St. James ward report
Scott Gillingham is the city councillor for St. James – Brooklands – Weston.
Recent articles of Scott Gillingham
While summer is never long enough in Winnipeg, we certainly know how to get outside and enjoy it while it’s here. And I’m happy to see residents of West Winnipeg have been making good use of the new recreation facilities the city has invested in over the past few years.
The pickleball courts at Bourkevale Community Centre have been packed with players this spring and summer. In fact, pickleball has become so big — it’s North America’s fastest-growing sport — the city is investing in another new facility next to the St. James Rods field.
The $415,000 project will include eight new courts, making it large enough to host city or provincial tournaments. A sod-turning was held in early July and work should be completed by the end of the summer.
I’ve been happy to support the Winnipeg West Pickleball Club in their efforts to grow the sport in the St. James ward. Pickleball is a great activity that can be shared by players of all ages and genders, and it’s especially popular among our senior population.
I am sometimes asked what I would have done differently to get better results from city council over the last seven-and-a-half years. The agenda for the most recent city council meeting is one good example. The May 26 meeting was held roughly 90 per cent of the way through this council term, and just around the corner from the 2022 city elections. But you’d never know it based on what was discussed.
The agenda included debate on no less than four different initiatives to produce new strategies. Two years and eight months after the mayor set a target of planting a million trees, we debated a staff-written strategy to protect and expand our tree canopy. We also considered a parks strategy, a forthcoming property strategy, and revisions to our crime prevention strategy.
The timing is democratically awkward. City council candidates are just beginning to debate new priorities in front of voters at literally the same time as these papers were debated. It’s also backwards. The time to put a strategy in place is at the beginning of a new mandate, not at the back end of a council term.
There is a better way.
This summer, mayoral and city council candidates will be knocking on your door, asking for your vote. Some will make costly promises to win that vote. Or they will promise tax freezes or cuts as if those are easy to deliver. I want to put Winnipeg’s finances into proper context before that happens.
Some critics are quick to claim that Winnipeg is pouring on new spending. The math tells a different story.
As chair of city council’s budget process from late 2016 until early 2022, I delivered seven budgets. Those budgets grew operating spending by less than a half-point more than national inflation rates, on average. With families worried about affordability, we even kept the 2022 budget operating increase to 1.2 per cent when we introduced it in November — while inflation was already much higher, at 4.7 per cent. We controlled operating costs even as we increased capital investment in roads, bridges, sewer upgrades and transit.
Many Winnipeggers dislike property taxes. As affordability challenges grow, I understand that. But the facts are: City Hall’s 2022 property tax increase was below average for Canada’s Top 10 cities. According to a 2020 City of Calgary survey, Winnipeg collects less per capita in property tax than 10 comparable cities.
I have knocked on thousands of doors in St. James over several elections. Through that process I have discovered that a lot of people in St. James own pets. Dogs, cats, birds, hamsters, rabbits and more are treated as beloved family members in homes all across our community. But with pet ownership comes responsibility.
The City of Winnipeg has a responsible pet ownership bylaw which regulates the presence of domesticated and wild animals within Winnipeg. The bylaw was enacted in 2013 to ensure people care for and control their pets in a manner that protects both the pets and members of community. The bylaw outlines topics such as licensing, leashing, vaccinating, spay and neutering and prohibiting certain dog breeds.
Recently, the City of Winnipeg’s Animal Services department published a set of proposed changes to the responsible pet ownership bylaw. The aim of these is to strengthen the bylaw and implement best practices in animal welfare and control.
One change being proposed is to remove breed-specific legislation that currently prohibits ownership of American pit bull terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, and predominant mixes. Rather, the focus would shift to the animal’s conduct and making dog owners responsible for their pet’s behaviour, regardless of breed.
As summer draws to a close, work continues on several important City of Winnipeg projects and activities in St. James. I’m pleased to share the highlights of these endeavours in the latest St. James roundup.
Funding from all three levels of government is now in place for an expansion of the St. James Civic Centre, with contributions of $5.3 million from the federal government, $4.4 million from the provincial government, and $4.3 million from the City of Winnipeg. This $14 million expansion will be the new home of the St. James
Assiniboia 55-plus Centre. Project timelines have not yet been set but will be made public when available.
Meanwhile, the St. James Civic Centre is currently undergoing $10 million worth of upgrades and renovations. The project is nearing completion and the building is scheduled to re-open for programming this fall (a date will be publicized in the near future).
The warm weather has returned and that means construction season is upon us again. There are several city projects that will see important investments throughout St. James.
This year the city is investing a record $152.2 million in road renewal. The budget includes work on Portage Avenue, which is being rehabilitated in sections this summer.
Work has started on the westbound lanes of Portage from St. James Street to Moorgate Street.
Construction will feature milling the existing asphalt and placing a new asphalt overlay, repairs to the concrete base, new catch basins and curbs. Portions of the sidewalk will also be replaced as needed.When work on the westbound lanes is completed, crews will move to the eastbound lanes. Portage between David Street and St. Charles Street will also receive asphalt renewal with work scheduled to begin in July.
As the temperature plummets, several Winnipeg Transit shelters in St. James have become warm havens for some of the city’s homeless community.
Many of the businesses, malls, coffee shops, libraries and other public spaces that once offered a reprieve from the cold weather have closed or reduced their hours to comply with provincial pandemic restrictions. The sad result is that more of our unsheltered residents have been moving out from Winnipeg’s core to seek alternative shelter across the city.
A few weeks ago I came across a young man who appeared to be living in the heated bus shack on Portage Avenue at Overdale Street. I stopped in to ask his name and find out what he needed. As I handed him some food, Tim (not his real name) explained that he simply wanted a warm safe place to live that wasn’t a temporary shelter. Over the course of several conversations I learned that Tim had come from a broken home, one marked by violence and addiction, and had been living on the street for more than a year.
After my first visit with Tim, I called a City of Winnipeg liaison who is working with Main Street Project and End Homelessness Winnipeg to assist people like Tim.
Happy New Year!
Several years ago I came across an initiative in Edmonton whereby light therapy lamps had been installed in public libraries to help combat seasonal affective disorder. SAD is a condition associated with a lack of sunlight during prairie winters, and sitting under the lamp’s warm glow can brighten one’s mood and break up the darker days of winter.
I borrowed the idea and subsequently had lamps installed in both the St. James and Millennium libraries. It was a simple concept, copied and pasted from another city, but it helped many people, literally, through a dark time.
As we enter 2021, I invite you to share your own ideas on how to combat the negative effects of COVID-19. The health restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the virus continue to curtail many of our regular activities and there is a concern that these restrictions, coupled with the colder winter months ahead, could result in prolonged periods of isolation and inactivity.
Summer has arrived and there is a lot of activity in St. James. Here are just a few of the highlights:
• Congratulations to the graduating class of 2020. I trust you and your classmates are able to find an alternate way to celebrate your great achievement in the midst of COVID-19. Despite the lack of formal awards ceremonies, I am pleased to once again provide the City Councillor’s award to a graduating student from each of St. James Collegiate, Jameswood Alternative School, College Sturgeon Heights Collegiate and John Taylor Collegiate. Recipients of the City Councillor’s awards will be announced by their respective schools in the next week.
• Road construction season is upon us. This year the City of Winnipeg is making a record investment in road infrastructure with $130 million slated for streets, lanes and active transportation projects. Several residential streets in St. James will see renewal through rehabilitation or reconstruction. The Empress Street reconstruction project, including the new active transportation pathway, is on schedule for completion by mid-summer. Please remember to slow down in construction zones and watch for workers.
• The Ferry Road and Riverbend sewer separation project will continue through the 2020 construction season. This $6 million project is part of the City’s combined sewer overflow relief master plan which focuses on separating the single sewage pipe system found in older neighbourhoods and installing two pipes to prevent sewer backup and diluted sewage from spilling into the river during wet weather events.