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Racism is real and it is rampant in Winnipeg. Maclean’s magazine rightly and thankfully drew national attention last fall to the city’s dirty little secret. Mayor Bowman took the uncharacteristic step of acknowledging it. However, the mayor’s latest attempt to confront this pernicious and pervasive plague — by way of a national summit in September — is ill conceived and unlikely to amount to much.

The stream of glamour shots that populate the mayor’s Twitter feed is reason enough to be skeptical. While he has been frequently absent from serious debates on matters for which he had promised to take a lead (for example, active transportation, downtown parking, suburban sprawl), he seems never to miss a chance to pose for the camera. Ten months into his first year and he continues to mistake announcements for accomplishments. His national summit on racism is no different.

Consider this unfortunate irony: those who might benefit the most from attending this conference are least likely to attend it. Will, for example, those police officers who released Tina Fontaine into the darkness that fateful night last year be attending the summit? What about those nurses who went about their work while Brian Sinclair sat dying then dead in the waiting room of the Health Sciences Centre ER? Who among those anonymous Internet trolls that so frequently post racist bile to the pages of the CBC’s website will be there?

Similarly, consider another: despite admonishments from both Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin and Justice Murray Sinclair that Canada attempted to commit cultural genocide against Aboriginal peoples, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which refuses to acknowledge or even use the term genocide in its exhibit on Canada’s Indigenous peoples, is playing host to the summit.

Finally, there is the matter of the admissions fee: at $50, this summit is already discriminating against those who — for reasons that include racism — cannot afford to buy a ticket. Already social service agencies are ponying up the cash to send some of the city’s brightest and best activists and advocates; wrongly, their attendance is now an act of charity. How insulting.

Indeed, earlier this year, again to much fanfare, Mayor Bowman announced the creation of an Indigenous Advisory Circle to provide the City of Winnipeg with important and invaluable advice on matters related to healing the racist schism that for too long has divided the city. They will be holding their inaugural meeting concurrent to the mayor’s conference, which surely makes the holding of the conference itself somewhat premature. That is, unless the objective is a glorious public relations stunt, in which case the mayor is definitely on to something.

What if, say, the Advisory Circle determines holding such a summit is unhelpful; that the City would be better off spending whatever money they have earmarked for it on enhanced training for front-line social and service workers. That would be embarrassing, especially after all that effort into the planning and hosting of such a flashy summit.

All too often Winnipeggers celebrate the effort instead of the outcome. Chalk it up to the city’s small-town sense of self and resulting inferiority complex. No doubt, then, the response to those who criticize the mayor’s summit will be the same: at least he is doing something.

Of course, the alternative to the mayor’s summit is not to do nothing; there are so many things, large and small, the city and the City can do to combat racism. Many, unfortunately, do not generate glowing headlines or offer the mayor a chance to take selfies. No, the work of combating racism, both societal and institutional, is tough, unglamorous slogging — and it does not start with a summit, but with a serious commitment to that hard work.

Winnipeg’s racism problem is twofold: it is both societal and institutional. Mayor Bowman’s forthcoming summit will do little to solve either. Another missed opportunity by a mayor wholly out of his depth and utterly consumed with optics instead of results.

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Originally published on Spectator Tribune.

Plays well with others. Every parent hopes for such a glowing assessment of his or her child. After all, to play well with others means your child is well-adjusted, open-minded, willing to compromise, able to share. Genuinely laudable qualities—and ones most kids master. If children can do it, why is it so hard for Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair?

A recent poll by Ipsos Reid found nearly two out of every three Canadians want to see the New Democrats and the Liberals form a coalition government to prevent the Conservatives from governing again if the election results in a hung parliament (which it almost certainly will be). In short, a majority of Canadians want Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau to play well together.

To his credit, Mulcair has said he would be open to a coalition arrangement with the Liberals. However, his contempt for Elizabeth May and future election debates run contrary to the spirit of cooperation and conciliation essential to building viable coalitions—especially ones in which the participation of the Greens may be essential to their success.

Trudeau has not minced words. “A formal coalition is out of the question,” he announced at a press conference in Winnipeg last month. Why? As he told the Canadian Press on Monday, he “does not believe in formal coalitions.” Why not? As he explained in late July, “there are a number of issues on which the Liberal party and the NDP disagree on a quite a fundamental level.”

On healthcare? On human rights? On climate change? On these, arguably fundamental issues the two parties are only distinguishable by degrees; in principle, they agree. Both parties also favour electoral reform and are equally apprehensive about international conflict. Both want to see more and better childcare options for families. Both support a robust, constructive response by the federal government to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Both are equally committed to basing public policy on sound evidence and research. Fundamentally, Canada’s Liberals and New Democrats occupy much of the same space on the political spectrum, competing against one another for the support of the country’s progressive voters.

What about the Sherbrooke Declaration? On this point, it is true, Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau do not see eye to eye. Then again, Stephen Harper and Peter Mackay disagreed on same-sex marriage and a woman’s right to choose and still managed to work together nonetheless.

In the last election, Quebecers roundly rejected the avowed separatist party in favour of federalist ones. They subsequently threw the province’s Parti Quebecois from office. Current polls put the Bloc Quebecois on course to winning zero seats. The threat of separation is at an historic nadir, thank goodness. Quebecers, like so many across Canada are far more concerned about those fundamental issues upon which Liberals and New Democrats agree than they are about esoteric ones upon which the two parties do not.

There is a certain irony to the parties’ intransigence. Their mutual desire to reform the electoral system would invariably entrench the necessity of coalition building in future parliaments. In the absence of electoral reform, the only way they will overcome the splitting of the progressive vote that prevents either of them from beating Stephen Harper would be a merger of their parties similar to the one taken by the Conservatives following a decade of vote splitting on the right side of the spectrum.

The stakes could not be higher and the consequences of their continued unwillingness to work together more serious: four more years of Stephen Harper.

In 2011, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives won 100 percent of the power with less than 40 percent of the country’s support. The same could happen again in October despite nearly two-thirds of Canadians preferring a progressive government to his regressive one. All because Tom and Justin cannot set aside their own naked ambition. To accuse them of being childish would be an insult to the countless children in sandboxes and on school playgrounds across Canada who play well with others. When will Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau do the same?

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Originally published on Spectator Tribune.

While Seven Oaks’ Wellness Centre — still the only one of its kind in Manitoba — has received high praise and even served as a model for a similar facility at the Rizhao Hospital in China, Seven Oaks’ overall operations are far less praiseworthy. The average wait time for a CT or CAT scan at Seven Oaks is four weeks; the wait for a stress test, twelve weeks; for an ultrasound, fourteen weeks. Since 2009, the average wait time at Seven Oaks’ ER has nearly doubled to just over four hours.

No doubt, hospital administrators would point to provincial and even national averages and argue their institution’s performance is comparable. Except all they do is remind us of how utterly dire the quality of care has become right across the country. Healthcare in Canada is teetering at the edge of disaster — and governments at all levels seem unwilling or incapable of pulling the system back from the precipice.

Manitoba’s Winnipeg Regional Health Authority — an organization that struggles even with basic spelling — is doing its level best to maintain the sorry status quo. Wait-times for hip- and knee-replacements are some of the longest in the country. The same can be said for cataract surgeries, and for prostrate and breast cancer treatment. In 2013, the WRHA set targets for reduced emergency room wait times: a year later, the WRHA had made zero progress. Indeed, Manitoba has the longest ER wait-times in Canada.

“The numbers are what I call flat,” then WRHA President and CEO Arlene Wilgosh told the Winnipeg Free Press. She then went on to make a joke about losing her job over the health authority’s abysmal performance. Nobody is laughing.

These words, this continued unwillingness to take responsibility for the unfolding disaster is cold comfort to the families of Brian Sinclair, Heather Brennan or David Silver. Sinclair, of course, spent the final twenty-seven hours of his life in the ER waiting room of Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre; his lifeless body slumped in his wheelchair for another seven hours before anyone even noticed he was dead. Silver and Brennan were both discharged from hospital (Silver from the Grace, Brennan from Seven Oaks) into taxicabs and both died shortly after returning home. Heather Brennan was taken off her blood-thinner medication before she was discharged; an autopsy later revealed she died from blood clots in her legs. David Silver collapsed in his front yard wearing nothing more than a nightgown; the ambient temperature that night reached a historic -37C. How did then Health Minister Erin Selby respond to that particular tragedy? She blamed the cab driver.

Sharon Blady, Manitoba’s current Minister of Health, was no less evasive when responding to the Auditor General’s troubling review of the province’s home-care program. Because Manitoba’s program fares better relative to other provinces, her focus will be strengthening the program. Not fixing, because that implies something is broken. No, Blady is going to strengthen home care. Just like the WRHA was going to improve wait times.

Responses from Minister Blady (and from Selby before her), from representatives of the WRHA and even from Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross, when faced with serious criticisms of the operations of institutions, agencies and programs under their purview, have a common theme: little urgency and even less personal accountability.

There is likely not a Manitoban alive who does not have a horror story about our healthcare system. Perhaps it was a loved one, or they themselves who had to endure an agonizing night in the ER, the indignity of laying barely clothed in a grubby hospital hallway, the anxiety and pain that comes from waiting months for tests or treatment, being forcibly discharged in the middle of the night with little heart or help.

It does not have to be this way.

One can only hope for the sake of the patients of China’s Rizhou Hospital that their Wellness Centre, patterned on the one at Seven Oaks, will not also include the institutionalized racism, dismal wait times for critical surgeries and tests and inexcusable lack of accountability that is endemic here in Manitoba. Nobody deserves that kind of treatment — except us, apparently.

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Originally published on Spectator Tribune.

The first and perhaps last English-language debate of this marathon federal election campaign to feature all major party leaders took place last night. No sooner had the candidates taken the stage than the various pundits and party hacks were spinning the thing this way or that, attempting to frame the manner in which voters would evaluate the debate and the various candidates. Justin Trudeau even managed to send well-timed tweets during the two-hour affair.

Since its conclusion, all manner of folks have weighed in on the event. Who did well? Who was the big winner? Who landed the best body blow? On and on they bleat and tweet.

Unfortunately, this obsession with winners and losers and knockout punches does a disservice to the entire process and to our national discourse. Politics isn’t sport, and last night’s federal leaders debate wasn’t a boxing match; this was not Don King’s Tussle in Toronto, but Canadians’ first and, distressingly, perhaps only opportunity to hear from and see all four major party leaders engaging with one another on issues of national import. Yet, the bulk of the coverage has been filtered through a sportscaster’s lens; most analysis about as thoughtful as a post-game scrum.

“INSERT LEADER’S NAME, ah, knew what s/he had to do, and ah, s/he went out there and, ah, you know, said the things s/he needed to say and, ah, well, you know, made some really good points, took it to INSERT OPPONENT’S NAME, which, well, you know, they had to do…”

Barf.

The only winner last night was the Canadian people: they are the only ones who stand to lose, too. These debates are not for the leaders’ benefit — though you would not know it by the way the mainstream media has covered the spectacle. No, last night’s debate was for voters. If a particular leader did an exemplary job, as Elizabeth May did (despite, frankly, being virtually ignored by moderator Paul Wells), then the benefit was ours. Similarly, if certain leaders (*ahem* Messrs. Harper and Mulcair) refuse to participate in future debates or, worse, debate organizers (*cough* Globe and Mail, Google, THE CONSORTIUM) refuse to invite all the major party leaders to participate, Canadians lose.

In fairness to Rogers and Maclean’s Magazine, hosts of last night’s debate, the format they established for their forum was a decent one. Wells’ questions to the various leaders were thoughtful and occasionally even pointed. However, he neglected to ask perhaps the most important question of the night.

Unasked Question:
Mr. Trudeau, Mr. Mulcair and Ms. May: Given the three of you are united in your disagreement with Mr. Harper on virtually everything, and those differences between you are far fewer than the areas upon which you have common ground, why then are the three of you not working together to defeat the Conservatives?

Unasked Supplementary:
Mr. Trudeau, Mr. Mulcair and Ms. May: You do realize your inability to set aside your specific policy differences and instead come together under a united, progressive ticket means Stephen Harper might win the next election? Surely, if the Conservatives can find room within their party to disagree on abortion, same-sex marriage and income splitting, for example, you can find room amongst your Liberals, New Democrats and Greens to do the same on just how robustly you help the middle class, combat climate change, oppose austerity, engage in armed conflict abroad and reform our electoral system?

Alas, Wells shied away from this line of questioning — despite the need for it being on full display. After all, between them, the Greens, Liberals and New Democrats enjoy the support of an overwhelming majority of Canadians; Stephen Harper, by contrast, a committed minority. However, as in the last one, Harper may well win 100 percent of the power with less than 40 percent of the votes. Madness. Never has the need for electoral reform been clearer or more urgent than right now.

In recent years, elections have been short, tightly scripted sprints. The primary objective for all parties involved has been to get through it as quickly as possible, without the wheels coming off their proverbial buses. The shorter the writ period, the thinking goes, the less room for mistakes.This election, however, which began on Sunday and continues through until October 19th, will be one of the longest in Canadian history. No doubt, Stephen Harper and his Conservative brain trust weighed the benefits of a short campaign against their $67 million war chest and decided any risks associated with a longer campaign would be outweighed by their singular ability to spend the rest of the parties into near bankruptcy.

There is an upside to Harper’s cynical gambit: despite Kim Campbell’s ill-advised quip that elections are not the time for serious debate, that is precisely what Canadians ought to demand of our political leaders and local candidates during this one: serious, substantive discourse. For once, our writ might just be long enough to allow Canadians to fully digest the panoply of policies on offer, and ensure we can take the time necessary to form thoughtful, informed decisions before casting our ballots on Election Day. It would be nice if the mainstream media and all party leaders agreed.

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Originally published on Spectator Tribune.

 

Strategic voting is an unfortunate by-product of our antiquated and entirely rudimentary electoral system. The principle of first passed the post (FPTP) is an insufficient means of administering elections by any country claiming to be a democracy. Citizens’ votes ought to be reflected fairly and accurately in our legislatures, however, this has never been nor is currently the case in Canada where parties’ numbers of seats rarely correlate to the shares of the popular vote they received.

Consider Canada’s 41st general election in 2011: Conservatives won 166 seats with 39.62 percent of the popular vote; New Democrats, 103, with 30.63 percent; Liberals, 34, with 18.91 percent; the BQ, 4, with 6.04 percent; and Greens, 1, with 3.91 percent. There is something fundamentally wrong with this allocation.

While approximately 40 percent of Canadians voted for the Conservatives, for example, they won nearly 54 percent of the seats. The NDP won 33.44 percent of the seats, despite earning 30.66 percent of the popular vote. The Liberal Party, which received 18.91 percent of the popular vote, only won 11 percent of the seats. This, in a nutshell, is the distortion in question—and it is neither fair nor just.

Had our system been fairer and correlated more closely with the true wishes of the electorate, the 2011 House of Commons would have looked like this: Conservatives would have won 122 seats; New Democrats, 94; Liberals, 58; the BQ, 18; and Greens, 12.

This inherent unfairness and inaccuracy of our electoral system will be once again an issue as the country heads to the polls in October (if not beforehand). With the exception of the Conservative Party, every other national party is now on the record as being in favour of reforming our electoral system. (It has been the policy of both the Green Party and the NDP for many years. The Liberals, no doubt tired of being on the losing end of the FPTP distortion, are now also championing the issue.) The support of these parties to reform the electoral system will not be enough: real change—the actual kind, not the slogan—will require more than that: millions more Canadians need to give a damn about our democracy.

Nearly 40 percent of eligible voters stayed home in the last election. Voter turnout has been on a steady decline for decades. It is neither accurate nor enough to blame the politicians. Sure, our politics is growing increasingly distasteful; a growing number of people believing there is little point of voting because, “nothing changes,” and, “they’re all the same.” Horsepucky. Things can change and they are most certainly not all the same. One need look no further than Alberta for proof, or imagine what Winnipeg would be like with Russ Wyatt as mayor.

Our politics are an extension of ourselves, not something that exists separately from us. Even those who cannot be bothered to vote are a part of this system; their inaction is an endorsement of the sorry status quo. Our entire political system—from the way we structure our institutions to the manner in which we select those to serve within them—are symbolic of how we see ourselves, and what we value as a country. What the current Parliament of Canada says about us is very sad, indeed.

More importantly, however, politicians’ conduct themselves—often lamely, occasionally outrageously, sometimes even criminally—according to the whims and wishes of the electorate. Pierre Poilievre dons a Conservative Party polo shirt at his Christmas-in-July UCCB bonanza because enough people do not care he does so. Some even like and respond positively to such crass politicking… or the beer and popcorn they can buy with their taxable government cheque.

Fundamentally, the sorry state of Canada’s democracy is Canadians’ fault because too few have demanded anything more or better from those who represent us. Will things be different in October? The answer depends entirely on us.

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Originally published on Spectator Tribune.

 

Cycling advocates are sadly misguided celebrating Mayor Bowman’s “leadership” on the active transportation file. A few supportive tweets are a far cry from what it and other important files deserve from Winnipeg’s supposedly urbanist mayor.

During last fall’s municipal election, many of the City’s mayoral candidates went to great lengths to establish their urbanist credentials. Winnipeggers, tired of Sam Katz’ visionless agenda of increased suburban sprawl and more shopping power centers, lapped up the candidates’ focus on downtown renewal, progressive urbanism and active transportation.

Bowman, while seen by many as the centre-right candidate, won by a sizeable margin. He took the reins at City Hall with a clear mandate for change, guided by a substantial policy manifesto published during his campaign. His platform, among other things, promised an end to the scourge of surface parking lots blighting the downtown landscape and robust active and rapid transportation plans; a renewed focus on smart city planning and sound decision making informed by evidence and experts. Exciting stuff for all those who wanted a real city instead of a provincial poseur.

“The lack of direction from city hall over the years has produced a downtown with too many surface parking lots that create safety concerns, and too little development that brings actual people to live in the area.”

–Mayoral candidate Brian Bowman, 2014.

What a difference eight months make. While there has been no shortage of teary-eyed press conferences or glamour shots of the Mayor posted to his social media feeds, there’s been little in the way of substantive policy coming from his office. Or leadership on his promised urbanist agenda. On the contrary, at turns it has been business-as-usual; others, the opposite of leadership, capitulation.

Instead of an end to downtown surface parking lots, there’s been a glut of ad-hoc exceptions maintaining the status quo. A replacement surface lot for the Calvary Temple, which required the demolition of three buildings on Notre Dame; an exception to the City’s order for Young’s Supermarket to remove its surface lot on Elgin Avenue; an extension of the fifty-car surface lot at the northwest corner of Upper Fort Garry Park; approval of a massive surface lot adjacent to Sport Manitoba’s new complex in the East Exchange. In the case of Young’s Supermarket and Sport Manitoba, Council ignored the City’s own planning staff. So much for sound decision making and smart city planning.

On each of these files Bowman was either absent or in favour of more surface parking, not less. This is not leadership — and it is most certainly not what candidate Bowman promised last fall.

More galling than his about-face on surface parking has been his abysmal efforts to rally support for the passage of the City’s twenty-year active transportation strategy. Sure, he has tweeted about it and decried the use of public funds by Council’s Cyclophobic-5 to pay for shallow, misleading radio advertisements. However, he has done little to leverage the political capital he amassed with his decisive victory or the levers afforded the mayor’s office to speed the passage of this important initiative

When pushed by pugnacious Transcona councillor Russ Wyatt to reexamine the rigour with which City staff consulted on the aforementioned strategy, he punted the document to his newly created Office of Public Engagement. That group concluded, after a month-long review, that the City had, in fact, engaged in world-leading standards for public consultation on the file — something Mayor Bowman could have argued when Wyatt first balked. When fellow Executive Policy Committee member, Councillor Jeff Browaty, used taxpayers’ money to help fund those misinforming radio ads, Bowman simply expressed his disappointment but refused to strip Browaty of his post. That kind of muted response only fuels the likes of Wyatt and his anti-bike blokes; politicians without principle, motivated by crass populism and stinking of rank hypocrisy.

Where is Mayor Bowman’s editorial in the Winnipeg Free Press? Where is his public relations offensive in advance of Wednesday’s Council meeting? Most importantly, why does he continue to rely upon inexperienced political operatives to guide his back-room efforts to build alliances and secure easy passage of term-defining proposals? He’s being outmaneuvered and his agenda hijacked.

Platitudes only get you so far in politics. And as any seasoned campaigner will tell you, there’s a difference between campaigning and governing. For how much longer must Winnipeggers wait for Brian Bowman to learn these lessons?

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Originally published on Spectator Tribune.

 

300 million dollars is a lot of money. When discussing the public purse, such a sum rightly raises eyebrows. Because without any sort of context, $300 million has eight zeroes, four more than the overwhelming majority of people will make in a year. Perhaps, then, it is no surprise Transcona’s Don Homer, Councillor Russ Wyatt, has balked at the City of Winnipeg’s active transportation strategy, which comes with an estimated price tag of $334 million — roughly one third of the City’s $994 million annual operating budget for 2015. Obviously, those bicycles are costing us a fortune!

Except they’re not. Because the estimated cost of the City’s active transportation strategy is based on a twenty-year amortization. Put another way, the bikes would only cost the City roughly $16.5 million per year, a paltry 1.7 percent of the City’s total operating budget for 2015. In contrast, the City has budgeted $442.3 million for police, fire and paramedic services in 2015, 44.5 percent of the City’s entire operating budget. And over the next twenty years, it is entirely possible the the City will spend at least $8.5 billion on those services alone. $8.5 billion: enough money to pay for Russ’ lunches at the Keg for the next two million years, or 14oz prime rib dinners for over 274 million people. (Russ would likely prefer the former to the latter.)

Of course, Russ Wyatt isn’t talking about cops. Or spending your money on his meals. No, he’s all about roads and sidewalks. And when he talks, it sounds like the City is doing absolutely nothing to renew and improve our aging transportation infrastructure; that no other spending priority matters (except when it does because it directly affects his ward). No, in Russ’ world, he won’t rest until he spends your money to fill every pothole and repave every thoroughfare. Gallantry, thy name is Councillor Wyatt.

In what might come as a surprise to those denizens who have taken to parroting Wyatt’s protestations in letters to newspaper editors and, when asked by intrepid local “journalists” their learned opinions of Winnipeg’s budget priorities, the City is actually already spending money on those things … to the tune $103.3 million in 2015, and a total of $640.1 million over the next six years. Moreover, the City has also budgeted an additional $816.7 million in capital expenditures related to roads and bridges through 2021. That’s an additional $136 million per year in additional capital investments above and beyond regular operating expenditures on roads and bridges and sidewalks and potholes. Nearly $1.5 billion over the next six years.

Not enough, says Wyatt! He wants more! And he intends on getting it by slashing the active transportation strategy’s estimated twenty-year budget by $279 million, leaving just $55 million (roughly $2.75 million per year, 0.03 percent of the City’s 2015 operating budget) for the kinds of improvements to our cycling network that might, just might, put Winnipeg in the vanguard of North American cities.

For context, Wyatt’s plan to redirect these “savings” towards roads-for-cars instead would mean, in actual terms, an increase of 5.5 percent to the City’s roads and bridges budget for the next six years. So, forgo an entirely affordable twenty-year plan to make desperately needed improvements to the City’s active transportation network all to spend an additional 5.5 percent above the already-budgeted $1.5 billion on roads and bridges over the same period.

When the history of Russ Wyatt’s political tenure is written, it is unlikely to be heralded as an especially visionary or valuable one. But those roads will be smooth and with any luck there won’t be a bicycle in sight.

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Originally published on Spectator Tribune.