China - a country of contradictions
What is the western perspective of China? The country of Mao Tse Tung, communism, questionable practices with regards to human rights, a country developing to become one of the most powerful in the world.
Having travelled to China several times, from a western perspective, China is a country of contradictions that makes it challenging for us to fully understand life in modern China.
A trip to China opens our eyes to the industrialized, ultra-modern and efficient country that China is today. As a tourist we most often go looking for China’s past- visiting the Great Wall and the Forbidden City are certainly on most travel agendas, but it is the amazing modern cities that are the real China of today.
In October 2014, I was invited by the Szechuan Provincial People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries Tourism to bring a delegation to Chengdu to participate in the 11th International Tourism and Cultural Promotion Conference. Chengdu is Winnipeg’s sister city, but the ties between the two cities in recent years have been almost non-existent. My travel partners were Helen Wang, editor of the Manitoba Chinese Tribune, and Gerald Flood, retired comment editor for the Free Press. We had invited representatives from both the city and province to join us, including Travel Manitoba, but there was little interest. This was very disappointing as there is the potential for great tourism and business opportunities between our two cities. Delegates from countries around the world participated in the tourism conference and presentations were made by groups from the Netherlands, Poland, Germany, Singapore, Israel, Australia and India, encouraging travel between their countries and Chengdu. It was unfortunate we had no support from the city or the province so that we could encourage greater travel and understanding between our two cities.
In an age of global citizenship it is vitally important that we as Winnipeggers are connected to the global community so that we have a greater understanding of the world. There are many differences between Winnipeg and Chengdu, but there are also many similarities. The panda is the symbol for Chengdu as the polar bear is for Winnipeg. Like Winnipeg, Chengdu located on a flood plain. More than two thousand years ago, engineers, realizing that damming the river proved ineffective, developed a system similar to our Floodway to divert water through the city which could then be used for irrigation purposes in the dry season. An incredible feat of engineering and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Chengdu’s river diversion (The Dujiangyan Irrigation System) is incredible to see. Chengdu is the capital of Szechuan province, but with its regional population of approx. 14 million people it is substantially larger than Winnipeg. Chengdu is located in central China, as Winnipeg is located in central Canada. It is our similarities that give us a common understanding and exploring our differences that help us gain a greater understanding of both our cultures.
Our Chengdu hosts met us at the airport and took care of our every need for six days. First impressions of Chengdu are that of an ultra-modern metropolis. The airport has at least 177 gates, dwarfing Winnipeg’s airport. Buildings seem to rise in Chengdu overnight. A new suburb is being planned and should be completed in the next five years, home to over 7 million people! In 2009 a major earthquake hit the area outside of Chengdu, killing over 60,000 people. With the aid of the city of Shanghai, the city has been rebuilt so that few traces of the earthquake remain. Chengdu’s subway, begun in the last few years has two major lines with several more to be completed in the next two years We were told that there is more heavy equipment to create subway tunnels in Chengdu than in the all other cities on Earth combined. Rapid transit is a reality in Chengdu that is planned and built within a very short period of time, granted with such a huge population rapid transportation is a major priority for the city.
During our 6 days, our hosts took us to see the Giant Buddha at Leshan, Mount Emei, one of the four holy mountains of China, the China Protection Panda Research Center Yoa Bifengxia Base, the ancient village of Moxi and Mount Hailuogou National Glacier Fields.
The ancient Chinese poem states that the roads of Szechuan are harder to climb than the route to Heaven. We certainly experienced this travelling through amazing tunnels over 10km long bored through mountains, followed by narrow passage ways where guard rails had collapsed down the side of the mountain, waterfalls washed out sections of the road and only one lane of traffic could pass at a time. Drivers of local tourist buses drive like maniacs on mountain roads. One road to Mount Emei contained over 300 major switchbacks in a 54 km route. Not for those who get motion sickness! Don’t forget your gravol. Occasionally herds of goats cause traffic to come to a stop on the highway.
The Szechuan people are proud of their spicy cuisine. Hot chili peppers are a part of almost every dish. Yak meat is commonly eaten and sold in markets throughout the province. Beware of the Szechuan hot pot for supper! This is one of the best growing regions in the country. Driving through the countryside, you see terraced hillsides where farmers still work small plots of land by hand. Small trucks are seen shipping food to larger centers- celery, kiwi, pigs and persimmons. This is the area that produces some of the finest green tea and many tea plantations can be seen.
The people of Chengdu are said to be like the panda, the symbol of their province. They take life slowly, are never in a rush, don’t get ruffled and enjoy eating. Chengdu is often rainy and overcast so that on beautiful sunny days, we were told people leave work early to enjoy the blue sky.
While there are ancient villages along the Silk Road Marco Polo visited that date back thousands of years, the large cities are ultra-modern. Major high-end stores- Ferragammo, Louis Vuitton, Georgio Armani etc. are everywhere. Prices at those designer stores are just as expensive as or even more so than in Winnipeg, but we don’t see the same number of high-end shops. One jewellery store had watches on display priced at over $100,000. We wondered who is able to afford all the luxury goods as the average Chinese salary is about $500-$1000/month, but shoppers are everywhere. Income tax is vague in China. The employer pays a portion of each worker’s salary to the government (approx.25%) but most workers have no idea how much tax they pay.
The people of Chengdu seem happy with their lifestyle and, according to the young people we met, are able to live in reasonable comfort compared to other large cities. Young people live a life similar to young people in Canada. They are not interested in the past and are unaware of many significant events in China’s recent history. The horrors of the Cultural Revolution have been left behind as a part of their parents or grandparents’ generation. One of our acquaintances recognized that Mao made many mistakes but that he was able to bring China into the modern age. Most of the atrocities of his time were blamed on Mme Mao, who seems to be the scapegoat for many of the horrors of the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward.
Travelling through downtown Chengdu, one is struck by how closely it resembles many western cities. Starbucks, McDonalds, and KFC can be found everywhere. Even the Super 8 hotel chain has branches in Chengdu. The Wide and Narrow streets, the area around Wuhu temple, Jinli Road and the antique market along the river give tourists, both western and the Chinese, a view of what life was like hundreds of years ago. But for the most part we saw China as a modern country where true history is not always easy to find.
I hope we are able to develop our connections with our sister city in the next few years so that more Manitobans are able to learn more about China and its fascinating culture. With our newly elected mayor and city council, there may be greater interest in exploring greater connections between Chengdu and Winnipeg.
Getting to Know St. Norbert Ward City Councilor Candidates
Jennifer Chen (MCT Focus editor)
Published in Issue 2 Newspaper, September, 2014
Many Chinese residents of Winnipeg live in the St. Norbert ward. This area is geographically close to the University of Manitoba and Fort Richmond, and consists of most of south Winnipeg. As part of the Manitoba Chinese Tribune municipal election series, I interviewed three registered city councilor candidates who are running for election in the St. Norbert ward, and I hope this interview will help you understand and decide which candidate you would like to choose on October 22nd.
The current St. Norbert councilor Justin Swandel is not seeking re-election, leaving three new candidates to compete with each other. These three candidates are not new in politics though.
East Indian restaurant owner Sachit Mehra is the first candidate among three who contacted me before the nomination period opened. He has been a successful businessman in downtown and has been leading downtown development as the president of the Downtown Winnipeg Biz. He said he is running for city councilor because he wants to improve the lives of families and children in St. Norbert, e.g., he has served as a director on the King’s Park Child Care Board. He explained that Winnipeg’s population is growing to 1 million, and we need to make decisions today to plan for the next 10 to 20 years. He believes that we need to plan now for future generations. He said that we need to make decisions for the city, and not for special interest groups. Mr. Mehra is also in favour of the bus rapid transit route that will connect downtown to St. Norbert and the University of Manitoba. While there is some controversy about whether or not to build bus rapid transit (BRT) or light rail transit (LRT), Mr. Mehra believes that we need to build the path regardless of whether we want LRT or other rapid transit plans because the longer we delay, the more it will cost.
As a business owner in downtown, Mr. Mehra values the business in St. Norbert too. Through his position as the President of Downtown Biz, he created a connection between Downtown Farmers Market and St. Norbert Farmers Market. To help new comers, Mr. Mehra believes that we need to consider a wide range of issues, including housing prices, jobs, and accessibility.
Former Winnipeg Trails Association director Janice Lukes is also running for St. Norbert. She is an experienced fundraiser who works with community groups to apply for funding from various levels of government for infrastructure projects. She emphasized that her strengths, and what she sees as the big difference between herself and the other candidates is that she makes idea into reality (this is why she uses “Results” in her campaign slogan), she has made numerous changes for the community in St. Norbert, for example, École St. Avila School Natural Playground and Drainage System, Pembina Highway sidewalks, Ryerson School Playground Redevelopment, St. Norbert Farmers’ Market – Community Park Upgrades, St. Norbert Sidewalks and Trail Development. The reason she wants to run for city councilor in St. Norbert, she stated, is that city hall now has an opportunity for change (because many former city councilors are leaving), she wants to continue her work to improve the community.
When asked about what she hopes to achieve as a city councilor, Ms. Lukes seems to have many thoughts. First of all, she hopes to achieve better value and efficiency for our taxes, which means better governance in city hall. Secondly, she hopes to improve transportation in the Ward, e.g., roads, sidewalks, paths, infrastructure upgrades, and bus routes. Thirdly, she said many candidates talk about their “visions” for the development of Winnipeg. We have had a good vision already – “Our Winnipeg”. She hopes to implement “Our Winnipeg” to make Winnipeg become more sustainable.
Ms. Lukes is for rapid transit and promises to make sure it stays on budget. She is also for tax increases because “you get what you pay for”. But she believes city hall needs better communication to inform people what taxes use for. She thinks we need more females in city hall.
When asked what she would do to help new comers to be better included in the social fabric in St. Norbert, Ms. Lukes wants to include from providing more multi-language services (e.g., she worked with a Chinese group to create a walking and biking map of St. Norbert in Chinese), opening a cultural community centre, she said, “one of my priorities is to make my ward become a gathering hub for various communities”. She would like to see more childcare spaces as well.
St. Norbert Candidate Joe Chan said we need a city hall that knows how to manage people’s money. He said there are too many management problems in city hall right now.
Joe Chan came from Hong Kong. His family owns a Chinese restaurant, Cathy House in east Winnipeg. Mr. Chan is not new to politics. He ran in the 2011 provincial election as a Liberal candidate for Logan and came in 2nd place. He has been an assistant for current city councilor Harvey Smith for many years. He recently brought current Mayor Sam Katz to court for a conflict of interest allegation involving allegations that Katz held a Christmas party for city councilors and staff at his own restaurant, and billed it to the city. Mr. Chan laughed about that situation, and said “it is up to the voters. I am the only guy who took Mayor Katz to the court”.
Mr. Chan is for LRT, and he wants to see people only spend ten minutes from St. Norbert to downtown. He believes that Winnipeg already has the rail infrastructure for LRT, and that using it will save hundreds of millions of dollars. When asked about his opinions on taxes, he said he supports freezing property and condo taxes, and lowering business taxes. He said that the city has money for projects, but that it has just been wasted in previous years.
To help new comers to be better adapt into the society, Mr. Chan wants to establish a New Comers Welcome Settlement Service to help them find living places, and reserve some jobs for them.
In my interviews, all three candidates are energetic. They all have long-term experience as a business owner. It will up to the voters to choose the best candidate who works for residents in St. Norbert. (Jennifer Chen)
Two Candidates Opinions on Six Issues Facing Winnipeg (Exclusive!)
Jennifer Chen (MCT Focus editor)
Published in Issue 76 MCT Magazine, August/September, 2014
Judy Wasylycia-Leis and Gord Steeves answer to the Manitoba Chinese Tribune.
1. Winnipeg’s Rapid Transit plan has been debated for over 30 years. What is your opinion on the current rapid transit plan? What is your vision on Winnipeg transit overall?
Judy: Rapid transit is an absolute necessity for a city of our size. It is embarrassing and irresponsible to have the spectacle of a half-built transitway after 30 years of discussion. My position is to finish this line to the University of Manitoba as Bus Rapid Transit without further delay or talk of a referendum. Students at the University of Manitoba deserve a bus rapid transit system that works. I will also require independent oversight to ensure this project is done on time and on budget. My vision is for a rapid transit system that reaches all corners of the city. The decision about what routes and what kind of rapid transit will be done on a planned basis involving the input of citizens, local experts and all levels of government.
Gord: I support the idea of rapid transit for our growing city. Any modern city has built an effective transportation system that offers options to its citizens. Although I believe we should be spending more money on bad Winnipeg roads right now, rapid transit (whether it’s bus or rail in the future) should be directly linked to Transit Oriented Development (TOD), so more people will be living in close proximity to it. TOD means that the City of Winnipeg will recoup the costs through residential and commercial development around stations.
2. The community consultation process for the 2015 civic budget has begun.
What is your priority for next year’s budget? What is your policy on property taxes?
Judy: My priority for Budget 2015 is to make Winnipeg a city that works. That means focusing on a back-to-basics plan that will make serious strides in fixing our crumbling infrastructure and will establish new independent oversight to stop expensive cost overruns that have plagued Winnipeg and begin to restore trust in City Hall. The task to fix our neglected streets and sidewalks, to upgrade our aging sewers and water mains, to ensure proper snow clearing, and to provide improved transit and active transportation is huge but will be done on a step-by-step planned basis and ensuring an honest, affordable and predictable tax plan that keeps tax increases at or below inflation and spending under control. With a new culture of ethics and accountability at City Hall, we can stop millions of dollars from being wasted on land swaps and real estate deals.
Gord: My priorities are Infrastructure, community safety, our economy and taxation, Downtown Winnipeg, all supported by a clear transparent government. For 11 years I did not raise taxes because Manitobans are essentially the highest taxed people in Canada, we eliminated the business tax on the smallest third of our businesses. I will keep taxes as absolutely low as possible to leave money in our economy, I’ll open up the books at City Hall on Day 1 when I am elected.
3. What differences exist between yourself as a Mayor and other mayoral candidates when it comes to accountability at City Hall?
Judy: I have had the privilege of serving in public office for over 25 years where I gained valuable experience working in government as a Cabinet Minister, sponsoring legislation such as Manitoba’s first Freedom of Information Act, cooperating with other MPs in Ottawa to influence and shape a federal budget, serving as a Caucus leader to build a strong team and work across party lines on parliamentary affairs, and serving on the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee to oversee government expenditures. Working closely with my colleagues such as Olivia Chow, I have been a strong advocate as a Member of Parliament for better legislation to reunite families from overseas, and make immigration fair for everyone. It is this experience combined with an established record for maintaining a highly visible, and very accessible presence at the community level that is, I believe, unique among candidates for mayor.
Gord: Although I have been gone from city council for 3 years, I have been there for 11 years in my career and I have answered to citizens day after day, month after month, year after year, meeting after meeting. I have solid relationships with all of council and with City administration. The biggest difference between me and other candidates is that I will be ready to work on the first day after I am elected, no learning curve.
4. What is your vision for Winnipeg's infrastructure (e.g., potholes, water main breaks, frozen pipes)?
Judy: When a cold winter put Winnipeg families into a difficult position with failing infrastructure, their city council abandoned them. I will clean up the wasteful spending at city hall to ensure that the hard earned tax dollars that Winnipeg entrusts to city hall are invested in the core infrastructure that Winnipeg families count on to be there. Roads you can drive on, water you can drink all year round and transit that will help speed up traffic flow, and get you to-and-from school and work.
Gord: Infrastructure needs to be the top priority for our city; everyone needs infrastructure to conduct their day to day affairs. If it is business then the need the ability to transport goods and services, personal use is just as important in terms of people and how they feel about their city. Infrastructure projects large and small need to be a priority for our city government AND our provincial government. Most recent public opinion polls show that infrastructure is number one priority for Winnipeggers and it’s my number of priority. I have a comprehensive 5 point plan that addresses infrastructure from potholes to delays at rail crossings to funding.
5. What is your vision for enhancing success for small businesses in Winnipeg?
Judy: Small business and the people who make them work are the backbone of our city. They work hard, create employment and make our communities better places to live. I want to make City Hall a place of proactive support for our small business community working in partnership with business leaders to ensure that the foundation of our city’s economic health is supported and nurtured. If elected Mayor, I will freeze Winnipeg’s business tax rate and will take steps to encourage new and expanded businesses by establishing a business liaison at the City to help expedite the approval of licenses and permits, and I will create a small business roundtable to meet at least twice a year to provide advice for building a more business friendly climate.
Gord: Businesses want Infrastructure, fair taxation, and a set of rules that they understand and that they can follow. We need to give them all of these things. We cut all business taxes to our smallest one third of council when I was on council to ensure that we were giving our businesses the chance to grow. Nothing infuriates Business more than having no sense as to when or where there permits are. Timely and efficient response to business requests to have these things matters granted is the key to helping businesses succeed and giving them the confidence that the city is their partner, not their enemy.
6. What would you do to help new comers, including newcomers in the Chinese community, to be better included in the social fabric of Winnipeg?
Judy: Winnipeg is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in Canada which has benefited our city economically, culturally and spiritually. When I was a Member of Parliament, I was a strong advocate for better settlement services, and a more accessible immigration policy for Canada. As Mayor I will be a leader in encouraging newcomers to live in Winnipeg by supporting ethno-cultural activities, speaking out against racism and anti-immigration policies, and implementing policies that support multiculturalism as inclusive citizenship where equality and dignity for all are understood as fundamental City values. I will also encourage municipal support for settlement services, multicultural events, and cross-cultural collaboration.
Gord: First lets create a direct liaison with the Chinese community and the Mayor’s office so we can get newcomers into our city hall. If people are going to live here they need to know the way the city works and how things function. We could do the same for all groups. New comers represent an exceptionally entrepreneurial part of our community, they would benefit from assistance as to how things like permitting, licensing work. Let’s show them. I want you to know that my doors will always be open to the Chinese community who has helped to build out city over decades. Winnipeg is growing mostly because of immigration, so I’ll ensure that the voices of your community are heard directly in the Mayor’s Office. I’ll work with Citizens Equity Committee at City Hall to ensure our great city have representations from ethnic communities and our sister cities to reach out to people from around the world.
* Editor’s note: these questions were sent to five major candidates, two responded by publication date. Published on Issue 76.
2014 City Election (part I)
- How the Winnipeg election will impact you, and how you can impact the election
Jennifer Chen (MCT Focus editor)
Published in Issue 75 June/July 2014, MCT magazine
Registration for the 2014 City of Winnipeg Election has officially opened for Mayoral candidates as of May 1st. By the publication date of this article, seven candidates have officially announced their intentions to run. Candidates and potential candidates are already vying for public support, and are making headlines in major local media outlets. This means the city election is definitely underway.
Election is “a formal and organized choice by vote of a person for a political office or other position”.  In a municipal election, citizens of Winnipeg are able to cast a single vote towards whichever candidate they feel best matches their own views. There are no official political parties involved in Winnipeg municipal elections (though many candidates are members of political parties).
Why is it important for us to vote in an election? First of all, voting is a key to democracy. Secondly, because the municipal government provides local services (e.g., policing and firefighting), public utilities, city planning and development, education management, safety and infrastructure for communities, it is important for people to be aware of the issues facing Winnipeg and its residents and to ensure a proper representation of our communities. Thirdly, Chinese immigrants are the third fastest growing immigrant groups in Winnipeg. In fact, Chinese Canadians hold political positions across the country. Philip Lee is the Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba, and Olivia Chow is a leading contender for the Mayor of Toronto. Politicians are about people who vote, so one might say that our vote is our “political capital”. Therefore, if the Chinese community participates in voting, and if we can let candidates know and understand our issues, then our voice will be better heard. We hear far too often that we, as a Chinese community, are not considered to be the same as other groups of Canadians – that we have no power – but when we vote, we have equal power.
In order to practice your right to choose a Councillor who will listen and represent your interests, it is essential to know the Council candidates in your ward. For example, Chinatown belongs to the Point Douglas Ward, Osborne Village and part of the downtown area belong to Fort Rouge - East Fort Garry Ward, the University of Winnipeg belongs to the Daniel McIntyre Ward, and the area around the University of Manitoba belongs to the St. Norbert Ward. For a full map of municipal election wards to help you know which ward you belong in, visit www.winnipeg.ca/council/wardmap.
2014 City Election (part II)
- Who’s who?
Jennifer Chen (MCT Focus editor)
Published in Issue 75 June/July 2014, MCT magazine
Among all candidates in an election, mayoral candidates are always in the spotlight, because the mayor is the head of council and chief officer of the city. This is why the news and reporters are so interested in the mayoral race in the city of Toronto – maybe a similarity between Winnipeg and Toronto is that we also have a Mayor who has caused numerous controversies (although not as crazy!) just like Mayor Rob Ford in Toronto.
Since it is still too early for them to release their platforms, the following will be a brief introduction of the current and potential candidates, and background info you should be aware of. I have assigned an “award” to each one, to help you remember key facts about them.
Gord Steeves - Award: First candidate who announced he will run for mayor.
Despite the fact that he received a first offence warning from election officials for violating election spending rules for launching his campaign too early, he is confident that he is the man for this job. His five focuses include “infrastructure, safety, taxation, transparency, and the development of downtown. In 2011, he had an unsuccessful attempt to run in the provincial election as a Progressive Conservative candidate.
Michael Vogiatzakis – Award: the “average Joe”?
Just like Gord Steeves, this owner of a funeral home also received a first offence warning for violating election spending rules. Even though he missed the opportunity to get the award of “first candidate”, he is definitely able to hold the title “the average Joe” – what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. After failing to prove that he was a resident of Winnipeg, and surviving media reports that he has a history of convictions in the past, he finally entered into mayoral race. His goal as Mayor is to bring in a permanent solution to fix potholes that plagued Winnipeggers not only in this winter, but over many winters.
Michel Fillion – Award: the most surprising candidate
As a manager of an exotic dancer entertainment company, Michel Fillion’s announcement may surprise a lot of people. He states himself as “a person with good vision and judgment, all you need to be an excellent mayor”.  Maybe in this mayoral race, we as voters need to be educated on candidate qualifications not just what they tell us.
Brian Bowman – Award: the most like current Mayor Sam Katz
This privacy lawyer has built his profile over many years. As a Conservative and businessman, he is strikingly similar to Sam Katz when the latter was first elected in 2004. They are both charming businessmen; they both try to differentiate themselves from “party politicians” even though both Katz and Bowman are known Conservative Party supporters. Brian Bowman claims he is a “new generation of leadership” for the city hall and will bring openness and transparency to city hall. Mr. Bowman has many deep links to Winnipeg's "elite", so he will have to prove that he is truly "new generation" and not just the old generation in a younger body. So far, he has said that he supports rapid transit and modest property tax increases.
Paula Havixbeck – Award: her courage is beyond all dispute.
This female councilor has been criticizing the Executive Policy Committee (EPC) and management in city hall. She spoke with the media that she will focus on holding city hall accountable at Council and fixing the poor management at the administrative level. Clearly, the structure of the EPC, the fire hall construction scandal, and the police-headquarters cost overruns would be one of the major parts of her platform. Even though some speculated that she may have received pressure from the right-wing to pull her intention, she decided to join the mayoral race.
Judy Wasylycia-Leis – Award: Practice makes perfect.
As a professional politician, she has represented her community in the North End of Winnipeg for decades. She served as a Manitoba NDP cabinet minister from 1986 to 1988, was an NDP member of the Canadian House of Commons from 1997 to 2010. In 2010, she entered into mayoral race and received 90,913 votes, 42.8%, finished in second place among four candidates. She is currently considered the favorite to win, with over 40% support in recent public opinion polls. Her biggest challenge will be proving that she can represent areas outside of Winnipeg North and Downtown.
Robert-Falcon Ouellette – Award: “the first aboriginal candidate”
We are always delighted to see diverse candidates in an election that will ensure representation from different backgrounds. As the first Cree and Metis candidate in this race, who is also from academia, we can expect this University of Manitoba professor to offer interesting platform positions.
For voters, the most important thing is to know candidates’ platforms – whether these candidates have any opinion and idea on what issues are facing Winnipeggers and how to improve them, whether or not these candidates’ IQ and EQ are high enough to deal with internal and external issues in the city hall.
Over the next few months leading up to the October 22 election, we will keep an eye on how each of these candidates develop, and will report on their platforms as they are announced. When a candidate comes to your door asking for your support, don't forget to ask them questions about issues that matter to you!
2014 City Election (part III)
- 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.