This Winnipeg winter was particularly hard. And, yes, I know this is hardly news.
For me, the challenges of this winter seemed to transcend the persistent, biting cold and harsh wind. This winter beat my body and spirit down in a way I can’t remember ever experiencing. My mood and energy seemed to be passengers on a wild and unpredictable roller coaster…but a roller coaster that, strangely and illogically, seemed to spend more time going down than coming up. I fought numerous ailments that seemed to follow each other in quick succession, derailing all my efforts at fitness and productivity. These were capped by a month and a half period beginning on my birthday, on March 5th, where I seemed to be constantly sick with one thing or another to the point that I’m not even sure I was healthy for three days in a row.
I take some solace, and a sense of solidarity, in knowing that Winnipeg isn’t in much better shape. After months of walking down treacherous sidewalks encrusted with ice, the thaw revealed the lasting damage: Sidewalks and roads cracked, potholed and littered with rubble. On one of Winnipeg’s main routes, Portage Avenue, bus drivers, on arriving at many stops, have to gingerly drop their wheels into three-foot-wide holes or stop short and then drive around them upon leaving. As I discovered the other day when riding my trike to a meeting, these potholes can be so plentiful as to be almost impassible to a trike with only 20 inch wheels.
As the stories of ruptured water mains and frozen pipes gave way to the sight of major roads reduced to rubble, Winnipeg City Council, which had managed to put off major transit infrastructure investment for more that fifty years already, debated the merits of more such deferrals in order to divert money to fixing roads. And while there is no doubt that the road infrastructure is in desperate need of repair, in a large and growing city road repairs without transit infrastructure are at best flimsy band-aids over a much bigger problem. As the Winnipeg Free Press’ Bartley Kives described it, Winnipeg has been caught in a "myopic spiral" and, if it doesn’t get its act together, will doom itself to perennial “also-ran" status.
For me, Winnipeg is like a group of friends. There are some things about Winnipeg that are just wonderful: The lively arts and culture scene, the palpable sense of history, and that sense of social solidarity that bubbles tenuously below the surface just barely preventing the whole place from blowing apart.
But there are also those toxic elements which, like toxic friends, constantly threaten to drag me down into a spiral of depression. Chief among these is the city’s petty, mean-spirited and uninspiring politics.
Of course Winnipeggers, including me, have to take some responsibility for this, since we choose our leaders. But very often there isn’t much for choice. And the task of defeating an incumbent in Winnipeg city politics is enormous. It’s hard to blame people for choosing not to run in a race they are almost guaranteed, from the outset, to lose.
Now, with the much-appreciated departure of my local Councillor, there is the opportunity to run in a Ward with no incumbent. And people have often told me I should run for this or that political office, probably after listening to me opine for hours on end. But I always imagine the physical and emotional toll of running in any election to be very high and, given the winter I just had, I have a hard time imagining surviving that. Maybe I will feel differently in a month or two.
In the mean time I will try to focus my attention on the things I love about Winnipeg, and creating a positive vision for what Winnipeg could become. Now that I have gotten my trike back on the road I’m feeling pretty positive. I’m looking forward to exploring Winnipeg’s roads and pathways and maybe sharing some of what I find.
I’m hoping that with the election, this fall, the tone of Winnipeg politics changes, and we have some fresh ideas to take with us into next winter. I want to say I will do my part to bring about that change, but I’m not sure how much I have to give. How about I say, for now, that I’ll do what I can.