Proposed City Development Fee Long Overdue

By Paul Moist

A version of this article will also be published in the Wolseley Leaf Community Newspaper

Winnipeg City Council is currently considering a development fee to ensure that suburban growth in our city pays its fair share of city-wide infrastructure needs.

Such fees are nothing new: municipalities surrounding Winnipeg levy them as do most major Canadian cities.

Winnipeg developers are up in arms and do not want to pay the proposed development fee. In this stance they are being consistent with the historic position of the industry in our city, an industry that has had significant influence over Winnipeg City Hall, especially in promoting costly suburban sprawl.

Manitoba Premier, Brian Pallister, has mused that he’s not sure Winnipeg City Council has the authority to levy a development fee. His government says taxes should be cut, not raised, and that City Hall should get its fiscal house in order.

Here, Pallister is being consistent with previous provincial Conservative administrations.

They conveniently forget facts such as the City cannot fund a deficit, and the civic employees’ pension fund is fully-funded while the Province has in excess of $3 billion in unfunded liabilities.

Existing neighbourhoods in Winnipeg have paid a steep price for growing suburban sprawl. The consultant engaged by the City cites a deterioration of existing infrastructure and a growing city-wide infrastructure deficit, including roads, bridges, tunnels, water and wastewater plants, emergency services, transit and libraries (to name only a few).

Winnipeg’s infrastructure deficit is expected to hit $7.4 billion by 2018, and Henson Consulting Limited states that $3.6 billion of this amount is related to the need for new development related infrastructure.

One need only drive around Winnipeg to see how we are all subsidizing suburban sprawl. Winnipeg’s annual per capita infrastructure spending is about one-third of the average across eight major Canadian cities.

Our city needs properly maintained infrastructure, but absent a development fee those of us who live in existing neighbourhoods are paying in two ways. First, the burden is disproportionately being loaded onto our property tax bills, and second, we have city infrastructure in disrepair and key city-wide services such as Transit are badly under-funded.

In 1911 the Chicago Tribune predicted great things for Winnipeg, saying: “All roads lead to Winnipeg…It is destined to become one of the greatest distributing and commercial centers of the continent”.

For a host of well-documented reasons that potential was not realized, and we moved from Canada’s third largest city to today where we barely hang on in the top ten in terms of population.

We are a city of just over 700,000 within municipal boundaries that could easily accommodate twice the population. The suburban sprawl of recent decades has not paid for itself. It has been subsidized by existing neighbourhoods.

Winnipeg, with Western Canada’s oldest housing stock, has seen our bad situation worsen with the federal retreat from funding for social housing, to today’s situation where there is no pan-Canadian housing strategy. This is not an issue for suburban dwellers, but has devastating impacts on existing inner city neighbourhoods.

Mayor Bowman’s plan to extend the proposed development fee to infill housing in three years cannot be justified. The infrastructure for infill housing already exists and therefore development fees are not needed. A far better option would be for him to call for a new Core Area Initiative Agreement with the federal and provincial governments with a strong housing component. Were he to issue this call to the two senior levels of government, he would gain the support of most Winnipeggers.

We don’t need lectures from our Premier or constant obfuscation from self-interested developers. We need to support Mayor Brian Bowman and urge City Council to establish a much needed development fee, resulting in some much-needed tax fairness for Winnipeg.

Paul Moist is past President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees and a CCPA MB Research Associate.

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Filed under city planning, housing, taxes, Winnipeg

Vulnerable Manitobans going without daily bread

First published in The Winnipeg Free Press Oct 19, 2017 as “Manitobans hungrier for meatier food allowance”

By Lynda Trono

If you only had $3.96 a day to spend on groceries, what would you buy?

That’s a question Laura Shields deals with every day. Laura is a 61 year old woman who grew up in Winnipeg’s North end. From the age of 17 she worked in a number of factories on an assembly line. Later, she worked for the post office. Because of a slipped disc and twisted pelvis, Laura is unable to work. Her husband, Lyle, used to work selling the Winnipeg Free Press but the paper stand at Hargrave and Portage closed down. With only a Grade 6 education, Lyle has been unable to find a stable job. Their stories have been used with permission. Continue reading

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Filed under food security, inequality, poverty

Keep Post-Secondary Education Tuition Legislation

By Brianne Goertzen and Michael Barkman

First published on the CBC website Oct 14, 2016

Post-secondary education is a public good that all Manitobans value and should have access to. Unfortunately, Premier Pallister, when asked about protecting affordability for Manitoba students, has said that he doesn’t “want to dismiss the possibility” of changing tuition policy. Currently, domestic, undergraduate tuition is tied to the rate of inflation. It is protected under legislation called ‘The Protecting Affordability for University Students Act’. Manitoba has the third lowest tuition fee levels in the country because of students fighting for the right to access and afford post-secondary, as well as a willingness on the part of the previous NDP government to listen to students’ concerns. Continue reading

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Lesson from Syrian refugee resettlement in Winnipeg

By Hani Al-Ubeady, Emily Halldorson and Ray Silvius

As the Syrian refugee crisis continues, so do Canada’s — and Manitoba’s — obligations toward refugee resettlement. With a reported 900 Syrians to arrive in Manitoba before the end of this year, what have we learned since last autumn?

We believe the overall response from Canadians and Manitobans during the Syrian refugee crisis of late 2015 and early 2016 was overwhelmingly positive, despite vocal detractors. There was a flood of donations of money, furniture, material and time Canadians contributed toward Syrian refugee resettlement. There was a surge in initiatives to sponsor Syrian refugees under the private sponsorship program. Continue reading

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Economic security, democratic rights and the secret ballot

This Work Life first appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press on Oct. 3, 2016.

By Sudhir Sandhu

Democracy. The word carries a deep meaning for citizens of nations rooted in western democratic traditions. The full measure of the word far exceeds the individual rights it implies. For Canadians, it is viscerally connected to the foundations of our history.

The word embodies the weight of sacrifices made by the many who defended democracy against grave dangers in the past and their memory occupies the deepest recesses of our collective consciousness, imploring us to forever stand vigilant against future dangers. As Canadians, we will never lack the inspiration to defend our rights. We are bound by these principles, not only as Canadians but across borders with citizens of other nations, near and far.

When democratic principles are summoned in support of public policy, our first instinct is often a supportive response. In Manitoba, democratic rights have been invoked to support legislative changes proposed under Bill 7, introduced by the Pallister Government. The suggestion that union workers are entitled to cast secret ballots resonates easily and broadly across our socio-economic strata. Democracy conjures a powerful instinct, one that is difficult to contest.

Soon, Bill 7 will be debated in the Manitoba Legislature and as it winds through the legislative process, those opposed will raise questions of fairness and public necessity. These arguments, although reasoned, may do little to overcome our emotional connection to the democratic principles invoked by supporters. Lynton Crosby, a Conservative Australian political mastermind, has said reason stands no chance when competing with emotion.

The suggested rationale for Bill 7 is simple; it is about democracy. In our system, it is a compelling argument that the franchise, whether to elect governments or to unionize, is an individual right best exercised in secret. But is that the full extent of our democracy?

Democracy is more than the right to cast secret ballots. A healthy democracy needs an informed and economically secure electorate. Being informed requires that we are able to reason through hollow arguments, that if accepted at face value, would only serve to undermine our enduring interests. Economic security depends on a foundation that offers a reasonable degree of equality for all citizens. Democracy is not solely a function of the single moment when citizens vote.

Democracy is corrupted by economic and social inequality. It seldom takes hold in societies that are struggling under the weight of economic or social unfairness. Even secure societies can be undermined by economic and social stressors. In the ongoing US Presidential election, our American neighbours are irreconcilably divided. The inexplicable rise of Donald Trump is a symptom of social and economic duress. If Mr. Trump is elected, it will be by secret ballot.

As Manitoba debates Bill 7, we cannot be distracted by the invocation of democratic principles and overlook fundamental socio-economic factors that must also be taken into account. But what are these factors?

The International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz have recently highlighted bread and butter reasons to proceed with extreme caution. The IMF and OECD have released convincing economic data that directly links wealth concentration and slower growth with declining unionization in western democracies.

Both organizations say that when unions decline, so does the middle class. At the same time, more wealth concentrates into fewer hands. This is not the position of left leaning, union organizations. Neither the IMF nor the OECD can be accused of occupying a position on the left side of the political or economic spectra.

These organizations have consistently promoted pro-business, small government economic policies. Hard economic data has forced them to admit Thatcherism and Reaganism were very bad for our economies. They now acknowledge that a thirty-year assault on the right of workers to unionize has tipped the balance far too far.

Ironically, while Mr. Pallister’s Government is seeking to enact Bill 7, the Trudeau Government is repealing Bills C-377 and C-525 enacted by the Harper Conservatives. Prime Minister Harper also invoked democracy to enact legislation that was roundly criticized as an American style attack on the right to unionize. What was seen as bad legislation for Canada, is now being presented as good policy for Manitoba.

Past experience in British Columbia tells us that Bill 7 will make it harder for Manitoba workers to unionize. Will Manitobans be better off if Bill 7 becomes law and the Province has fewer unionized workers? The evidence clearly suggests not. Based on reasoned evidence, Bill 7 should never become law.

Sometimes, we need to check our instincts and let emotions take second place to reason. Bill 7 professes to restore democracy in the workplace. It is in fact an instrument of its slow demise. Manitoba deserves better. We deserve thoughtful governance that places a premium on hard evidence and discounts raw ideology with extreme prejudice. The defence of our democratic traditions demands nothing less.

Sudhir Sandhu is CEO of the Manitoba Building Trades and Allied Hydro Council.


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Filed under democracy, Labour, Manitoba, Uncategorized

Next up deadline extended to Oct 17th

Next Up Winnipeg:
for young adults who want to change the world

Next Up was created by a community of people who wanted to help emerging leaders (that’s you!) develop new and better skills, smarts and ideas. The program is intense. Over 6.5 months, we’ll dive into a number of topics and disciplines, combining theory, practice, deep thinking, and hard skills. We’ll look at how change is made in society. We’ll meet some of the most innovative change-makers in Manitoba — from the non-profit, labour, business and public sectors and from Indigenous, settler and newcomer communities— who are working for a better world.

Who should apply? You are:

• Aged 18–32
• Passionate about changing the way the world works, and committed to being active at the centre of social change
• Certain that there are better ways for us to take care of each other and the planet
• Willing to take a risk, join a team, and learn more about yourself
What level of commitment is required from me, and when?
By joining Next Up you’re committing yourself to an extraordinarily
rigorous and exciting program. The program runs from Nov 19, 2016 to May 31, 2017and during that time you will:
• Attend one week-day evening session 6 – 9 pm per week
• Attend one day-long weekend session per month (Generally Saturdays from 10-4pm)

Next Up Manitoba local partners:
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – Manitoba, Canadian Community Economic
Development Network (CCEDNet) Manitoba.

Funded by the Winnipeg Foundation, United Food and Commercial Worker’s Union local 832, Manitoba Government Employee’s Union, The Catherine Donnelly Foundation, Manitoba Community Services Council and supported by the United Way of Winnipeg.

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Filed under democracy, Manitoba, Uncategorized, Winnipeg, youth

Cities and Civic Workers: The Union Role in Building Better Cities

Book Review by Jim Silver

Although Carlo Fanelli’s book Megacity Malaise: Neoliberalism, Public Services and Labour in Toronto is not about Winnipeg, it offers many insights applicable to Winnipeg and to other Canadian cities. Fanelli is a former Toronto civic employee who looks at civic issues from the point of view of city employees and their unions. His central argument is that the fiscal problems confronting Toronto and all major Canadian cities are not caused by over-spending on civic services nor by excessive union wage demands, although this is what is typically claimed. Continue reading

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Filed under city planning, Labour, public sector, unions, Winnipeg