Election results leave no room for complacency

by Peter Squire

 The results are in. Incumbency prevails, but there should be no room for complacency. Many issues important to Winnipegger’s still persist and need to be addressed by the 16-member city council. There are five new faces on it as a result of incumbents not running again and a new ward that was created in southwest Winnipeg. Please go to winnipeg.ca and click on the top horizontal bar to see civic election results. Besides tabulating the total votes for the 8 mayoral candidates, the candidates running in the 15 wards, and the school trustees, it also shows the results of the plebiscite on opening up Portage and Main to pedestrians.

Whether we accept that incumbents, including the mayor, are doing a good job and deserve to serve for another four years or not, letting our preference be known by voting is important to show them and the entire city council we are concerned about the future of Winnipeg and what is being done to make it better.

To give the City of Winnipeg credit, it really went above and beyond to make the voting process as easy as possible this time around. So the low voter turnout was disappointing. Only 42% of Winnipeggers voted, and that was despite seeing much higher advance poll voting in comparison to the 2014 civic election. While they say fewer votes are cast if you have a mayor running again — or one who is acclaimed, as was the case in the City of Brandon — this should not be an excuse for citizens to disengage. It’s important to remember the critical role our local representatives play in delivering essential services in so many facets of our lives. What vision do we have for our city, and how do we wish our political representatives to make it possible?

Colleen Sklar, the Executive Director of the Winnipeg Metropolitan Region (formerly Partnership of the Manitoba Capital Region), said it best in her election message in the Autumn 2018 issue of Regional Times:

“These are challenging times for the local leadership. Along with quality of life decisions, they also make decisions that ensure that the infrastructure that connects communities and supports development is maintained and well planned. This is done all while grappling with the realities of stretched budgets, shifting demographics, keeping up with the advances of new and emerging technologies and adapting to new environmental realities brought on by climate change.”

So, what are some of the issues WinnipegREALTORS® feel Winnipeg City Council needs to tackle in a focused, committed and inclusive way?

As per the mayoral forum that we presented with the Winnipeg Free Press and AVentPro, a key issue that we raised, and will continue to bring up with the mayor and city councillors, is how do we accommodate and manage growth to ensure that a home — the biggest investment most Winnipeggers will ever make — remains affordable. This really is a springboard for a number of important items to consider as they relate to homeownership and the real estate market.

Property taxes are front and center here. Is the city doing everything it can to manage the cost of operations so that property owners are not unnecessarily burdened by some of the highest property taxes in the country? We cannot ignore the addition of frontage levies, and annual increases in sewer and water charges. 

Leveraging infrastructure funding from higher levels of government — and being strategic in how the City of Winnipeg applies competing demands for those dollars — will be critical to how successful it can be in not only keeping property taxes down, but creating more economic growth and opportunity. One reason the Chief Peguis Trail westward extension to Brookside Boulevard came up on more than a few occasions throughout the civic election campaign is that it has real commercial significance beyond opening up new residential development in northwest Winnipeg. Significantly, it makes CenterPort Canada more accessible and completes an inner ring road.

From the sheer presentation of our city as an attractive place to invest and live, we all know street renewal and transportation in general (e.g. better public transit) needs to continue to be a high priority. Proper procurement practices to move projects along more expeditiously, and on time, is part and parcel of building a growing city with new infrastructure requirements. While roads have been a primary focus of the city council in the last few years, we must go beyond them to also renew community facilities, as was done with respect to the St. Vital library.

How are we planning for a city that is projected to grow by 8,000 new residents a year for the next 25 years? Are we identifying and planning for developable sites with land already serviced so infill developers can move forward with confidence to provide new units of housing necessary to meet increased housing demand? Where are we at in determining if infill should have impact fees? A rationale for applying these fees to new, emerging areas was because of the requirement to help pay for servicing a city with a larger footprint. Yet in most cases, infill development is already utilizing existing infrastructure.

Speaking of providing serviced land for new development, it has been made very clear to the City of Winnipeg that it has a real shortage of serviceable industrial land. One of the outcomes of this shortage has been the significant emergence of new commercial development outside the city. And yet, similar to residential infill, the City of Winnipeg is looking at placing impact fees on new commercial development. How will applying that fee be an incentive to bring on new supply, and will it not just exacerbate a situation now where Winnipeg is losing valuable commercial tax base to outlying rural municipalities?

And if we are successful in attracting interest in new development by providing serviced land, how well are we doing in facilitating and expediting development from start to finish? How is the current decision-making process working?

Incumbency cannot foster complacency. There are still many important issues that our new city council needs to tackle in the next four years, and WinnipegREALTORS® is looking forward to working with them  to ensure our city remains vibrant and inclusive, as well a place where business remains competitive and homeownership remains possible.