Portage and Main – My Comments

These comments are long overdue – the role of a Councillor is more than one issue – though I have written more than any Councillor on this topic –

TRUST

For my first term on City Council, I represented the largest ward in the City of Winnipeg (70,000+ people). During the 2014 campaign, residents told me they wanted better communication and information on City issues, so improving communication became and still is – a key commitment to constituents; I’ve set up a website, Twitter and Facebook accounts, I send out monthly e-newsletters and I hold many public community consultations on issues. I’ve held upwards of 50+ community consultations – all on my own initiative, on topics such as: Crime Prevention, Recycling, Illegal Rooming Houses, Transportation Improvements, Park Improvements, Maintenance Improvements and more! I’ve worked closely with constituents to create open avenues of dialogue, I attend events to be accessible, and through all of these initiatives I’ve developed relationships, friendships and a level of trust and mutual respect. I can assure you – developing a ‘level of trust’ when you are a ‘politician’ is probably one of the most challenging aspects of this role. There is a lot of cynicism and skepticism associated with politicians. Polls often reveal politicians are the bottom of the list when it comes to being trusted to tell the truth. So, to say it’s an uphill battle to develop trust with constituents is an understatement, BUT – I believe over the past four years, through strong, regular communication and outreach, a majority of constituents have put their trust me as their elected representative. And I will do nothing to jeopardize this trust.

SERVING as an ELECTED REPRESENTATIVE

Very, very few people are given the honour and privilege to serve as an elected representative. There are millions of reasons why people cast a vote for an individual, but once that individual is elected – it is their responsibility to provide fair representation. Representation is something few can truly understand. As an elected representative, you must listen, you must hear, and you must represent to the best of your abilities, the wishes of those who have elected you, knowing of course that you cannot please everyone. Under this current governance model, it is my duty to serve and represent my constituents first and foremost. At times it can be a challenge to represent the majority of constituents when the issue at hand may not align with causes I’ve personally advocated for over the years. But being an elected representative means personal agendas do not take priority. It is my responsibility to bring forward the issues and concerns of the constituents and to be their voice at City Hall.

COMMUNICATION

It should be no surprise to any communication professional (or elected official) that the opening of Portage and Main is a high stakes, high emotion project.
• It is a known fact that previous attempts to open Portage and Main triggered intense public emotions and did not proceed,
• It is a known fact that many active transportation projects throughout the world trigger high emotions,
• It is also a known fact by staff, with some elected official on this Council, and with many in the active transportation field, that the 2009 Federal Conservative Government’s stimulus funding of $20 Million for active transportation in Winnipeg triggered many intense public emotions about certain AT projects (Assiniboine Ave, Omand’s Creek Bridge & roundabouts)
• Once high emotions are involved, a special type/style of communication must be applied to ensure any kind of success.

Every large transformational transportation project in Winnipeg has engaged the public in extensive consultations BEFORE voting on funding to actually construct the project ( Rapid Transit, Waverley Underpass, Kenaston Expansion, Assiniboine Ave. Bike Lane, McDermont-Bannatyne Bike Lanes, etc.)
• YET with the Portage and Main project, Council was asked to vote to construct BEFORE any public consultation was held on the project itself. This was a rare departure from the traditional practice of ‘consult then vote’.

And during the past four years, seeds of uncertainty were planted surrounding the project:
• The removal of Director or Public Works resulted from contradicting the Mayor on the Portage and Main file.
• Delayed reports, questions of doctored reports, and the public sharing of much misleading and inaccurate information occurred on the Portage and Main file.

When you take into consideration that the opening of Portage and Main was a priority project of the Mayor, that it had a track record of being a high stakes high emotion project, that staff were being removed because of ‘telling the truth’, and that much misleading and inaccurate information was in circulation – it is simply astounding that absolutely no City communication plan of any kind (to Councillors or the public) was put into place BEFORE a report came forward asking Council to vote on the repair and opening.
• One of North America’s renowned consulting firms, Dialogue Partners (https://www.dialoguepartners.ca/) , specializes in high stakes, high emotion projects and invest months and years working with stakeholders to educate, listen and address concerns through meaningful civic engagement and public participation programs.

When there is a void of credible information AND meaningful dialogue – people default to what they know – or the ‘status quo’. They close their minds. They lose trust. The project fails. This is a proven fact time and time again for many high emotion projects that do not engage in meaningful conversation with stakeholders.

THE VOTE

Oct 13th, 2017:
• Councillors receive Media Advisory from Mayor’s Office that the Mayor was holding a press conference at 1:30 p.m. on “Opening Portage and Main”. Councillors had a 45 minute notice this press conference was occurring. Councillors received no prior notice or information about the press conference. Reports were released about the repair and opening on the 13th .
• Multiple requests to the Chief Administrative Officer were made – asking for a Council Seminar Briefing but was told ‘there was no time’ to hold one before the Council vote on Oct 25th.

Oct 25th, 2017
• 12 days after the reports were released, void of any outreach to Council members or the public – Council voted on repairing and opening Portage and Main.

PLEASE NOTE

  • At no time did the Mayor OR CAO hold any verbal face to face briefings or discussions with Council between the date of the report’s release (Oct. 13th ) to when the vote occurred (Oct. 25th)
  • To this very day, the Mayor or CAO have not held one verbal face to face briefing or discussion with Councillors on any of the reports.

LEADERSHIP

Four years is a decent amount of time to have a meaningful discussion on a priority. With the history associated with the opening of Portage and Main and active transportation in general – I believe many citizens of Winnipeg are opposing because they’ve not had the opportunity to have any meaningful discussion. Specifically citizens in the suburbs. Councillors Orlikow and Gerbasi have experienced high emotion active transportation projects during an election. Audits told the City – better consultation must occur on any AT project going forward.
I played a lead role over the past 18 years on many large transformational and controversial Active Transportation projects:
• Installation of 52km pathway on the Red River Floodway
• Construction of the Birds Hill / 59 Hwy Pedestrian Bridge
• Construction of the North East Pioneers Greenway Ped Bridge
• Construction of the Perimeter and 59 AT underpass
• Construction of extension of Bishop Grandin Greenway West
• Rapid Transit Phase One AT Pathway & Jubilee gap
• Assiniboine Ave Bike Path
• The first roundabouts in River Heights
• Passing the Pedestrian and Cycling Strategies

Virtually every high profile, transformational active transportation project takes very strong leadership skills to see them through from start to finish. I can say this with a level of experience on this issue that few have. The number one skill is communication with ALL stakeholders. The Portage and Main file was completely VOID of any kind of meaningful communication in the 12 days before the Council vote. As an elected representative – I had 12 days to speak to as many of my 70,000 constituents as I could. In that 12 day window – I heard ‘WHY’ and ‘NO’ – And as an elected representative, who’s built a level of trust with constituents– I had an obligation to bring their voices forward to City Hall and represent what I heard.

WHY SECOND THE PLEBESITE MOTION?

• Read the actual motion carefully http://janicelukes.ca/wp-content/uploads/…/07/P-M_Motion.pdf
• The motion was to seek more information and enable a debate and discussion. Some disagree with the intent. Some wonder if this this was the right way to go about enabling a debate and discussion – many say no – many say yes. Many never believed the motion would be supported by the Mayor as many motions never see the light of day. And many appreciate they finally can have a say in this discussion.
• KUDOS to the volunteers who’ve been communicating the benefits of opening Portage and Main. I know you’ve led many to seeing why this is important for our City.

IN SUMMARY

A storm of weak leadership, lack of collaboration, lack of meaningful communication, mistrust, misinformation, high stakes, and strong emotions, has landed this file where it is today. Councillors who initially voted ‘yes’ are now printing ‘no’ in their campaign brochures and posting ‘no’ on social media. A Mayor who had a priority and mandate is not leading.
The handling of this file by all elected leadership has been a colossal disaster. Myself included. And Wednesday’s vote will not end this discussion. Additional information is emerging that Councillors were never provided – more engineering reports will come forward, and 2019 and contracts have to be reworked and settled.
I’ve written on this file multiple times
Oct 13th , 2017, http://janicelukes.ca/…/how-councillors-receive-info-to-ma…/
Oct 25th, 2017, http://janicelukes.ca/…/how-councillors-receive-info-to-ma…/
June 19, 2018 http://janicelukes.ca/…/2018-municipal-election-question-p…/
and will continue to do so because I believe – personally – someday – Portage and Main should be open to pedestrians.

It’s an intersection in the heart of the City that requires strong leadership skills to pull all stakeholders together to help understand the big picture. It’s regretful the discussion has been so fumbled.