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Archive for the ‘Manitoba Issues’ Category

So I can feel it starting already, that pull, that distraction of partisan negativity that turns most of us off. Why is it that we can’t just say we disagree with the PC or NDP approach? Why is there an urge to go too far, to turn our fellow Manitobans into villains?

Brian Pallister is not Donald Trump, or even Doug Ford, and Wab Kinew is not Joseph Stalin or Pol Pot.

That’s right, you heard it here first: no one running in the current Manitoba General Election is a pile of dog crap. That I know of.

I haven’t seen any tweets from candidates that seem hateful, and I’ve never run into a politician who tried to run me down with their car or kick my children as they help me hand out brochures.

The negativity and the hate does seem to make plenty of appearances, though. It’s blatant, yet it’s insidious. Because it’s sometimes the campaigns, like the billboards and the negative video ads, but it’s also from people on social media and comment sections, a vocal group of people who seem to have been in the mire of partisan spectator sports that they have lost touch with the notion that the people on the other team are not evil monsters, but a large group of people who just have different opinions, or every so often the same opinions packaged in a different ways.

And people are so focused on which team they’re on, or more emphatically, the teams they are not on. 

I can feel that pull, though as a candidate I’m not really allowed to join the worst of the muck. But I can feel the drag on my emotions, along with that dangerous temptation to start thinking Blue is this and Orange is that and anyone who follows along with that is super bad.

I need to remind myself that many Manitobans support Pallister because they know that the NDP’s governance has put us in a bad place with how tax dollars are spent and how liabilities had been kicked down the road and are now coming back to haunt us. They don’t support Pallister because they’re stupid or evil. I don’t believe that Pallister’s way is the right way to fix the issues, due to the instability these rapid cuts are causing in his mad rush for results, and because it makes little sense to me how you can complain about spending and move toward austerity while cutting the kind of tax that does not stimulate the growth of lower and middle classes, which is where actual economic growth is found (not from the rich moving their tax savings out of Manitoba).

And obviously I don’t support giving government back to the NDP, since they have not given me any confidence that they will fix the problems they’ve been causing since 1999.

What I support is bringing new voices into the legislature, from diverse sources. And I support the ideas that are coming out of the Manitoba Liberals’ platform and plans.

But no one who wins in this election should be vilified just because of the colour of their signs. How is that better than splitting us off based on the colour of our eyes or favourite pizza toppings? (Let’s not discriminate based on pizza toppings, as my monstrous favourite happens to be Pineapple and Mushroom) Even I think that’s wrong, but I just can’t help myself.

Vote for the right person and the right party. Don’t vilify the other candidates just for asking you to consider their point of view. I will work on remembering that.

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Robert-Falcon Ouellette is in the process of introducing the Indian Residential School Genocide and Reconciliation Memorial Day Act in the House of Commons. Not everyone likes this idea of having a day each year to “dredge up” or “dwell” on something that’s, you know, like, over and done with.

I’d guess that most people feel that way, actually.

And there is a wide variety of ways for naysayers to tell us why the Residential Schools Outrage doesn’t need to keep being brought up:

  • “It was a different time, and I wasn’t around for it, and we need to move on, already, jeez…”
  • “My family is from India/Russia/Paraguay/Equestria so I don’t see why it has anything to do with us or any other New Canadians”
  • “It was the churches who did it, not the government. Blame the churchies for it. (and Praise Sagan/Hitchens/The Flying Spaghetti Monster, while we’re at it)”
  • “Those aboriginals already get free money all the friggin time, man, so it’s not like they need some new form of handout and/or pat on the back”

But one of the newer ones I’ve seen, which I think is a much more clever way for someone to delude themselves, is this one:

“This was years ago, it’s in the past, and the First Peoples have not only survived, but thrived. And that’s what I choose to celebrate.”

(more…)

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Is there really any point in talking about it?

Almost every blogger I’ve read in Manitoba who’s covered political issues had mentioned that the NDP has been up to something. Manitoba Hydro Smash-and-Grab, Public Utilities Board Gouge-and-Grab, WRHA Mad-Cow-Expansion-and-Grab, PST Change-The-Law-To-Take-More-Money-and-Grab

But what’s the point in talking about it anymore? So we keep whining about it, and then maybe if we’re “lucky” the NDP will lose and the “Progressive” Conservatives will win and we can start complaining about the upcoming Hydro Privatization-and-Switch, or the Health Care Slash-and-Switch, or the Education Blah-Blah-and-Switch

It’s gangrenous turtles all the way down, folks.

The system rewards parties who polarize. The system rewards candidates who focus on politics at the expense of leadership. And the system rewards the non-partisan bodies that help to maintain it.

So let’s change the system!

Um…

Do we really care enough to do that? To do more than write the occasional diatribe on the Free Press website, more than show up at the occasional reverse-the-decision-now-that-it’s-too-late-to-change-it rally, more than whine at McD’s or Timmies or Sals about those stupid politicians with their heads up their asses?

Not really.

You see, I know this first hand.

I have a blog. And I’ve organized those kinds of rallies more than once. And I can bitch and moan with the best of them. But I don’t think I care enough to see things through…

…because my kids are still healthy, my wife occasionally lessens the pressure of her heel on my throat, and I can still afford to spend lunch at Polo Park sampling thirteen different varieties of steamed white rice at the food court.

So what can I do to change that? What can I do to care more?

Not much. I don’t want Winnipeg to start looking like an exploding slice of Syria just so people start to give a damn.

I’ll take the complacency.

It’s like our lovely Conservative government in Ottawa. I know that Stephen Harper is destroying the Canada I’ve gotten somewhat fond of, tearing down the things that make us special, like our (almost) even-handed foreign diplomacy, our public broadcasting system, our once sacred separation of Stupidity and State.

But all I can do is bide my time and wait for him to screw this country up enough that people finally start voting Liberal again, whether or not the Liberals actually deserve their vote. (actually, this time I think they might deserve it again, but that’s another post that I probably won’t write)

I don’t even have that hope in Manitoba.

I’m worried (and I’m at about one step short of being totally convinced) that Manitoba has fallen into the trap of two parties taking turns screwing things up. The NDP know that no matter how poorly they’ve messed up the books (and I’m getting the impression that it’s as bad as I’d thought), they’ll be re-elected again once the PCs mess things up (probably with the books, too — poor books).

So the NDP raise the PST, so we get angry and vote PC. The PCs don’t end up lowering the rate, and mess up some new stuff. So then the NDP get back in and finally give into the super secret demands of the WRHA to build an 80-story Fortress of Bureaucracy that’s mostly made out of parking garage. So then the PCs take over and pour money into a Pro Skeeball Team, Arena and Condo Complex to “revitalize” Assiniboine Forest. This could go on forever, until finally we look back and say “hey, it doesn’t seem so ridiculous by comparison that the NDP thought they could just change all the laws they didn’t feel like following”.

I’m Canadian. I don’t plan on changing that, like, ever. But I don’t think of myself as a “Manitoban”. Sure, I could make idle threats about moving away, as if I have any real say in the matter (married with children, you see)… but that’s not really the issue. The issue is that I haven’t been a Manitoban for a few years now… I don’t follow local news as much as I should, I let my work deadlines get in the way of my community obligations… and I’ve given up hope that I’ll ever think of myself as a Manitoban again.

To me, that’s sad. Meanwhile, to my neighbours — who think I need to mow my lawn more often — it’s a hopeful harbinger of me finally packing up and leaving forever.

Don’t let my (reasonably justified) neighbours win. Show me that this province is still alive and kicking.

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I’m getting ever closer to accepting that I am not a politician by nature… part of that process is letting go of the self-censoring.  If I want to say something that’s controversial, I should just say it.  Life’s too short (at least it is now that I’m in my thirties) for continuous diplomacy.  Rather than playing it safe and listening to people yawn whenever I open my mouth, I’m going to give people a chance to truly hate me… I mean TRULY… like sick to their stomach, shaking with disgust… that’s the hate I’m talking about.  Or maybe people will like that I’m speaking my mind… it’s possible…

Winnipeg, MB

No real change in the city, even with large changes in council.

  1. Civic Election. I am pleased that Thomas Steen won Elmwood, because the NDP needs to learn that it doesn’t own a single piece of this city.
  2. Civic Election Redux. Wasn’t surprised to see Sam win again, since doing nothing while looking busy is one of the official passtimes of Winnipeg, His Worship being team captain.
  3. Bike Lobby. If I hear another mention of a project done “for the cyclists”, I will either vomit or simply descend into madness by perpetually paraphrasing Helen Lovejoy: “won’t somebody please think of the cyclists!”
  4. Roundabout/Traffic Circles/Turnamatrixes. Why did no one make any noise about the traffic circles?  Not “we need a story for the news” noise, but serious “WTF is wrong with the traffic department?!” noise.  “It’s just like Seattle”, I heard, but of course, Seattle does it based on citizen’s petitions and tends to actually install circles with dimensions that qualify as traffic circles.  Who asked for these circles?  Helen Lovejoy?
  5. North End shootings. What shootings?  It’s okay… we all forget about what happened to people who don’t live in the suburbs.
  6. University of Manitoba. Winnipeg used to be made fun of for comical reasons, like our creative drivers and big game mosquitoes.  But the U of M is trying its best to establish a new comedy routine.  It appears that some degrees are now being granted based on the same selection criteria as pinning the tail on the donkey.  I heard of someone who turned down a job at U of M to work in New Jersey!  There may be a punchline in there somewhere, but right now I feel like crying.
  7. University of Winnipeg. (Proud alumni of sorts.)  Not content to be the liberal arts college that time forgot, the U of W has decided to swallow up entire blocks in its urge to make gentrification and over-expansion a lifestyle choice.  I like shiny new buildings, especially when they block out superb examples of brutalist architecture (that’s sarcasm, friends), but wouldn’t it make sense to put some energy into improving the quality of the education?  Is U of W getting students because of academic excellence, or because for half the city the trip to U of M seems a little long?
  8. Rapid/Mass/Bus!Bus!Bus! Transit. I take the bus, but whenever I do, I feel like I’m kidding myself.  It’s not really saving me money, and I’m not sure I can justify the extra forty minutes it adds to my commute.  I saw someone I know taking the bus who is from all accounts wealthy and respected.  But do you know what my first thought was, deep in my Winnipeg psyche?  That guy must’ve gotten his license suspended; I didn’t realize he was such a drunk!  And that, my friends, is why Bus Rapid Transit is not the right choice for Winnipeg.  We’re just not bus people.  That’s probably why city council likes to increase the price of bus fare every two weeks.
  9. Canwest Global’s Big Screen. Yes, I know this is old news, and that Canwest has gone the way of my political ambitions, but seriously: who actually thought people would watch a screen that doesn’t face traffic?  It must be a big hit with the thirty people who work across the street, or the two guys who fish for cigarette butts in the garbage cans nearby.  Of course, that could be their target demographic.  I didn’t check how many commercials were for cigarette butt recycling operations.
  10. Canadian Museum for Human Rights. A museum about human rights in a city with what’s close to record-breaking levels of poverty, alcohol abuse, and untreated mental illness.  That’s like a Museum of Hockey Greatness at Maple Leaf Gardens.  Don’t worry, though… they’ve got most of their funding… by coercing government and crown corps (so more government) to hand over money.  I’m not usually a “don’t go to space, solve Earth’s problems first” kind of guy, but I feel like a hypocrite just living in a far-from-perfect city with a human rights museum.  I’m not saying that Winnipeg is a festering cesspool, but something about glass houses keeps popping into my head while I’m in the shower… which, by the way, interrupts my time thinking about hot pants.

Manitoba the Have-Not Province

This province and I have a love-hate relationship.  It’s hard to see so much potential and so much disappointment.

  1. Budget Deficits. If we change the law, they’re no longer deficits.  Next up: poverty now called “monkish asceticism”, adultery known as “creative fidelity”.
  2. Manitoba Hydro. Whistleblower says company is deluding itself; in fact, company is deluding itself, but by even bigger proportions.  Does Bob Brennan have an all-marble office at the top of the Hydro Building?  I don’t think I’ll ever be invited to find out.  None of it matters, though, since our government can just bail out Hydro if things go wrong.  And because we don’t actually admit to the existence of deficits…
  3. Drinking and Driving. People are dying at alarming rates, sometimes on their way to work, because some dumb f*** thought that sleeping on his friend’s couch was a fate worse than vehicular homicide.  Why is this not a bigger issue?  We’re madly in love with plug-in hybrids that may or may not work in our climate, but no one gives a crap about technologies that could prevent drunks from starting their cars.  But wait, you say… the drunk could just get someone else to start their car… but I have a theory… when idiots let idiots drive drunk, it’s usually an indication that those initial idiots are also drunk.  Would you stay up until five or six in the morning with a drunk a*** if you were sober?  I know you may have counterarguments, which I’d then have to counter… but this is supposed to be point form, so move it along, okay?
  4. The Bodies Exhibit. Unclaimed bodies, Falun Gong prisoners… either way, those people did not give their consent, so they are victims of an indecent act.  I read a comment about the exhibit: “Their bad luck is our good luck because this is something to be seen.”  I like that comment.  It’s like the Swiss banker who said “hey, look at all these thousands of gold teeth those nice Nazis just dropped off.  It’s too bad their previous owners had to get rid of them, but hey, we’re making money!” Godwin’s Law notwithstanding, I do think this analogy is not as much of an overstatement as you may think at first.  Because you don’t know where those bodies came from, and you do know that the Chinese government has been accused of harvesting organs from unwilling Falun Gong practioners.  But wait, David Matas‘ paws were all over that report, too; isn’t he the guy who wants those exhibit bodies buried simply because Manitoba law states that the bodies can’t leave the province?  What’s with that guy?
  5. Manitoba Slogans. I remember what happened the day that we became the land of Spirited Energy.  The influx of new investment, business, and immigrants was up 500% from the day before.  People felt like the slogan really captured what they were looking for, so they changed their life plans to be a part of the action.  That’s how all the great centres of innovation and industry were formed:
  • Rome, Italy – 1st Century BCE: “Roma, a dirty pit of disease and unemployment… but we do kill a lot of gladiators!”
  • Oxford, England – 14th Century CE: “Students: come for the deadly riots, stay for the plague.”
  • Silicon Valley, USA – 20th Century CE: “Only squares live in Boston.”

My point?  Slogans are silly.  They are either going to make us sound like the guy who is always last to be picked for intramural soccer, or they’re going to blatantly conflict with reality.  Do you know what brings success to a region?  Pre-existing success.  How do  you nurture and develop that initial success?  There are a lot of ways, like education, incentives, culture… but generally NOT SLOGANS.

Country formerly known as the Dominion of Canada

I love this country, not just because I live here, but because I honestly can’t think of another country that’s as close as we are to getting things right.

  1. Bashing the Monarchy. We have a Queen for a reason.  Her Royal Highness is detached and separate from normal society through wealth and privilege, FOR A REASON.  We do not elect presidents in our country; we believe that people elected through money- and media-skewed popularity contests tend to be narcissistic and ambitious to a dictatorial fault.  So we have a person who is outside of the “rat race” to be there to ensure that if things go very wrong in our political structure, that person (or a local representative of similar mindset) can step in and dissolve the whole bunch.  It may not be an ideal solution, but anyone who followed US politics from 2000-2009 may agree that being a republic has an even uglier side than the occasional Heir to the Throne’s mention that he’d like to be reincarnated as a tampon.
  2. The NDP-Liberal Merger. There is no idea that would be quicker to kill the Liberal party than merger with the NDP.  As Canadians base much of their identity on not being American, so do many Liberals base their political life as being different than the NDP.  I like left-leaning Liberals, just as I like right-leaning Liberals… but the notion that cherished liberal beliefs should be set aside for the views of a party that exists for union members first and everyone else maybe sometime later is enough to make me start wondering if there’s enough progressive left in those Conservatives to make me a Harperista.
  3. Chicanery in the House of Commons. I would love to vote for a party that disciplined its members for showing a lack of decorum in the House and beyond.  I’d like there to be a party that actually realized that this is an issue that is destroying any remaining respect that Canadians have for their politicians.  At times I’ve said and done things that may not be in keeping with what I believe; it’s part of being human.  But I don’t make a career out of it.
  4. Hatred of Quebec. What is this, 1995?  I still hear that joke about building a wall around La Belle Province and filling it with water.  Granted, it’s fun to make GOOD jokes about the Quebeckers when you’re among friends (like when you’re in Acadia; those people know some really good ones), but let’s be honest.  What would Canada be without Quebec?  Answer: North Dakota.  A surprisingly beautiful place and good people, but no one goes there for the cosmopolitan atmosphere.
  5. Hatred of Aboriginals. We are all treaty people… there is no way around that.  If you don’t like it, see if your distant relatives in Britain, Germany and/or the Ukraine will take you back.  Oh, they don’t want you, either?  Seriously, though… what would Canada be without Quebec and our aboriginal peoples?  Well… we’d no longer qualify as North Dakota.

Other Items

Miscellany.  Its inclusion here is only to allow for the use of the word “miscellany”.

  1. Being Unfriended on Facebook. Why does it hurt so much?  So VERY MUCH?  Well, not that much, but when I saw that someone had dropped me it was worse than losing ten Twitter followers (hell, I’d unfollow me if I could).  It’s like that person is saying that our friendship fifteen years ago didn’t mean a thing…  I guess it didn’t, but to just go and unfriend me…
  2. Red Lobster. Who actually knows a group of people who are all willing to eat seafood?  This is more a mystery than a complaint.
  3. Payday Loans. I hate that people profit from the poor financial decisions and situations of others, but I have trouble envisioning other ways for a person who needs two hundred bucks OR ELSE to get the cash.  Why can’t there be more easy answers?
  4. Self-absorbed Bloggers. Self-important windbags born with silver spoons in their mouths, who type their rants about traffic circles and Facebook without actually wondering if they are contributing to society in a meaningful way.  Couldn’t they be spending this time trying to cure cancer?  Or reading to old people?  Or cleaning up the fifteen garbage bags that they piled up next to their garage two weeks ago?  Truly disgusting.

Note to startled onlookers:  Not only was I not drunk when I wrote the above, but I even saved the draft and reviewed it later.  I really have no explanation or defense for having pressed the Publish button.

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I won’t comment on whether or not it’s appropriate for the Premier and Finance Minister to be spending so much time in a hot tub even as they expect their cabinet ministers to take a pay cut.  What I will say is that it’s truly remarkable how often the NDP government finds itself unexpectedly in years past.  It seems like a surreal concept at first… I mean, a hot tub that functions at a time machine… but how else can you explain NDP policies?

Now, unlike the movie, they’re not always transported back to 1986, as that year is usually reserved for the NDP approach to business regulations.  Today’s episode (#354) has Rosann Wowchuk planted firmly in 2008.  The rest of humanity lives on in 2010, looking for signs of recovery and debating how to pay back the deficits from the past two years.  Meanwhile, the NDP are looking full speed behind, looking at changing their own balanced budget law so that they can continue to run deficits until 2014 after spending all of 2009 bragging about how well the Manitoba economy has been doing.  Here’s how I see it: Either Manitoba fared well, and we should have a shorter period of deficit than everyone else (or none at all), or Manitoba fared just as badly as the rest of the country and four straight years of deficit is justified.  It can’t be both things; if the NDP is trying to claim that it is both things, there is only one explanation: mismanagement of public money.

Cherenkov has a good post, Budget analysis: ouch, talking about the numbers, and Curtis has some good points about the idea of fake frugality (Frugality Is Dead: Long Live Frugality).  And Dr. Gerrard also shows the NDP overspending with his post, NDP budget: For ten years the NDP have shown poor budgeting and poor expenditure management.

To me, the most concerning aspect of this budget is what it means for 2014.  As Cherenkov points out, the NDP always misses the mark in its planning, spending more than it originally set out to do.  As well, the Rainy Day Fund is likely to disappear altogether, as the government’s initial estimate is that the fund will be brought down from $800 million to $200 million; we’re already used to overly optimistic estimates from this government during easier times.

How does the Manitoba government plan on balancing the books in 2014?  More Rainy Day transfers from an emptying account?  More service fees?  A moratorium on paying for the City of Winnipeg’s pet project of the month?  The truth is, there is no plan.  None at all…

No, wait… that’s not fair…

The plan is: keep treading water until November 2011. Once the election hangover has passed, the NDP will come up with something to tell Manitobans, be it new taxes, program cuts, or perhaps a new venture involving the marketing of Manitoban’s organs to the Chinese government.  It’s surprising that there are no Toga parties in the NDP offices at the Legislature considering the dorm-room mentality.  Why study the budget today, when you can have fun and spend?  We won’t need to do any work until 2012… woo-hoo!

Ah… so there’s that hot tub again… it’s not always for time travel.  Sometimes it’s just for having a good time.


“Party on, NDP!”

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Manitoba is hooked on gambling.  No, I’m not talking about the NDP’s bizarre understanding of balanced budgets, or the risk of relying too much on federal transfer payments… I’m talking about the actual gambling, specifically the casinos.

The Addictions Foundation of Manitoba  (AFM) has a website called GetGamblingFacts.ca.  This is part of the concept that there is nothing the least bit ridiculous about a government that runs gambling while telling people about the dangers of gambling; the AFM is of course a government entity, not a not-for-profit organization.  It began as The Alcoholism Foundation of Manitoba, to allow beer to once again be sold in Manitoba.  (The beer parlours were government-run and were for white men only, but that’s a whole other story.)

So basically, the founding purpose of the AFM was to justify the government’s vice rackets, beginning with alcohol, and being joined later by tobacco and gambling.  If prostitution were legalized, I would imagine the AFM would be tasked with creating a program for problem johns.  The AFM also does work with illegal narcotics addictions and other important issues such as impaired driving and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, so I wouldn’t want you to think that they are simply apologists for the government.

The point here is that the provincial government is in charge of telling people not to use the services of the provincial government.  In any other matter, this would be considered a gross conflict of interest.  There are rules for doctors, lawyers, real estate agents and most other professions to prevent situations where an individual would be tempted to corrupt their motivation based on a differing interest.  But the provincial government is rife with conflicts of interest, to the point where almost every government action has an equal reaction.  This can be extended far beyond vice; consider Elections Manitoba, which is tasked with maintaining fair elections, but which can be easily influenced by whichever political party stands to be benefitted by an unfair election.  Or Manitoba Hydro, which is mandated to provide low cost power to Manitobans, but is also expected to incur new costs due to political decisions (Bipole III and paying water royalties to the government); Hydro cannot raise its domestic rates, but cannot override costly government mandates.

But gambling is the most obvious example, because I have a government that says on one website that I may have a gambling problem, while another website tells me that there’s an extra $20,000 in cash and prizes at the casino in honour of St. Patrick’s Day.  To me, this entire system is unethical.  The Manitoba Government collects $658 million in revenue from gaming in a province where approximately 5% of the adult population is estimated to have a moderate to high risk of gambling addiction.  AFM does not seem to have statistics of how many Manitobans use VLTs, Casino slots, and Casino dice/card games; they do have stats of each, but that does not hint at the total.  They consider raffle tickets to be the same type of gambling as slot machines, which means that when I buy tickets for a silent auction at a social I’m a gambler, as are 85.6% of the Manitoba population as of 2006.  But obviously this does not give us any indication of the true number of gamblers.  Since lottery tickets, pools, and raffles are recorded as costing the least amount per month at $5-8 on average, I would much rather know the percentage of Manitobans who participate in all other types of gambling.  (Sources: http://www.problemgambling.ca/EN/Documents/GP_Manitoba.pdf and http://www.afm.mb.ca/documents/ManitobaGamblingandProblemGambling2006.pdf)

Either way, one third of problem gamers are from the lowest income group.  This means that a large number of the people who can least afford to gamble are gambling far more than they can afford.  And the next largest group of problem gamblers is the second lowest income level.  Over half of gamblers with a moderate to heavy risk of problem gambling make less than $40,000 a year.

So what is the solution?  Ban gambling altogether?  Well, not altogether… for one thing, raffles are a big way for organizations such as the Lions Club to raise money to serve communities.  For the Lions Club of East Kildonan, we make the majority of our money from raffles, and every cent of those funds goes directly to worthy causes  (Lions pay all overhead and administration costs out of their own pockets); this is work that should be allowed to continue.  And lottery tickets, while not something I enjoy purchasing, seem to be a favourite and less expensive form of gaming for a majority of Manitobans.  The problem comes from VLTs and Casinos, where more money is spent per person.

Do we need to close our casinos?  I’m not sure… I wouldn’t miss them, but I’m not sure I’m in the majority.  But there are changes that could be made to how our casinos operate:

1. Eliminate higher coin slots.  There is no acceptable reason for loonie or toonie slots.

2. Prevent the use of more than once machine at a time by an individual. A personal cannot sit at a table in a restaurant and drink three bottles of beer at the same time; why can a person play three slot machines at the same time?  Isn’t this an indicator of problem gambling?

3. Reduce hours of availability for casinos and VLTs or set spending or time limits for gaming. If the gambling cost can be reduced by lower bet levels and limitations on the number of machines a person can use, further reductions can be achieved by lowering the amount of time a person can spend gambling.  Hours of operation is simple to change, but time limits would be more difficult to enforce, and could involve a token system where only so many can be purchased, or a ticket system that operates similar to a bus transfer; an employee would be required to check tickets for expiration at predetermined intervals.  This is a little like drinking in a bar; after so many drinks, you are supposed to be cut off.  There is no reason why this should not be extended to gambling.

The Manitoba government likes to defend its gambling policy by saying that giving the money to indigenous groups makes everything okay.  That does not make it okay.  Lives are ruined by problem gambling, sometimes leading to bankruptcy, divorce, and suicide.  The Manitoba government should be working to reduce gaming; there is no other way to reduce problem gambling.

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“I must follow the people. Am I not their leader?”
– 19th century British statesman and Winnipeg freeway namesake Benjamin Disraeli.

A few bloggers (Graham the rabblerouser and the ever-mysterious Black Rod) have mentioned that some citizens, including myself, had brought plans forward regarding the Disraeli Bridges Project.  My plan, based on conversations with literally hundreds of Winnipeggers, was to twin the Louise Bridge with a temporary span before any Disraeli closure was to take place.

However, the plan was not perfect: it required leasing of private property (a shed and equipment yard) and would have increased traffic on Higgins Avenue, which did not please some Point Douglas residents.  But I did feel that it was the best option considering the limitations that had we had been told existed.

Of course, most of Winnipeg found out in January of 2010, after four years of talk, that the bridge did not need to be closed at all.  Is that good news?  Yes and no.

It’s good news because the closure of Disraeli was unthinkable without increasing the capacity of other bridges.

It’s bad news because it shows that the city was completely wrong about the limitations of the project, and misinformed the 100,000 affected Winnipeggers for FOUR YEARS.   Not only did this cause undue worry, it also caused several businesses on Henderson to move to another part of the city.  In addition, there is still no plan for the Louise Bridge.

The options the city presented were either a) $250-300 million six-lane bridge still using the old piers and adding some new ones, or b) $125 million bridge refurbishment with 16 months of closure.  Now, the city is saying that a brand new four-lane bridge can be built for $195 million without any closure.

How can a third option come out of nowhere when the city made it abundantly clear that there were only two options?  There are two possibilities for this:

1. The city did not research the project thoroughly before deciding on what they found to be the easiest solution (particularly because they didn’t rely on the bridge to get to work each day).

2. The current project estimates are far too low, meaning that the $195 million price tag will be inflated significantly once construction has begun.

As a public-private partnership, the second option may not be a bad thing, depending on the specifics of the contract.  The city is borrowing $75 million up front, while the private consortium, Plenary Roads Winnipeg, will finance the remaining $120 million.  It is not clear from the information I have seen if cost overruns will be the responsibility of the private group or of the city, or if both will share the extra expense.

At this point, all that is clear is that the city did not think the closure was a big issue until the provincial government finally woke up and decided that it was an issue during a by-election campaign.

So in the end, is the new Disraeli plan a triumph?  No.  It’s a solution that should have been inevitable, but one which the city spent four years decrying as impossible.  The city and province both showed a serious lack of leadership on this issue.  At a time when we are all watching with curious dismay as the US House and Senate whittle away any chance of health care reform due to shortsightedness, partisanship, and selfishness, we see our own governments spending four years avoiding an issue that should have been resolved in four months.

I’m not sad that the city didn’t choose my fancy Disraeli plan, or that the city didn’t bother to consider it on any level; that’s the way government works around here, so it’s like being sad that pigs don’t fly.  But what I am sad about is that the leadership in this city and province has not even considered the damage that this four-year stunt has caused to the Elmwood residents and businesses at the foot of the bridge.

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