Sunday, May 21, 2006

Have Your Say Wednesday

On Wednesday May 24th 2006, at 7:00 PM, there is an information session about Brandon City Council (and I checked, the Oilers don't have a game that evening, so you can't use that excuse for not attending). The objective of this meeting is to give people an understanding of how municipal government works. Specifically, the forum will cover such topics as municipal budgeting, responsibilities of municipal government, how people can get in touch with the city government and which issues should be brought up where, and how anyone who's interested can run for the City Council or Mayoral elections coming up in October.

This is an initiative of the Municipal Government section of Brandon's Community Strategic Plan. (The other areas the Plan covers are Agriculture, Cultural Diversity, Economic Development, Education, Environment, Health, Recreation, Liesure, and Arts, and Youth.) It's a young project designed to solicit community feedback in the shaping of Brandon's direction. As such, anyone may become involved in any of the above-mentioned aspects that interest them, and due to the fluid nature of community development, may also become involved at any time. Each of those areas has set desirable "future statements" to be accomplished by the year 2010.

My first involvement with the CSP was when I was asked to attend a Youth Forum in October 2005. It was a 2-day forum, basically with one day devoted to youth 18+ and the other devoted to youth 18 and under. The forums consisted of discussion groups focusing on the other 8 of the above-named areas. After the YF, the participants were invited to participate in the aspects of the CSP that interested them, and I found my way into the Municipal Government section. Aside from what I have mentioned above, we have also discussed the idea of youth representation on council.

But can the CSP really have an impact? There is an expression that "when all's said and done, there is more said than done." Nonetheless, while that expression has proved itself true, the CSP is in its early stages, and I feel it shows a great deal of promise. It has been previously mentioned that specific targets that have been established, and these targets provide a benchmark against which to measure the Plan's success, and I believe with input and committment from local people the CSP can be successful and meat most of the targets that have been set.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Bridge Over Troubled Waters

The 18th Street Bridge that crosses the Assiniboine River by Elanor Kidd Park (properly known as the Thompson Bridge) has been receiving a fair bit of attention. The 2-lane bridge has seen increasing traffic and congestion problems, as has the rest of 18th street. Manitoba Premier Gary Doer in addressing the Brandon Chamber of Commerce recently, mentioned, among other things, plans regarding the bridge. The fact that the headline drawing attention to the speech in the print version speaks for itself. A few days prior, another article asked what was happening with the bridge.

The main reason for the bridge attracting more traffic is the Corral Centre. It's a new shopping development that was built in the north end of Brandon, between the Assiniboine River and the North Hill, right across from the Riverbank Discovery Centre. The first major store to arrive was Home Depot in the summer of 2004 and it has continued to expand rapidly. It now houses stores like Safeway and Wal-Mart, and construction on it continues. A second set of traffic lights has been added near the base of the hill on 18th street. The developers were attracted to the open space, and some people living north of the Assiniboine were happy to have services available to them on their side of the river.

However, the Centre has caused problems. Even when it was first proposed, several people in the area were strongly opposed, citing such reasons as attracting too much traffic or the wisdom of placing a major mall right next to a nature area. As for the bridge? Not only will it be costly to expand whenever the political promises finally become reality, but on one side the land is owned by the government as a research farm, and a park on the other end. Where will the bridge expand to? Oh, but it will bring jobs, it's all worth it, the project's supporters will say. Brandon's economy is, in large measure, a service economy, and the Centre merely adds more of the same types of jobs Brandon already has, and as most of these are retail outlets, on balance they bring more dollars out of Brandon than they bring in. And it's not even known at this point if the Centre has had any negative impacts on business in surrounding rural communities.

What I just mentioned describes the problems with planning based on suburban sprawl. Aside from the environmental problems, there are also the public costs of providing infrastructure. Often this accompanys business closures and residential flight from core areas of a city, causing even more problems, as empty areas detract from a city and bring with them unpleasent elements. It's a planning model that is unsustainable, but careful planning and consideration can yield viable alternatives.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Meet The Chosen One

Manitoba Progressive Conservatives have elected Hugh McFadyen to lead the party and Manitoba's Official Opposition. McFadyen won easily and convincingly on the first ballot, beating out MLA Ron Schuler and former Neepawa mayor Ken Waddell.

McFadyen is new to the legislature. Aside from being the youngest of the candidates, he was elected in a by-election to replace outgoing Industry Critic-turned-federal Liberal candidate John Loewen. Before becoming an elected official, he worked behind the scenes for former Premier Gary Filmon and Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz, but had little else in his personal history to distinguish him from the other candidates or set him apart. But what he lacks in that area, he made up in enthusiasm. To go from being the province's junior MLA to leader of the Official Opposition, and secure a good portion of the caucus behind him, speaks to his ability to generate momentum, and to play the part of a new, youthful figure eager to take on future challenges. And this election signals the direction the party feels it wishes to go. McFadyen and Schuler are the urban candidates in this race, and between them took a large chunk of the party vote. The message in all of this? The party has correctly realised that except for a few seats, the rural areas are staunchly Conservative, and there is little room for growth there. The key to success is winning swing ridings in Winnipeg and Brandon West.

Yet despite the momentum they feel they may have on their side, I don't see the Tories winning the next election. The NDP has consistently out-polled the Conservatives since 1999, and the Conservatives have the lowest seat count for their party in recent memory. The fact that the party chose to divide itself on a leadership campaign more than halfway into Doer's mandate suggested little confidence in the party winning under Murray, and they wanted to build themselves up. Not only does the party have to introduce the new leader to Manitobans, but he must also become credible to them before the next election call, a call which will likely come next year.

Speaking of credibility, there is one thing I believe would help the Conservatives in Manitoba. As I mentioned in November, I saw Murray's main issue as being tax cuts, despite the fact that tax cuts have continued under Doer. Since this has been going on since Filmon, the Conservatives would be wise to declare victory on the tax cut debate, and to congratulate the NDP for seeing the light on this issue. Not only that, but should the NDP return to the Opposition benches, they will find ways to criticise the Conservative tax cuts, just as the Conservatives are now doing with the NDP. With this issue out of the way, they should then focus on the other issues that people have to contend with, such as health care, education, and accountability in government. Will the momentum with McFadyen's victory continue?

Stay tuned.