2014 City Election (part II)

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  – Issues facing Winnipeg

Jennifer Chen (MCT Focus editor)
Published in Issue 76 Aug/Sept 2014, MCT magazine

For voters, the key to determining whether or not a candidate possesses the qualifications to be mayor is to see their platform positions on key issues facing the city, whether they know what regular people want, whether their talking makes sense.
The following will introduce some of the issues that are facing our community and are likely to be hot topics in this election campaign.
Issue #1 – The completion of the Southwest Transitway
Winnipeg’s Rapid Transit plan has been debated for over 30 years. Municipal and provincial governments have both committed funding to the first line of rapid transit – phase I and phase II of the Southwest Transitway. Phase I has operated since 2011 connecting downtown to Jubilee. Phase II which is to extend the existing Southwest Transitway from Jubilee Avenue to Southpark Drive near the University of Manitoba continuing to the Fort Garry campus was recently approved by the City Council and is expected to be completed in 2019. However, the 9-6 vote means there is division amongst councilors. Concerns include the high cost of this project and whether the route choice will benefit transit riders.
Issue #2 – 2015 budget and property tax increases
Community forums on the 2015 civic budget have already begun. A final report with the public feedback will go to council and senior administrators to prepare a draft budget in December.
When City Council adopted the 2014 budget in December last year, residents of Winnipeg received another property tax increase of 2.95% for street maintenance. This is the third straight year of increased taxes. This increase drew criticism from some councillors who believed the city can afford infrastructure improvements without an increase to taxes by saving from other items. They also blame each other for the mismanagement on projects that ran over budget, including the Winnipeg Police Services’ new headquarters and fire hall replacement program. Some mayoral candidates expressed that Winnipeg property taxes were reduced or were frozen until 2012, which constrained the city’s revenue. However, some candidates think an increase is not necessary and we just need to manage the money better.
Issue #3 – Accountability and transparency in city hall
There are many accusations that there are issues with accountability and transparency at City Hall. These controversies include the fire hall scandal, police headquarter audit, the resignation of the former Chief Administrative Officer, and accusations of the mayor using his position to benefit his own business. How to hold decision-makers accountable will likely be a major part in every candidate’s platform. Some candidates have released their plans, including the creation of an office of “Accountability Winnipeg” to monitor for unethical practices and behaviour by civic staff and elected officials, open data to release city information, and a “treasury board” to scrutinize all major city construction projects.
Issue #4 – Infrastructure, repairing, maintaining roads, water main breaks, frozen pipes, potholes
Over this winter, Winnipeg’s old infrastructure has been a big challenge, even though representatives of city employees warned the City that there will be issues unless infrastructure is properly funded and maintained. This issue relates to the need for a property tax increase. It also calls into question the leadership (or lack of leadership) at City Hall in addressing a long-term vision for the City’s needs.
Issue #5 – Success for small businesses
Downtown development is a major issue at City Hall. Both downtown residents and the business community have been calling for improvements to the downtown core, including more grocery stores, and multi-use property development. We all know that parking is a major issue downtown, as well as public safety. Property values, bureaucratic red-tape, and zoning issues are all issues that downtown businesses take seriously, and look for leadership on.
So far, there are seven candidates who have registered for mayor. This does not mean their name will appear on the ballot on October 22. They must also file nomination papers in September. There is a history that some candidates withdraw from the race in the last minute. Some may consider their chances of winning after a few months of campaigning; some may consider it politically, especially those who have party ties. A political campaign is also a money game, relying on the ability to attract donations, the ability to use the money within the budget limits wisely.
Candidates will also be doing their best to increase voter participation in the election. Voter turnout in Winnipeg has ranged between 34% and 60%. A democracy is only as strong as the people who come out to vote. As a Chinese community, we can do our part to increase engagement within our community. We can talk to our friends and neighbours, volunteer on campaigns, or simply educate ourselves on important issues facing the city as a whole.