Have you heard? Have you been listening? The Mayor and Council have been trying to hide it, but if you have been listening, they have been saying it by each action, each side-deal, each broken process, each time they don’t return your call, refuse to see you, hold a meeting at a time most people can’t attend. Each piece of property they sell at a rock bottom price at a chance to build something we haven’t asked for or haven’t had a chance to be a part of. To have our say. To have a voice. They have told us we don’t matter. The people of Winnipeg don’t matter. What we think or say doesn’t matter.
The recent poll in the Winnipeg Free Press makes it clear you are either frustrated or feel what you say no longer matters. Is there a greater risk to a fair and just society then for people to have lost their voice or when they speak it doesn’t matter? Rushed projects, properties and deals made without tenders, perceived favoritism and decisions made without consultation, legal counsel or consideration for the long-term best interests of the people they are elected to serve.
Some people may tell you that we need a businessperson at City Hall. City Hall is not a business. The City of Winnipeg owns land. Land kept in the public trust to provide the services and meet the needs of the people of Winnipeg. The sale of these land assets to balance a budget is unacceptable and certainly is not in the best interests of the City of Winnipeg. Those land assets are to create a better life for people through parks, community centres, or development that is part of a long-term vision to improve our lifestyle now and for future generations. Every person on council holds some level of responsibility for not safeguarding our interests. No one asked the questions that needed to be answered. It is why we have lost our trust. It is why we must find our voice. Regain our city.
When people’s voices were asking for a plan, a vision, accountability they were supported by best practice and data to support the way a city should be run. The Mayor, EPC and council have given the people of Winnipeg a decade of trust me, you need to take a leap of faith, with no evidence to support the decisions they have made. The evidence is mounting with decaying infrastructure, poor and unresponsive service and multimillion dollar over-expenditures that are yet to be paid for. One can only imagine the financial burden our next mayor and council will have.
As we move forward we will need to base our decisions on data and sound research. There is a connection between crime rates, physical and mental health and lifestyle. People who are able to walk, bike or take safe public transportation are generally happier than those who must fight traffic and potholes to get to work. The longer the commute the less happy people become. There is also a correlation between green space and mental health. There is also a connection between people’s sense of community and happiness. We need to create a long-term plan for our City that reflects that knowledge.
We need to have an inventory of what we have in each of our communities and what each community needs. We need to ask important questions and get answers and then develop a plan to address these needs and wants one step at a time by prioritizing those things that are most important through a consultation process involving all stakeholders. Of course we also will need to run the day-to-day business of the city, like road repair, snow clearing and so on. We need to provide timely and prompt service. Respecting every citizen as if they were the most important citizen in Winnipeg. Our current Mayor and council by their mishandling of Winnipeg’s assets both fiscal and human capacity has made moving forward a very difficult task.
Our vision for Winnipeg needs to be based on strengthening community.
Do we know our neighbours?
Do we feel safe in our communities?
Is there a park nearby where we can meet with community, neighbours, walk our dog, cycle or get in touch with nature?
Do we have a garden or a community garden?
Are the services we need in my community?
What is the most important thing to me? To my family? To my community?
Moving forward we need to understand there is a movement for people to become more connected. Whether it be through social media or at local patios and coffee shops. A visit to ‘The Forks’ on a warm sunny day can pay tribute to the vibrancy and beauty of one of Winnipeg’s premier meeting places. Whether it be for events like the ‘Canada Day Fireworks’ or events like ‘Bargefest’, ‘Take your Bike to Work’, or most recently ‘The Living Flag’, Winnipeggers and tourists come to ‘The Forks’. The skate park, ice skating on the river, the Theatre for Young People, Children’s Museum and the kid’s park. Buskers and free entertainment add to the flavour of ‘The Forks’. People are happy and enjoying the beauty and historical significance of where the Assiniboine meets the Red.
The Human Rights Museum adds to the aesthetics of the area and continues to recognize the importance of people and the valuing of community. During the warmer months, business people, all people will walk and enjoy the touch of nature found in The Forks, the Exchange District and the ever-expanding condos being developed on the east side of the Red River in St. Boniface which respect the river side parks as well as the historic beauty of Fort Gibraltar. The Human Rights Museum will attract schools, tour buses and the general public to one of the areas that makes Winnipeg a great place to be.
As we continue to develop this historic meeting place it must be with respect to the people it is designed for. Whatever is developed in Parcel 4 it must ensure it remains a place for people. It must make sure there will be a place for tour and school buses and for the children to play and eat in the shadow of the museum. It must continue to develop the coffee shops and patios that engage us in conversation. People must still be able to cycle, walk and run through the park as they reconnect with themselves and nature.
The attributes of the area cannot purely be measured by putting a dollar sign on ‘The Forks’. This is not a business decision. This is about building community, building a city. The other side of the money equation is reducing cost. Happy and healthy people cost less and contribute more. Any business worth its salt knows that. Wellness is part of making a successful city.
Whether or not condos need to be part of the Forks Renewal must be carefully thought out. Traffic flow and keeping the site as a place for people to meet must be considered. The Exchange District, North Portage and St. Boniface still have room to develop residential areas. All within walking distance. This does not need to be decided by this City Council and as a matter of fact it shouldn’t. Based on the most recent survey in the Winnipeg Free Press our Mayor and City Council have lost the trust of the people. Our current Municipal Government is marred by to many bad decisions to be considered capable of making a decision of this magnitude. They have lost their right to decide.
An old expression is haste makes waste and certainly the fast tracking of many municipal projects has proven that to be true. Let us take the time to do this right. Let us think about today but also let us look forward as we make our city a great place for today and a great place for our children and their children.
Let us find our voice. Let us be part of the process. Let’s not let our Municipal Government make any more decisions without having a plan. Without hearing our voices. Doing their due diligence to make sure the plan is the right one not only for today but moving forward. This is our city. It does not belong to the Mayor and Council. It belongs to us.
1) Sheegl and Shindico. Five Years of Deceit, says Audit by The Back Rod
2) Winnipeg real estate audit: 5 questions councillors may ask, CBC NEWS, July 8th
3) SMART Growth, National Resources Defense Council