When it comes to Winnipeg politics, don’t get your hopes up.
I was excited for the last civic election in Winnipeg. I was looking forward to moving on from the dark years of former mayor, Sam Katz. I’ll admit, I was a little disappointed when Brian Bowman was elected (not to mention my councillor, Scott Gillingham). I was looking forward to having a voice in the mayor’s office that was a little more “left," for lack of a better term. The issues that mattered to me were more about increasing accessibility, reducing poverty and building strength in communities. I saw some light, like many people, in Bowman’s commitment to openness and transparency, so I held out hope. And, for his first one hundred days in office, he was doing all right, all things considered.
How quickly things change.
Today word comes out that the Mayor’s first budget targets cuts at recreational facilities across the city. Well, not everywhere in the city. No, apparently the cuts are mostly focused in older and poorer neighbourhoods, the neighbourhoods that need the facilities most but, sadly, are not part of Bowman’s core of supporters. Winnipeg politics as usual, it seems.
Not wanting to be left out, Scott Gillingham, my shiny new city councillor, who I once criticized for being “just another Scott" (when he was running to replace Scott Fielding), stepped out to prove that, after all, he WAS just another Scott. Where as I always found Scott Fielding very parochial, giving little thought to the overall welfare of the city, Scott Gillingham, it seems, wants to be on record as devoutly parochial. When told that some of the cuts were targeted at facilities in his ward, dear, sweet Gillingham was quoted as saying, "I'm not in favour of any reduction in my ward." He also noted that he wasn’t told what impacts were proposed for other wards. I can imagining him saying, “What does it matter, anyway?"
This does answer one question for me: I had always wondered why Brian Bowman was so adamant, during his campaign, that the city should finish all the legs of the Rapid Transit plan…rapidly. It’s clear now that Bowman’s vision of the city consists of shiny, beautiful suburbia, a gem of an entertainment district downtown, and a whole bunch of shit in between he could care less about. Rapid Transit is the key to this vision. By completing express routes from downtown to the suburbs, Bowman’s friends on the lush periphery will be able to whoosh, non-stop, from their suburban enclaves to Jets’ games, and home again, without having to share a bus seat with someone of lesser status. That’s the kind of vision you dream about as a conservative candidate, but you know you aren’t supposed to say out loud.
So, there you have it. Try as I might to remain hopeful and optimistic, and to keep my cynicism tucked away in my sock drawer, our civic politicians go out of their way to prove me right: It doesn’t matter who you vote for (at least if they align themselves to the “right"), you always get the same result in the end.
Of course that doesn’t mean I’m going to roll over and give up. No, it just increases my resolve to do what little I can to change the political culture in the city, by getting involved in my community, and in groups and organizations working to strengthen our communities, empower the disenfranchised, and to focus on the health of the city as a whole.