7 Key Issues

The following 7 key issues form the core of my concern as a candidate to facilitate democracy in St. Johns.  While I am a member of the Green Party of Manitoba, and you can read the party’s platform at greenparty.mb.ca once it is up (soon!), each candidate focuses on issues he or she knows most about, and in my case I am focusing on issues that highlight larger structural problems in the practice of democracy in Manitoba today.

So in no particular order, here are 7 key issues residents of St. Johns may want to think about, and even ask MLA Gord Mackintosh to explain his government’s decisions on them.  After all, accountability means being a little more direct and a little less polite every once in a while, and making that MLA sweat for their generous salary and pension.

1) Waverley West – major boondoggle of bad planning, extending our city beyond a size  affordable to maintain.

The Green response: capital region planning and compact urban forms,

2) The removal of pollution controls at the OSB plant in Swan River: government kowtowing to economic blackmail from one of the worst American polluters

The Green response: standing up to polluters and diversifying regional economies towards locally-owned business.

3) The slow destruction of the watershed: Hydro, the hog industry, and flooding

The Green response: a comprehensive study of the Lake Winnipeg watershed, rehabilitation of wetlands, public process of reviewing both the Lake Winnipeg Regulation and Churchill River Diversion temporary licenses of Manitoba Hydro. climate action everywhere!

4) Misguided agricultural policy: industrial animal farms and genetic engineering.

The Green response: supporting small farmers and organic farming through tax incentives to transition methods.  banning sow crates and tougher animal rights laws.  applying a more precautionary approach to genetic engineering and nanotechnology.  shifting research dollars towards pesticide free agriculture.

5) Strategies for youth employment and community involvement

A Green response – policy in development: it all begins with education.  Teachers are increasingly playing more social roles with decreasing resources to tackle deepening social issues including child poverty.  High school students need to get into the community more to take ownership of it.  This means developing a Grade 11 and 12 plan to have students interning, apprenticing and volunteering in the community, coordinated with small businesses, with artisans and tradespeople, and with non-profit community groups and organizations.   In Grade 11 students could be required as a core credit to spend 1/2 a day in the community, a full day by grade 12.  They will learn social skills, hands-on skills to aid their employability, and they will learn more respect for their general surroundings.

6)   A failing electoral system and threadbare democracy

A Green response:  grassroots democracy and electoral reform.  While Greens generally favour a shift to some form of proportional representation – in line with most democracies in the OECD and even former Communist European countries – another simpler transitional option could be to have a ranked ballot or a 1-2-3 vote so that no longer can one gain total victory over a seat with <50% of the votes.  A real democracy is bottom up: public forums 4x a year and citizens’ committees can set the priorities for the MLA, rather than the MLA simply answering to his/her party’s hierarchy.

7)  Northern Development, mass poverty, Winnipeg’s urban Aboriginal population, and Aboriginal rights

A Green response: a Green government would work with First Nations, Métis, and other northern peoples to develop a self-determining approach to development that is bottom-up and based on locally-controlled social economic enterprises, such as cooperatives and band-owned community development.  Vital to this process is capacity-building needed on First Nations to develop social enterprise but also democratic governing structures, led by the community members themselves.  The communities themselves know best some of the ways forward and a Green government would facilitate steps towards self-determination, in line with the spirit and intent of the treaties. Urban Aboriginal people, especially those rapidly relocating from the North, need more social and economic supports to allow for a smoother and healthier transition, and to have opportunities to succeed.

MORE on all these issues and my takes on them in detail below:  email me to discuss alon.green2011@gmail.com

ISSUE – PROBLEM – GREEN APPROACH – NDP PROMISE – RESULT – LESSON

1) WAVERLEY WEST – SUBURBAN SPRAWL – CAPITAL REGION PLANNING – GREENWASH – ADDITIONAL INFRASTRUCTURE COSTS and MORE POLLUTION – SHORT SIGHTED GOVERNMENT MEANS LONG TERM COSTS

It was in the first days of 2005, when people are still recovering from holidays and getting back to work and school, when City Hall decided to have a meeting at which, among other agenda items, it was neatly planning to amend Plan Winnipeg to make the 3,000 acres between Brady Road and Waverley, Bishop Grandin and the Perimeter a neighbourhood policy area.  Previously it had been considered a rural policy area, place of farming and food growth, real and potential, decided upon through years of the Plan Winnipeg process.

A Green government would have stepped in at this point and initiated a capital region planning process.  The NDP reasoned publicly that instead of this suburb  being ex-urban and thus not paying taxes to the city, let it be built within city limits and pay for the services it would receive.  It never took a leadership position that all sprawl is environmentally bad, putting more cars on our city streets and requiring much new infrastructure at the expense of repairing old infrastructure.  It did not have the courage to stand up to the developers with a message for the good of all Winnipegers and Manitobans, that this kind of development had seen its last days and it was time to initiate an aggressive urban infill and retrofit program.

You may see this, as others did at the time, as a civic issue, not a provincial one. Wrong!  It was soon clear that the Manitoba government, which owned ~half of the land under question, was driving this process.  It wanted the monies from the sale of the land to development giant LADCO to balance its books.   Opposing this development was a loose coalition of urban activists, environmental groups, members of the Green Party of Manitoba, and professors of urban studies and politics.  WHY oppose this development?  Urban theory says that the further out a city spreads the higher the cost of maintaining its infrastructure becomes, but also that the inner city gets forgotten and the core of the city gets run down as people flee towards the edge.  It’s called the doughnut effect.

Also, more sewers, schools, and more roads to build means more deficit or higher taxes down the road (pardon pun), and especially more pollution.   Why another suburb?  The film The  End of Suburbia on urban sprawl and the end of cheap oil argues that building outward in an age of oil scarcity and also intense carbon emissions from the automobile is a big mistake.   Instead urban ecologists like Jane Jacobs, author of famed The Death and Life of Great American Cities, argue that a more compact urban form is not only fiscally and ecologically more sound, it is also socially more progressive.  Denser cities are safer cities, as population density means more people out and about, more opportunity for small business and spontaneous social exchanges.  More people culture, less machine culture.  Greater ability to move people through mass transit and less reliance on the automobile just to drive to get a loaf of bread.  So what was the NDP thinking green lighting this project and refusing to even refer the issue to The Municipal Board?  Intergovernmental Affairs minister of the time, Scott Smith, even had the audacity to refer to Waverley West as a “routine amendment.”

But the biggest misleading of the public occurred in the form of a greenwash: the government’s claim Waverley West would be a “green” suburb, touting its walkability and moreso the huge potential to have the majority of housing by run by the rather ecological heating method of geothermal.  This claim was supposed to keep us G/greens at bay.  Meanwhile, to keep social advocates for the inner city – the NDP’s bread and butter of support – at bay, the government claimed all profits from the sale of the land would be ploughed back into the inner city.  Well, 5 years into the development process, few houses are running on geothermal – government ministers decided instead to send a public message that geothermal is too expensive.  And do we have any financial proof that once the roads are built, the bus service extended, the sewers constructed, and the controversial non-existent high school there eventually built, that the government will have actually profited from the land sale?  I think we do not and the people of Manitoba – socially, environmentally-concerned and the citizens of Winnipeg just trying to build a better city – deserve to know all the numbers.

Waverley West – the biggest suburban development in Manitoba’s history – will for years to come be a testament to short-sighted government and a serious lack of spine and commitment to environmental and social best practices, by the NDP government and the even more shortsighted council on Main St.

MORE ON 2-7 SOON.  Everyone’s gotta sleep once in a while.

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