Closing the Divides – First things first

by Errol Black

In early July the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg announced that it was seeking to obtain money to fund a study to determine the feasibility of relocating the C.P.R. yards that geographically currently divides the city.

Subsequently, the Free Press carried a CCPA-Manitoba piece written by Jim Silver titled, “Better ways to fight poverty than moving CP yards“.  Silver noted that there is also a socioeconomic divide between that part of the city on the north side of the tracks and the part on the south side.   He suggested that the resources required for the feasibility study, and indeed the relocation of the yards in future, would be better spent on programs now aimed at closing the socioeconomic divide.  To this end he proposes a series of initiatives covering both early year and adult education, housing, and the establishment of “labour market intermediaries” to assist unemployed and underemployed workers to find jobs and  improved employment.

Since that exchange, the Free Press has published much additional material on the relocation issue, providing some interesting examples of experiences in other cities in Canada and elsewhere.  However, the arguments made by Silver have been all but ignored – at least in relation to the C.P.R. yards relocation.  Dan Lett drew attention to poverty and related social issues in response to Winnipeg’s ongoing problem with crime. He observes that, “too many members of the public find all of their comfort in policing and resent money being spent on social programs.”

The idea of relocating the C.P.R. rails is indeed a big idea but it must not distract us from the more pressing issue – the persistent, pervasive poverty that is damaging generations of families and crippling communities.

While the studies of relocation of the Yards are contemplated, talked about, revised, etc, we need to scale up social investment. Why now?  Because it’s a problem that is holding many thousands of individuals from fully participating in society. It makes sense to do these things now to clear away the obstacles to their participation.  We will need them even more if the relocation project comes to fruition.  The elimination of poverty is, therefore, a vital first step in creating the conditions that will allow people in the north end to have a greater presence in the labour force now, and also prepare them as participants in and beneficiaries of any future projects that close the geographical divide.

All levels of government should be moving forward with a comprehensive program aimed at providing people with the education, training and job placement they need to obtain decent jobs, and also with decent housing, daycare, and other community services that are needed to ensure that community development keeps pace with individual development.  If the  actions proposed by Silver are properly funded while the relocation idea is being reviewed and developed, by the time the project is approved we will have workers, families and community organizations in the north end available to assure a smooth transition to the next level.

Governments that have the wisdom and political will to do these things will truly be at the leading edge of setting the stage for a sea change in how we deal with economic renewal and development in our major cities.

Errol Black is a member of the CCPA-mb board.

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