New CCPA report – Stranded in Suburbia

One of the biggest topics of conversations these days is the impact that the baby boomer generation will have on Canadian society as it turns 65. In Winnipeg, baby boomers live primarily in the suburbs. Suburbs are generally characterized by low-density development and land use separation: buildings are spread out, and homes are completely segregated from the vast majority of services.

If boomers continue to live in the suburbs as they age – which is likely – we will face significant challenges in delivering services and meeting this group’s housing, transportation and other needs. In a new report released by the CCPA-MB, Art Ladd asks if Manitoba’s policies and strategies for addressing the aging population are sufficient.

The report examines current suburban development patterns, the expected population change, as well as the aging process itself. It reviews the social aspects of health and how these relate to housing, transportation, and support service needs. This review is followed by a critique of the Government of Manitoba’s current strategies and policies on aging. In conclusion, it offers a range of recommendations to help make Manitoba cities more liveable for older adults.

For a copy of the report, click here.

Cuba: Going beyond borders to scale up access to universal health care

PDF version

by Rebecca Fries

I have just read Errol Black and Jim Silver’s review of the book Revolutionary Doctors (“Revolutionary Health Care,” CCPA-Manitoba Fast Facts, January 4, 2012). I agree with what they say about the important role that Cuban doctors play in Central America. Based on my experience, what Cuban medical personnel do in Central America is a testament to Cuba’s commitment to providing quality health care services, both within and beyond their borders. After living and working in Central America and Mexico for over 10 years, I can confirm many of the central points argued by Black and Silver.

After attending Brandon University in the 1990s, I studied Social Work at the University of Calgary and later pursued a practicum placement in Central America. This experience led to over 10 years of supporting local development with organisations of small farmers, indigenous people and women in Central America.

I learned a lot about economic and social conditions there, including the vital role played by Cuba in supplying doctors and other professional health care workers to the region. I learned also about the role of Cuba in helping citizens of other countries to acquire the same knowledge, skills and qualifications in Cuban medical schools.

In Central America and Mexico, conditions of poverty are exacerbated by governments’ failure to provide accessible education, health and social services, particularly to the rural indigenous population. Complex historical socio-economic and political factors combine with the widening war amongst drug cartels in the region, and the extreme levels of corruption and impunity in Mesoamerica, and all of these have contributed to the creation of near failed states in countries such as Guatemala and Honduras. Governments are not accountable to their populations, and there are generalized levels of distrust, misuse and mismanagement of public funds, and severe fraud among public officials. Attempts to improve access to public services such as health and education have been stunted by corruption, and the lack of available public resources has limited attempts to make advances in this area.

I had many experiences with the Guatemalan healthcare system that were appalling, and that highlighted the lack of quality service. This was especially the case in remote areas of the country. The one factor that has caused a shift in access to health services is that for several years the Cuban government has been providing Guatemala and other countries with one of their most valuable resources—highly skilled people. Based on my experience, the presence of Cuban doctors in Guatemala together with the Cuban government’s programme that brings international students to study top-notch medicine in Cuba is making a marked difference in access to health care. In remote areas where previously there was no access to services, medical professionals from Cuba are providing high quality care.

In 2007, my partner at the time was on an assignment to photo-document an inhumation in the remote Guatemalan highlands of the Quiche Department. In Guatemala, inhumations usually involve the ceremonial re-burial by family and community members of remains uncovered in communal mass graves from the period of the 30 year internal conflict, during which genocide was committed largely against the rural indigenous population. During the drive back to Guatemala City, on a treacherous dirt road winding through the mountains, his jeep skidded on the gravel and plummeted over a sharp cliff. Upon regaining consciousness, Ulysses knew that he and his colleague were in trouble. Rodrigo had been thrown through the windshield and was half buried in dirt, not breathing. They were very far from an urban centre, and in any event public health services in Guatemala are sketchy at best. To make a very long story short (which includes local indigenous healers, raw eggs and the amazing will and solidarity of local villagers), they were eventually transported to the closest small village. Ulysses managed to gain consciousness and speak to me a few times briefly. He described the “facility” as bare, with little for supplies and equipment, and without electricity to do a simple X-ray to determine internal injuries. Then he said, “but, we are in luck, there is a Cuban doctor here!”

That brought huge relief. We all had witnessed the commitment of the Cuban government to educating and sharing skilled Cuban medical practitioners in acts of solidarity with Guatemala, and with other Latin American countries with less access to top universally accessible health care. These acts of global solidarity had produced a huge and positive impact on health services throughout the region.

Additionally, Cuba offers several scholarships every year to aspiring doctors, in Guatemala and other countries. Several Guatemalans I know have family and friends who have been supported by the Cuban government to study in Cuba, where they can earn a top-quality medical education. This would have been otherwise impossible.

Ulysses and Rodrigo recovered fully; weeks later they were raving about the amazing work of the Cuban professional, who, in this remote village without electricity, stitched them up and attended to their injuries. Later they were flown by their agencies to the top hospital in Guatemala City, but by then they were already well. I was left thinking about all the villagers in this remote area of Guatemala who rely on this doctor. They would not otherwise have access to care.

The high quality medical service provided to Guatemalans as part of Cuba’s commitment to countries “in development” is a no-brainer. I had known in a theoretical way about Cuba’s international health care work. But this, along with other personal experiences, made me more aware of the situation of those leaving Guatemala to study in Cuba. I noticed Cuban optometric and orthodontic delegations, and also looked for medical attention myself from Cuban professionals, which dramatically changed my own experience with healthcare in Guatemala.

I could share several more anecdotes about the provision of health services by Cuban medical professionals doing their service in Guatemala, but my greatest lessons included the reiteration of the importance of the values of sharing and solidarity, and the amazing power of building and sharing human skills in a country historically excluded by embargos and with little access to material resources.

Rebecca Fries is currently working as an independent consultant out of Mexico City with international NGOs in the field of development.

Are we about to lose our City-owned golf courses?

Tuesday February 14 – Meeting at City Hall

The February 14, Property and Development Committee Meeting is a very important opportunity to voice your concerns about the sale of City-owned golf courses for commercial and residential development. There is a motion on the agenda regarding sale of golf courses. The meeting will be chaired by Jeff Browaty. Committee members are Councillors Nordman, Pagtakhan, Wyatt, and Mayor Katz (ex officio).

Date: Tuesday, February 14
Where: City Hall, 510 Main Street
Time: The meeting begins at 9:00 am. The agenda may be viewed at 96 hours before the meeting. Select ‘latest agendas’ from the menu.

Attend if you can: your presence will be felt by the committee. OURS (Outdoor Urban Recreational Spaces) will be presenting.

If you’re interested in keeping City golf courses owned by and accessible to the public, attend the February 14th meeting.

For more information on this issue, please see the Fast Facts.

Tar sands, Pipelines, and Tankers: A public forum on the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline

Friends of CCPA will be interested in this public forum. CCPA’s Lynne Fernandez will be one of the presenters.

February 16, 7 pm.

University of Winnipeg

Richardson College for the Environment & Science Complex

599 Portage Ave.


Dr. Wade Davis, Explorer in Residence, National Geographic Society, Visiting Professor and Senior Fellow of the Masters in Development Practice (MDP) Indigenous Development program, University of Winnipeg and author of The Sacred Headwaters: the fight to save the Stikine, Skeena and Nass.

Gerald Amos, former elected Chief Councillor for the Haisla First Nation for 12 years. He has been a leading voice for conservation in Canada for thirty years. He is the author of an open letter to Prime

Minister Stephen Harper and Natural Resources Minister, Joe Oliver “No apology forthcoming”.

Lynne Fernandez, Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives. Lynne has an MA in economics from the University of Manitoba. Lynne researches municipal and provincial social and economic policy. She is also interested in labour and environmental issues. Lynne is an ex-pat Albertan who was born and raised in Calgary. She likes living in Winnipeg.

Anne Lindsey, former executive director, Manitoba Eco-Network. Anne has worked and volunteered on Manitoba and national issues such as nuclear waste, forestry, food and pesticides, since 1984,  including numerous experiences with environmental reviews.

Moderated by Richard Cloutier, host of Richard Cloutier Reports on CJOB 68.

This event is organized by the Manitoba Eco-Network, Green Action Centre, Climate Change Connection, the Council of Canadians, and the Green Action Committee of the First Unitarian-Universalist Church, with the support of the University of Manitoba’s Global Political Economy Program, the Masters in Development Practice (MDP) Indigenous Development program with the University of Winnipeg and the University of Winnipeg.

Check out the Facebook event for updates and more info.

Brandon Park Named in Honour of CCPA-MB founder

On February 3rd, 2012, the City of Brandon dedicated a park in honour of Errol Black. Errol is a founding member of CCPA Manitoba and a long-time board member. CCPA Manitoba extends a heartfelt congratulations to Errol. This is a well deserved honour for his continued dedication to the City where he was raised and has contributed so much to. The following letter from Errol was printed today in the Brandon Sun.

On Feb. 3, the new park in the east end (situated on land occupied for many years by the “Skunk and Junk” and an Imperial Oil Depot) was dedicated in my name.

I’m not really sure I understand how this happened, but it did, and I must say that I’m both humbled and pleased by this honour.

First, I would like to thank the mayor and city councillors for their unanimous decision to do this. I watched on TV the discussion the resolution brought forward by Coun. Len Isleifson and Coun. Jim McCrae. I was touched by the kind words from all councillors.

Second, I tip my hat to the editors at the Brandon Sun who encouraged and approved council’s decision.

And third, I must acknowledge the support of our family members and the many people who either came out to participate in the naming of the park or sent cards or emails of congratulations.

As most people know, I’ve lived virtually my whole life in the east end of Brandon. I was born at 224 Percy St. and later lived at 132 Frederick St. (about a block from the southeast corner of this new park). For the past 42 years, Margaret and I have lived at 212 13th St. E.

All of our lives we’ve been blessed with good friends and neighbours in the east end, and also many others who have shared our interest in politics and life in general.

A lot of east enders were at the ceremony last Friday. I want to recognize all the people past and present who have devoted, and continue to devote their time and energy to make in the east end a robust, civil and engaged community based on mutual respect and sharing.

Their dedication and labour are reflected especially in the assets and activities at the East End Community Centre and Rideau Park.

Among those people, I would include previous city councillors from the east end: Walter Green, Jim Campbell, Emily Lyons (who attended the dedication), Jim Armstrong, Barry Brooking and Ross Martin.

Also present at the ceremony were many people we have met over the years through our places of work, our participation in the East End Community Centre and similar organizations as our children were growing up. And also through our membership on many boards and committees and our longtime involvement in the labour movement and the NDP.

All of the people we’ve come in contact with over these many years have shared with us an abiding interest in the City of Brandon, and a recognition that we are indeed blessed to live in this “city of promise.”


Errol Black, Brandon

Labour-Management Conflict in Brandon’s Public Sector: Chapter 2

PDF version

by Errol Black

Labour-management conflict has once again taken centre stage in the city of Brandon. The first episode involved the Brandon University Faculty Association (BUFA) and Brandon University. The recent conflict involves the City of Brandon and the Brandon Professional Firefighter/Paramedics Association (IAF Local 803). The two conflicts have important similarities.

On October 12, 2011, the Brandon University Faculty Association (BUFA) went on strike against Brandon University in an attempt to resolve a collective bargaining impasse and secure a new collective agreement. As it turned out, Brandon University (assisted by a Vancouver-based consultant and Grant Mitchell, a Winnipeg-based labour lawyer) was intent on crushing the union and imposing conditions detrimental to its members. The strike ended 45 days later, on November 25, when it became evident that BUFA members were prepared to reject the University’s latest offer in a government-mandated vote.

The conflict in the City of Brandon first emerged publicly on October 14, 2011. At that time, Local Union President Wade Ritchie was reprimanded by the City for “deceitful conduct” apparently arising from an exchange of communications on October 3, 2011, relating to the commencement of negotiations on a new collective agreement. Subsequently, the Brandon Sun reported that, following an internal investigation, Ritchie “was stripped of his lieutenant’s rank, demoted to a rank-and-file firefighter and suspended without pay for five days.” In response, the local union filed a complaint with the Manitoba Labour Board.

In the weeks that followed, it became apparent that some of the same people that were advising and acting for Brandon University are employed in the same capacity with the City of Brandon. Grant Mitchell has for many years been the City’s lawyer for labour relations issues. Some months prior to the conflict with the firefighters, the City hired Canadian Professional Management Services, Inc. (CPMS) a Vancouver-based consulting firm (in the person of Mohamed Doma) for the purpose of “showing the City how to get back control of its workers,” and negotiating collective agreements with three of the four City unions – Fire Fighters (and E911 employees), Transit and Police.(1)

In recent months, the City has pushed a number of grievances forward to arbitration, and stalled on negotiations with firefighters. Then on January 26, the City announced that Wade Ritchie was fired. He was given a letter explaining that the action was “based on the totality of his employment record.” Alex Forrest, International Association of Fire Fighters Canadian trustee, said the timing of the action “is very suspicious. This occurred just a few days after they had exchanged [correspondence regarding potential dates for meetings to deal with collective bargaining proposals].” And now this has made it very difficult for the union president to do his job representing his members as they seek a fair and reasonable wage and benefit package.”

Forrest also told Brandon Sun reporter Keith Borkowsky: “There is no limit to the financial support we will give Brandon’s firefighters. It’s unfortunate that Brandon will be known for this incredible action against a labour leader.” On January 31, Ritchie and the Fire Fighters filed an unfair labour practice claim against the City of Brandon. Forrest told Borkowsky that the claim “alleges everything from coercion to intimidation to interfering with the union’s ability to represent its members.”

All the while this has been going on, the City has been embroiled in conflict over its budget for 2012, a budget that proposed major increases in expenditures and a significant tax hike. A petition on ebrandon is accumulating hundreds of names and a number of organizations and prominent individuals, including recently retired city treasurer Grant MacMillan, called on the City to rework the budget. The City has now agreed to rework the budget in an effort to scale back tax increases.

Although the mayor subsequently provided information that demonstrated otherwise, at one point the City tried to blame union wages and collective bargaining costs for the need for tax hikes. They published data on the website reporting major increases in expenditures on labour relations since 2010, highlighting increases for firefighters.

* Includes $80,000 for a new Deputy HR Director.

The amount allocated to labour relations with the Fire Fighters has increased by a significant amount. In 2010, this allocation accounted for 50 per cent of the total labour relations budget; 57 percent when the Deputy Director is removed from the equation. The City told the Brandon Sun “the increase was needed to hire an external labour relations expert to negotiate a new deal because it had ‘neither the staff resources nor the time.’” If this is true, it raises questions as to how the City was able to find staff resources and time to negotiate new deals in the past – new deals that were touted by the City and Union as the outcome of a mature bargaining relationship and in the mutual interest of both the City and the Fire Fighters? And why, at the very time when the City must depend on its employees to secure a collective agreement that works for everyone, would the City hire an external consultant who will not only cost a bundle directly, but seems likely also to drive up other costs – for grievances and claims to the Manitoba Labour Board – and undermine morale in the Fire Department.

A more disturbing question is: why is it that two of Brandon’s major public sector employers – the City and Brandon University – are suddenly seeking to undermine their unions using anti-union consultants and lawyers? Perhaps we will get an answer to this question as the current conflict plays out in the weeks to come.

It the meantime, it would seem that the best course of action for the City is to cut its losses and send the consultant back to Vancouver; reinstate Mr. Ritchie; settle the outstanding grievances; and seek to negotiate a collective agreement that is based on mutual respect and trust.

(1) A story in the February 1 edition of the Brandon Sun reports that the Police Union has ratified a one-year contract that provides for a wage increase of two per cent.

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

Winnipeg Housing Statistics

Looking for information about housing in Winnipeg? Look no further – here are the updated facts and statistics about housing in Winnipeg and Manitoba. (The previous page is here).

References are available at the bottom of the page, in case you are looking for more details.

Core Housing Need

Definition of Core Housing Need

“Acceptable housing is defined as adequate and suitable shelter that can be obtained without spending 30 per cent or more of before-tax household income. Adequate shelter is housing that is not in need of major repair. Suitable shelter is housing that is not crowded, meaning that it has sufficient bedrooms for the size and make-up of the occupying household. The subset of households classified as living in unacceptable housing and unable to access acceptable housing is considered to be in core housing need.”(1)

Core Housing Need

In 2006: (2)

  • 11.3 % of all MB households lived in core housing need (46,900 people)
  • 24.0 % of MB renter households lived in core housing need (28,800 people)
  • 6.2 % of MB owner households lived in core housing need (18,100 people)
  • 22.3 % of those who immigrated to Canada between 2001 and 2006 lived in core housing need in Manitoba (1,600 people)

In 2006: (3)

  • 37.3 % of Winnipeg tenant-occupied households spent over 30% of their income on housing.
  • 11.6 % of Winnipeg owner-occupied households spend over 30% of their income on housing.

Renting in Manitoba

Current Vacancy Rates

In October, 2011, the vacancy rate was (4)

  • 1.0 % in Manitoba, the lowest vacancy rate in the provinces
  • 1.1 % in Winnipeg, the second-lowest among all CMAs in Canada
  • 0.0 % in Thompson
  • 0.6 % in Brandon
  • 1.0 % in Portage la Prairie

Source: (5)

Winnipeg’s Rental Universe

(This data only applies to apartment buildings with three or more units)

The rental universe in Winnipeg (6)

  • has declined in 15 of the past 18 years.
  • Lost 835 rental units, of which at least 450 units were permanently removed from the rental universe, between October 2009 and October 2010 (leaving 52,319 units).

Since 1992, Winnipeg’s rental universe has declined from 57,279 units to 52,319 in 2010, a decline of about 9 percent (7). At the same time, the population of Winnipeg has increased from 677,000 to 753,600, an increase of about 11 percent (8).

  • The result is a drop in the number of rental units per 100 people from 8.5 units to 6.9.



In October 2011, the average rent was (9)

  • 744 $ in Manitoba (compared with 711 $ in October 2010)
  • 754 $ in Winnipeg (compared with 719 $ in October 2010)
  • 683 $ in Thompson (compared with 668 $ in April 2010)

In 2011, the Median Market Rent in Manitoba was: (10)

Affordability of Average Rents in Winnipeg (11 and 12)

EIA and Rent in Winnipeg (13 and 14)



In 2010, 15,803 international migrants came to Manitoba, and 12,340 immigrants moved to Winnipeg. (15)

The population of Manitoba increased by 15,800 people from 2009-2010 (from 1,219,600 to 1,235,400). (16)

The population of Winnipeg increased by 9,700 people from 2009-2010 (from 674,400 to 684,100). (17)

Social Housing

Manitoba Housing “owns the Province’s housing portfolio and provides subsidies to approximately 34,900 households under various housing programs. Within the portfolio, Manitoba Housing owns 17,600 units of which 13,100 units are directly managed by Manitoba Housing and another 4,500 units are operated by non- profit/cooperative sponsor groups or property management agencies. Manitoba Housing also provides subsidy and support to approximately 17,300 households (including 4,700 personal care home beds) operated by cooperatives, Urban Native and private non-profit groups.” (18)

National Social Housing Construction

In 1993, the federal government withdrew from housing. Until then, about 10 percent of the housing built each year in Canada was affordable to lower income households; since then it has been less than one percent.


(1) CMHC 2011, Canadian Housing Observer.

(2) CMHC 2006, Canadian Housing Observer. Also offers data on types of family, Aboriginal status, and period of immigration

(3) City of Winnipeg 2006. 2006 Census Data – City of Winnipeg.

(4) CMHC 2011, Fall. Rental Market Report: Manitoba Highlights.

(5) CMHC 2011, Fall. Rental Market Report: Winnipeg CMA.

(6) CMHC 2011. Rental Market Report: Manitoba Highlights. 

(7) CMHC 2011. Personal communication from Dianne Himbeault, CMHC.

(8) City of Winnipeg. 2011. Population of Winnipeg.

(9) CMHC 2011, Fall. Rental Market Report: Manitoba Highlights.

(10) Government of Manitoba, date unknown. Housing Income Limits and Median Market Rent

(11) City of Winnipeg 2006. 2006 Census Data – City of Winnipeg.

(12) CMHC 2011, Fall. Rental Market Report: Winnipeg CMA.

(13) CMHC 2011, Fall. Rental Market Report: Winnipeg CMA.

(14) Employment and Income Assistance Facts. Government of Manitoba.

(15) Government of Manitoba. 2011. News and Resources.

(16) City of Winnipeg. 2011, May 1. Population of Winnipeg.

(17) City of Winnipeg. 2011, May 1. Population of Winnipeg.

(18) Manitoba Housing and Community Development. 2010. Annual Report 2009-2010.

(19) CMHC. 2011. CHS – Public Funds and National Housing Act (Social Housing).

Lean Hospitals – Lean Healthcare

By Errol Black

During the recent discussions on changes to the formula for federal contributions to health care spending, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall signalled that his province (which is flush with resource revenues from potash and oil) could live with the new arrangements. At the same time, however, Wall suggested that a Health Care Innovation Fund be created to help fund significant innovations in healthcare in the provinces. A working group was subsequently established by the premiers to work on healthcare innovation. The working group is co-chaired by Wall and Premier Robert Ghiz, Prince Edward Island, and includes health ministers from provinces and territories.

Prime Minister Harper rejected Wall’s proposal to create an “extra fund” but said he would be interested in getting fresh proposals from the premiers on how to sustain Canada’s health-care system.

As it turns out, Wall and his Saskatchewan government are already moving forward with one innovation that could have a profound impact on heatlhcare delivery in that province and perhaps others. It is, moreover, precisely the sort of innovation that would appeal to Stephen Harper.

In recent years, the Wall government has been experimenting with the application of lean-management principles to in the healthcare sector. Early applications in the Five Hills Health Region in Moose Jaw apparently produced some promising results. So promising in fact that the CEO of the Five Hills Health Region, Dan Florizone, was recruited to pave the way for the introduction of lean-management principles and practices across the province to include “all of its 43,000 workers and managers.”

The plan will proceed in two stages. Phase 1 involves “strategy deployment” – or the establishment of priorities. Phase 2 involves getting all healthcare components – agencies, hospitals, councils, etc. – “thinking like a synchronized lean machine. Indentify waste, test a possible fix, evaluate the outcome and repeat. The cycle can, and should, go on forever.” The claim is also made that workers have bought into the process and are contributing input to design of the new Moose Jaw Union hospital and a new Children’s Hospital in Saskatoon.

An American consulting firm, John Black and Associates, is to provide the expertise required to transform the culture and shape the system to the lean philosophy.

All of this has its origins in the example of the lean production/ lean management methods of Toyota (much of which is reminscent of the practices of scientific management from the late 19th and early decades of the 20th centuries). The big push for the adoption of lean management in North America comes, apparently, from the Kaizen Institute, which bills itself as a “Global Leader in Continuous Improvement Strategy”.

It does indeed seem that Saskatchewan is on the “cutting edge” of innovations in healthcare delivery, although we suspect that this approach will have more to do with cutting costs and deskilling hospital workers than it does with enhancing jobs and improving healthcare services. This is a particular concern when American firms are recruited to lead the way in transforming the culture and shaping the system to the lean-management philosophy.

We need to know:

  • how workers and their unions feel about the approach to lean-management in Saskatchewan;
  • if similar approaches are underway or contemplated in other jurisdictions in Canada;
  • and, if the federal government has signalled that this approach is approved as an example of the sorts of private-public-partnerships they would support.

This is potentially the start of a fundamental change in the way our healthcare services are delivered, and we will be keeping a close eye on how things progress in Saskatchewan.

Going Nowhere Fast: The Kenaston Boulevard Project and the Inadequacy of Roadway Expansion in Reducing Winnipeg’s Gridlock

PDF version

by Ben Gillies

For many Winnipeggers, the news from Main Street last week was long overdue. On Wednesday, city council voted in favour of a preliminary design to finally widen Kenaston Boulevard to six lanes of traffic between Ness and Taylor avenues. As noted in the Winnipeg Free Press, the plan is to expand the roadway on the west side by acquiring land from Kapyong Barracks, and on the east by demolishing about 50 homes. Admittedly, actual construction of the proposed alignment may not move forward for several years, since the desired Kapyong Barracks land is currently at the centre of a federal court case between Ottawa and a number of First Nations groups. Nevertheless, the vote on a project meant to improve the state of almost permanent gridlock along Route 90 will likely be welcomed as a decision that, according to conventional practice, should have been made a long ago. As Winnipeg’s public works director Brad Sacher notes, current road standards suggest a street be widened to six lanes when traffic counts are above 35,000 vehicles per day, while volumes along the boulevard have been upwards of 50,000 cars and trucks per day for decades, and between 60,000 and 70,000 vehicles daily in recent years.

The decision to invest millions of dollars in this project was made based on the seemingly commonsense belief that expanding the number of lanes along a major artery is the best method of alleviating traffic congestion. Interestingly, however, new research suggests this long-held assumption may not in fact be true. Last year, economists at the University of Toronto analyzed reams of travel and roadway construction data from across the United States going back two decades, and they discovered that “vehicle-kilometres traveled […] increase proportionately to roadway lane kilometres”. Or, to be more concise, “roads cause traffic”.

The basis for this decidedly counterintuitive conclusion is the three-pronged ‘fundamental law of highway congestion’: “people drive more when the stock of roads in their city increases; commercial driving and trucking increases with a city’s stock of roads; [and] people migrate to cities which are relatively well provided with roads”. Basically, drivers use their vehicles more frequently as the road network expands. As was discovered in the American statistics, when more lanes or roads became available there was a proportional rise in the amount of driving done by motorists, meaning the “increased provision of interstate highways and major urban roads is unlikely to relieve congestion of these roads”. Moreover, the economists found building larger public transit systems is by itself an equally insufficient solution. Because there are always drivers waiting for extra space on the road, a former motorist taking the bus only provides the opportunity for another to fill their place on the street, with no change in the overall amount of traffic.

While there was little media fanfare over this research when it came out, the economists’ findings are worthy of note, as they throw the North American approach to reducing gridlock on its head. For years city planners have expanded roadways (and to a lesser extent, public transit systems) in an attempt to ease the pressure on an increasingly overcrowded transportation network, yet the empirical evidence indicates any relief was only temporary. Unfortunately, on the whole cities appear to have been left worse off by such investment, as congestion quickly returned but municipalities were permanently shouldered with the burden of maintaining more and more expensive infrastructure.

Of course, it is worth acknowledging that, despite the real-world findings of the Toronto economists, theoretically there is a point where road construction will alleviate congestion. If the City of Winnipeg chose to expand Kenaston Boulevard to, say, 100 lanes of traffic, it would obviously never be backed up. The problem, however, is that adding enough lanes to adequately mitigate gridlock would often be unrealistic in the confined area of a city, aesthetically unpleasant, and almost assuredly not financially feasible. This last fact is likely the most critical in Winnipeg, as the city cannot even afford the streets it has now. According to the Winnipeg Sun, about one-fifth of our roads have been designated “poor” by the public works department—the worst rating the agency gives—and are in such dreadful condition they have essentially been written off. Due to a lack of funding, the department has no plans to repair most of these streets in the next fifteen to twenty years, and is struggling just to ensure no more roads fall into such a state of disrepair. Overall, Manitoba’s capital has an infrastructure deficit—the difference between the amount of money the city government has and what it needs to maintain all its assets—exceeding $3.9 billion, and the Winnipeg Public Service projects the gap will grow to over $7.4 billion in the next decade.

The Route 90 proposal is certainly not the only arterial widening project on the municipal government’s agenda. In fact, in its latest planning document, the 2011 Transportation Master Plan, the most well-developed chapter pertains to street construction. Unlike the sections on transit, sustainable transportation, and the like, which offer some fantastic qualitative ideals but only sketchy quantitative projections, the street improvements are fully priced out in short-, medium-, and long-term plans. If the data is to be believed, however, such an adherence to road expansion will be decidedly ineffective in easing the pressure on our transportation network in any sort of financially sustainable way. As such, officials should consider a more holistic approach to alleviating gridlock that, unlike enlarging highways and roads, which only creates new demand, promotes a more responsible, moderated use of our transportation infrastructure.

Like almost all Canadians, one of the central assumptions Winnipeggers hold about our transportation network is that it is a public good; that is, the use of a road by one individual does not impede the ability of others to use the same road. Unfortunately, while this is true if there are only a few cars on the street, when we reach the level of traffic congestion seen on this continent, roadways take on traits comparable to those of hydro or water systems. Just as only so much electricity or water can flow through a power line or pipe at any one time, there is only so much room available for cars on the street, leaving the potential for similarly negative results if user demand surpasses available supply. When there is an overloaded demand for electricity, the system fails and no power can pass through the hydro line. Likewise, when too many motorists attempt to simultaneously use the limited space on a road, a traffic jam is created and the ability of any one driver to travel easily around the city is hugely impeded. The major difference between the two is that while hydro blackouts are a rarity and often even make headlines when they do happen, we have come to accept ‘transportation blackouts’ of major roadways as an inevitable and daily occurrence.

To encourage citizens to use scarce road space responsibly, just as they would electricity or water, the University of Toronto economists suggest planners and citizens ought to consider treating the transportation system in a manner not unlike home utilities, where financing is provided for the initial infrastructure construction and then consumers are charged a fee relative to how much they use the service. This would actually be easier than ever in the digital age, as all vehicles could be equipped with some type of GPS device that electronically tracks when and where citizens have driven, with drivers mailed a monthly bill. This type of road pricing is already common in other parts of the world, and even some US states including Oregon and Texas have trialed similar initiatives. Going beyond a flat fee per mile, these hi-tech systems take into account every choice a motorist makes and provide positive and negative inducements to smooth out traffic flow. Motorists are rewarded for choosing a longer but less clogged route, for example, or for driving during off-peak hours. In this regard, a road-pricing plan is actually superior to how governments currently charge motorists for driving—through the gas tax. While the fee at the pumps is a blanket cost for drivers, having the same effect on a major city street at rush hour as an abandoned country road at midnight, fee-per-mile programs are designed to actively moderate traffic through the use of incentives meant to alter how and when someone chooses to travel.

Admittedly, many people may question the notion of charging motorists to drive. Yet, done properly, designing a Winnipeg road-pricing plan could result in the establishment of a more equitable method of financing our transportation system, and lead to a more pleasant travel experience for commuters. Currently, Winnipeggers who choose to, for example, walk or telecommute to work still fund street maintenance and construction through their tax dollars as much as car commuters, even though they use the roads far less frequently. Meanwhile, Manitobans who live in lower-tax municipalities just outside the capital city’s limits but work inside the perimeter make use of city roads without paying for their upkeep. A system of road pricing would help mitigate both of these inequities, by charging all citizens who use the valuable transportation infrastructure on a regular basis more for that privilege than those who do not.

The money raised through the road pricing system could be dedicated to maintaining our stock of roads—which would certainly lead to an improvement over today’s often bumpy ride to work. Alternatively, there would be great value in putting a healthy portion of the funds towards upgrading the Winnipeg Public Transit system by adding more buses, lowering fares, building more rapid transit lines, increasing park and ride accessibility, and providing more bike lanes. Making public transit a more attractive alternative to driving is the perfect complement to the road-pricing scheme, and the resulting increase in ridership would lead to an overall improvement in Winnipeg’s commuter experience.

While those who chose the public option would be saving money on gas, parking, and insurance, taking these former drivers off the road would be equally advantageous to those who still got behind the wheel everyday. The most obvious benefit to the remaining motorists is that there would be less congestion, reducing the amount of time they must spend on their daily drive to work. Beyond that, there would also be the potential to scale back the total amount of road infrastructure in Winnipeg—or at very least mitigate the seeming need to build more—which reduces the financial pressure on the city and its taxpayers to maintain as many assets, and leaves the public works department in a better position to adequately look after what remains. Furthermore, studies indicate putting more people on one bus instead of in multiple cars could potentially reduce the pummeling our roads suffer every day, which makes for a more pleasant drive and lowers the cost of upkeep. Lastly, by increasing the proportion of vehicles on the road driven by professionals, who tend to have lower crash rates, and reducing the number of vehicles on the road in absolute terms, it has been shown boosting transit ridership among commuters would diminish the risk of traffic accidents and injuries to drivers, pedestrians, and passengers alike.

Today, approximately 50% of the space taken up in a typical North American city is for the roads, highways, parking lots, and the other infrastructure necessary to accommodate private automobiles. Adding extra lanes only spreads the urban area further, making it even less practical for residents to choose a mode of transportation other than a car. This leads to more vehicles on the roads, which then require places to park, eating up more space and pushing buildings further apart again. While each addition may be small—one extra lane here, a parking lot there—over time the result is an urban landscape that actively discourages walking, cycling, and taking public transit because distances between any two points are far too great. Congestion is maintained or even exacerbated, while taxpayers are forced to pay for evermore infrastructure. Road pricing reverses this vicious cycle, employing a market-based approach designed to cut automobile traffic and boost transit ridership that charges drivers based on their personal use rather than through a general tax on income—which ought to appeal to Winnipeggers on both the political left and right.

It is time the citizens and political leaders of Manitoba’s capital took a critical look at how we understand and design our transportation network. At very least, it is necessary to acknowledge the evidence illustrating the inadequacy of road and transit expansion as the sole or even primary gridlock alleviation strategies, and explore new demand-side mitigation measures reflecting this reality. Implementing the road pricing recommendations outlined in this document may initially strike people as unpalatable, but with the country’s worst per capita infrastructure deficit, citizens need to examine the potential benefits of moving beyond just boosting roadway capacity when it comes to dealing with our traffic woes.

More broadly, while we on the prairies may be in a worse bind than our counterparts in other jurisdictions, Canadians from coast to coast ought to consider the value of a new approach to transportation problems. A 2007 survey by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities found the great white north needs an additional $21.7 billion to maintain and upgrade existing transportation assets, and in the past few years this deficit has made headlines as bridges and other infrastructure has literally begun to crumble around us. Meanwhile, it was recently revealed Canadians experience some of the worst commute times in the developed world. Such a situation is unsatisfactory and unsustainable, and indicates we would be wise to adopt the pragmatic recognition that road space is a scarce and valuable commodity, and must be treated as such. Because unfortunately, when comes to gridlock, it is all too clear the conventional strategy of building more roads and hoping for the best is taking us nowhere fast.

Benjamin Gillies is a political economy graduate from the University of Manitoba. His research interests include urban development and energy policy.

“Radicals” need to turn up the heat.

By Lynne Fernandez

I was listening to the CBC Radio business reporter explaining what was happening at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He was impressed by the number of billionaires who were present (I don’t remember how many, but it was a lot). The other thing he found noteworthy was that the growing gap seemed to be a popular topic of conversation. He reminded us that only a few years ago, concerns about the growing number of poor contrasted with an increasingly bloated über-rich class were only highlighted by the “radical” left.

The radical left. That’s a loaded term if there ever was one. Today, most consider a radical thought or person or movement as unreasonable, way out there – downright loony. The business reporter did not offer any sort of explanation of how the topic migrated from the loony left to being worthy of attention by a bunch of billionaires and their political apologists. It might have something to do with the left not being so radical after all — in the popular definition of “radical” — or it might have to do with the left truly being radical in the original meaning of the word.