’s 2018 mayoral election is not going to be won or lost at the Battle of Windy Corner. Mr. Bowman effectively robbed his opponent of that signature issue by agreeing to include a plebiscite on reopening Portage and Main in this fall’s vote. By stating he would treat the result of the referendum as binding, Mr. Bowman distanced himself from what might have become a problematic promise thanks to Ms. Motkaluk’s vociferous opposition.
If nothing else, the brief skirmish over Portage and Main highlighted the fact reopening the intersection really isn’t very important in comparison to other issues facing Winnipeggers. (And in terms of capturing the public’s imagination, pedestrians at Portage and Main certainly lacks the panache of, say, legendary mayor Stephen Juba’s mid-1970s flirtation with a monorail system for Winnipeg.)
Since then, Ms. Motkaluk has made campaign-style announcements outlining her positions on such matters as crime prevention (she’s in favour), rapid transit (she’s opposed), and public safety (she pledges more police officers in schools and on city Transit buses), but none has emerged as a rallying-cry issue.
On Friday, however, Ms. Motkaluk and Mr. Bowman both made announcements that should be of great interest to Winnipeg’s citizenry, because they relate to what surely should be considered the singular issue by every candidate seeking civic office this fall.
Friday was International Overdose Awareness Day, which created a timely opportunity for politicians to weigh in on the opioid and methamphetamine crisis that has gripped Winnipeg just as it has almost every other jurisdiction in North America. The situation here is sufficiently dire that Winnipeg Police Service Chief Danny Smyth recently declared meth to be a root cause of increased violent crime (Winnipeg currently ranks highest in Canada on the police-reported violent crime severity index).
Ms. Motkaluk pledged Friday to expand services at Main Street Project to allow for intake of individuals high on meth, who currently are usually transported by police to Health Sciences Centre. For his part, Mr. Bowman committed to a "multidisciplinary and collaborative response" to the city’s illegal-drug problem, stating he will introduce a motion at executive policy committee to bring together government agencies to formuate an anti-drug strategy.
These are encouraging signals from the two leading aspirants to Winnipeg’s mayoralty. But they should be just the beginning of a series of promises focused intensely on the single most pressing issue that has faced this city since long before Mr. Juba was mayor.
Ethereal notions of a pedestrian-friendly Portage and Main, like Mr. Juba’s ever-unrealized monorail dream, can wait. Winnipeg needs a mayor who can act decisively and effectively on drug addiction and its associated ills.
Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.