Portage and Main – Position of South Winnipeg-St. Norbert Councillor

Read on the floor at the October 25th, 2017 City Council meeting prior to the vote:

I am here today because the 68,000+ citizens of South Winnipeg- St. Norbert placed their trust in me to represent their views at City Hall.  In a democracy, Madam Chair, the citizens are the highest form of political authority – and power flows from the people to the leaders of government.   Being elected into public office is a reflection of the trust placed in me by my constituents.

The report in front of us (City Council – Oct 25 2017 – Portage and Main Report), prioritizing the refurbishment and opening of Portage and Main, was released to all of Council and the public a mere 7 business days ago.

Over half of City Council received multiple briefings on this report prior to its release, but other City Council members did not.   Despite multiple requests to the City’s Chief Administrative Officer for a briefing, I and other members of Council were denied – the reason given: “there was not time”.

Madam Chair, this is fundamentally wrong and inhibits how we make good decisions

Again, I ask – would organizations like True North, New Flyer or The Forks not provide briefings to their Boards of Directors?  Would they not provide an opportunity for questions ?

Madam Chair, a $600,000 Office of Public Engagement was created at City Hall, and according to the Corporate Communication Director, a communication specialist has been embedded into every department.

  • There has been ZERO outreach, ZERO communication and ZERO public engagement with citizens of Winnipeg regarding their perspectives on the opening of Portage and Main.
  • There has been ZERO opportunities for meaningful conversation.

For the residents I’ve been able to speak with, they are not clear at all on what is happening. Of the few that have some idea, they support refurbishment as I do, but continue to hear and read Mr. Mayor speak of opening Portage and Main.  They are not aware of amendments, and there are many, many mixed messages. 

Even today, we hear the Mayor as well as Councillors Gerbasi, Mayes, Gillingham, Gilroy, Orlikow and Pagtakhan say they want to clarify what is being voted on. 

And as a result, we are seeing polarizing views on this project.

Basic “Public Consultation 101” states when factual information is non-existent, or when conflicting information is being presented, and when there is no opportunity for meaningful conversation:

  • Uncertainty creeps in,
  • Fear of the unknown builds,
  • People default to a position they are familiar with, and
  • Close their mind to new ideas.

The overwhelming majority of citizens in South Winnipeg – St. Norbert are not urban planners, place makers or urbanists, but they are smart and educated, AND if engaged in meaningful conversation,  would most certainly have an open mind.  However, I have not been able to engage with the thousands of citizens of South Winnipeg – St Norbert in just 7 days.

Madam Chair, since being elected, I’ve held over 47 public engagement sessions with constituents on key issues, building trust, and listening. They expect nothing less.

I’ve spent the last 15 years of my life advocating for pedestrians, for cyclists, for safety, for health and for connectivity. I don’t think I have to highlight to anyone on City Council – or to the public for that matter  – on what my personal views are on the benefits of improving and increasing active transportation in this town.  I’ve lived downtown, I owned a business downtown for 15 years, I’ve worked with The Forks, Friends of Upper Fort Garry and Entreprises Riel.

But those are my views – and I am sitting here today because the citizens of South Winnipeg- St Norbert have put their trust in me to represent their views.

If leadership would have started meaningful conversation the day after the 2014 civic election on this topic, Madam Chair, I guarantee you we’d be having a very different discussion today.

So – because of that void of leadership,  missing facts, so much mixed messaging, and the lack of meaningful conversations, the citizens of South Winnipeg-St. Norbert have overwhelmingly told me for today’s vote, they are taking a position they are familiar with – and I will represent that position when we vote on this report before us.  If meaningful conversation can occur in the future – and citizens form a different position, I will represent it at future votes.

In closing, I want to reiterate, this decades-old governance model we are operating under is failing us; besides costing taxpayers money, it is costing us all the loss of PUBLIC TRUST.

 A governance review can’t come soon enough.

The final vote at the October 25th Council meeting was:

  • In support of the motion:  Mayor Bowman and Councillors Allard, Gerbasi, Gillingham, Gilroy, Mayes, Morantz, Orlikow, Pagtakhan and Sharma.
  • Against the motionCouncillors Lukes, Dobson, Schreyer, Eadie and Browaty.
  • Absent:  Councillor Wyatt

 

Thank you to local media for covering this issue.

Excerpts from CBC Article

  • Up to $1.5 million would be spent this year on architectural and engineering services, obtained through a competitive bidding process, to develop a more accurate cost estimate for reopening Portage and Main, a detailed design study, a phased construction schedule and a traffic staging plan.
  • Up to $500,000 would pay for new sidewalks, curbs, paving bands and trees connected to the Richardson plaza at the northeast corner of the intersection.
  • Up to $1.5 million would improve city property in the underground concourse, consisting of work below the 201 Portage Avenue office tower at the northwest corner of the intersection, removing the bunker at the Richardson plaza and concourse evaluations, assessments and studies.

 

 

 

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