Many societies Canada included have worked and fought hard to have a country and society founded on the basic principles of Democracy. The foundational principles of our government is one where elected representatives are given the mandate to make decisions in the best interests of country, provinces and municipalities. Given the complex situations that can arise from time to time this is not an easy task. Most individuals may feel the only time for people to have a voice in what is happening in our country, province or city is when an election arises.
In its ideal form democracy is a system of governance that is supposed to be inclusive of as many people and views as possible to enable a fair and just society. Our democratic form of government should support ideals of universal freedoms such as the right to free speech. A system of free speech or the voice of the people serves to check unaccountable power and manipulation by the few at the expense of the many. In essence a democracy is form of government, where all people are supposed to have equal voices in shaping policy.
There is a common expression where people say ‘You can’t fight city hall’, which sadly seems to have disenfranchised many individuals from asserting their civil rights as our municipal government seems to make poor decision after poor decision. In order for our municipal government to work effectively there are two essential components. Transparency and accountability into decisions and processes need to be recorded and made available for the general public to access, debate and discuss, if necessary. The views and opinions of the community and access to our municipal government is becoming increasingly difficult. There often is no consultation prior to decisions being made and the opportunity to discuss concerns are either held at times the average voter needs to work or is left for a less than in-depth debate by our elected municipal counsellors which often appear to be more about posturing or opportunism to garner votes at the next election.
It has become an increasingly difficult process for the average voter to feel their views and opinions matter. Our elected officials often don’t run with well-defined visions for our country, province or city. Besides once elected, most decisions appear either opportunistic or at times seem to have no real basis for being made. In the CBC report called ‘Competing Interests’ (Oct. 22, 2013) a number issues were identified where either our current Mayor and/or council have been involved. Remember this was before Phil Sheegl, before the Audit and before the cost of Police Headquarters was revealed. There seems to be no desire to do the work necessary to get to the bottom of these questionable dealing. Do we have a desire to hold our City Council and Executive Policy Committee accountable for the pay out of Phil Sheegl mere moments before the Audit of the Fire Hall Fiasco was made public? Does the investigation stop there or do we need a more detailed Forensic Audit (an accounting analysis that is suitable to the court which will form the basis for discussion, debate and ultimately dispute resolution)? Does this need to be applied as well to our Police Headquarters because despite what counselors have indicated we actually don’t know what happened?
We now have a seemingly simple issue of whether or not to build a 24 storey skyscraper in Winnipeg’s historical and cultural centre. This requires a change of a bylaw which appears simple enough to obtain since the Culture and Heritage Sub-committee does not seem concerned with this breach of a plan for the Exchange District completed with input from community members. They have already strayed from the plan for the area by building The Mere Hotel on land that had been deemed ‘Greenspace’. A park in honour of one of our previous beloved Mayors (Stephan Juba Park) made smaller to accommodate this new building. Not only was it built-in a location that no other previous builder was given permission to, but it also didn’t have to meet the design standards outlined. How and who made these decisions? Where was public input into the building of this hotel that has transformed the look of Waterfront Drive? In my humble opinion not in a good way.
What will happen at the hearing to be held on January 6th for Appeal of Variance Order No is: DAV 13-170176/B in the Council Building at 510 Main Street? There are a number of citizens that have submitted appeals and over 400 people have signed a petition stating their opposition to the building of a 24 Storey Skyscraper on top of the existing Pumphouse. Will the Standing Policy Committee on Downtown Development, Heritage and Riverbank Management listen to those individuals who support a vision for the Exchange District? Many people in opposition who have voiced the concerns publicly and attempted to meet with our elected officials will be unable to attend the hearing as having such an appeal held during the regular work day makes it difficult and impossible for many to be present. This by itself shows our Municipal Government’s lack of concern about what the residents of the Exchange District and Winnipeg think.
This is more than just about the building of a skyscraper. This is about people wanting a voice in how their communities are developed. It is about a system that is transparent and where our councillors and Mayor are held accountable for decisions they make when they don’t follow an inclusive process that includes the very voters that elected them.