MAY COUNCIL MEETING UPDATE
This months Council meeting included some controversal topics. Here is my take on some of the debate: NEW COMPANY SOUGHT FOR PRIVATE WATER PARK There was an extensive debate about the decision to look for a new private company to receive a 7 million dollar grant towards building a water park. This comes after the deal with Canad Inns which fell through for reasons that still remain a mystery. It was pointed out by many of us that the 7 million dollars might have gone a lot further if it had been spent back when it was first announced as for Rapid Transit. When that project was cancelled in 2004, the money was moved over to fix up Kildonan Park. Later the funds were taken from there as a grant to a private developer to build a water park. The Canad Inns deal lacked a clear public access plan that would make the water park affordable to large families of low and moderate income and was NOT located in the downtown or areas in need of rejuvenation. Furthermore, our existing indoor pools, outdoor pools and wading pools are in desperate need of investment. Water Parks seem to be popping up in many municipalities either built solely by the private sector without subsidy or alternatively, as publicly funded city-run facilities. Seven million dollars could go a long way to lever new Federal stimulus funds to fix up our existing neighborhood pools or to invest in publicly funded recreational facilities. At Council this week Councillors Smith and Wyatt moved a motion asking for the 7 million to be redirected to existing aquatic facilities. The motion lost on a 7 to 7 tie and then the vote to proceed with the Water Park "Expression of Interest" passed 8 to 6. There is a growing ideological split on council as to basic city services such as recreation being provided as publicly run services at the neighborhood level versus the growing trend to "cost recovery" and larger regional and semi-private services. I think many people are willing to pay their tax bill if they know that recreation services are accessible and affordable to everyone. Not everyone has a cabin to go to or can travel long distances to cool off in the summer or recreate in the winter! MAYOR PULLS BACK ON PRIVATE OPERATIONS FOR SEWAGE TREATMENT You may recall that last November Council voted to procure a private company for the design, construction, financing and "possible operation " of our Sewage Treatment Plants. The idea of the city signing on to have a private company operate core public services such as this had a lot of people worried. In the question period I was able to get confirmation from the Mayor that the city "wishes to retain all operations and maintenance work as well as ownership of all assets in any potential future strategic partnership that is entered into." While there continues to be concerns about the exploration of a Corporate Utility Model for our Water and Waste department, the Mayor's commitment this week should be seen as a major concession. It is a huge vote of confidence in our public service and an acknowledgment that the private sector is not the appropriate mechanism for operating essential public services. FRIENDS OF UPPER FORT GARRY PROJECT A GO It has been a long haul for the Friends of Upper Fort Garry but they have received the final go ahead from City Council to move forward on what will be a new Historic Provincial Park in the downtown. A vibrant downtown requires a number of factors including destinations, greenspace and heritage attractions. This site which is an important part of our city's history will play a role in making our downtown thrive. The goal to get more people living downtown continues to be essential and requires action. Projects such as this soon-to-be Provincial Park help to create livibility in our downtown and will help to make it a more attractive place to live, work and play. CHIEF PEGUIS TRAIL AND PRIORITIES FOR INFRASTRUCTURE Council voted to proceed with the now 64 million dollar Chief Peguis Trail Extension which is essentially a new high speed expressway cutting through an existing residential area. The project, which is being done as a private partnership, may yet cost more if an overpass is built at Rothesay. At Council, I argued that the city can’t afford to continue to invest huge sums in car oriented infrastructure to facilitate the suburban commute in a single occupant automobile. Leadership is needed to change our thinking so that rather than investing in unsustainable new roads we spend our money fixing our EXISTING streets and making a rapid investment in building a city wide Rapid Transit system. The belief of elected officials that we can be all things to all people just isn’t true. Tough choices have to be made. A Rapid Transit system built into the North East part of the city would reduce the need to expand the roadway capacity. Throughout the city, the politically easy choice of widening roads for car capacity and speed traffic is moving ahead. Phase one of rapid transit is on the books but the rest of the system is unfunded. We also have many existing infrastructure needs that are not budgeted for. For example, the widening of the South Osborne underpass is not on the books but would do a lot for commuter cyclists as well as all other modes of transport. The Mayor recently held a Sustainability Symposium as part of the Plan Winnipeg Review. The vast majority of the 200 people in that room were clear in supporting the view that we must invest in capital projects that support public transit, active transportation and fix existing infrastructure as opposed to expanding automobile capacity. Council also voted this week to make our new City Plan a "sustainable plan" making us eligible for FCM Green Municipal funds. If Council is going to claim that our plan is sustainable in reality and not just in words, we must start making better decisions that actually deal with issues such as Climate Change. The recent massive big box development at the Tuxedo yards is another example of this city not walking the walk. That decision will increase the pressure on Council to go in the opposite direction we should be in terms of encouraging sustainable transportation. Don't forget that you can participate in the Plan Winnipeg Review by sharing your comments and views at www.ourwinnipeg.com .