Report On Winnipeg City Council Essay, Research Paper
On October 9, I attended the City of Winnipeg, Executive Policy Committee meeting which was made up of Mayor Susan Thompson, Councillors Bill Clement, Jae Eddie, Mike O’ Shaughnessy, Amero Silva, and Garth Steek. On the agenda for that day was a presentation by the Yellowhead Highway Association, a hearing delegation from Councillor Lillian Thomas (Elmwood), regarding the redesignation of land between Gateway Road and The City of Winnipeg Hydro Transmission Line, south of Springfield Road and a discussion regarding the sale of land adjacent to Omand’s Creek between St. Matthews Avenue and the Winnipeg Velodrome.
The presentation from the Yellowhead Highway Association (YHA) by Linda Walker, was a basic update regarding the progress of developments that have been occurring along the highway, how the YHA is working with City of Winnipeg tourism to promote the city as well as a history of the YHA.
The Executive Policy Committee, seemed to be fairly uninterested with the work that the YHA was doing as many members seemed to be doing other things such as reading the paper and talking to associates. Susan Thompson commended the association’s work in helping with the promotion of the City of Winnipeg along with the development of the Yellowhead Highway. The only comment that came from another member of the committee was from Councillor Mike O’ Shaughnessy who felt that a map that was included in the YHA’s information package should be updated.
I thought that the presentation done by The Yellowhead Highway Association was very informative as to how the group helps promote tourism and what improvements are being made to the Yellowhead Highway. This was the first time that I had ever heard of the YHA and after the presentation, thought that their group was a benefit for the citizens that travel along the Yellowhead Highway. I was surprised to see the councillors show so little attention or entheusim to the YEA since they are the people, who we as citizens of the City of Winnipeg, elected to represent us.
The second issue on the agenda was regarding a hearing on the redesignation of land from a neighborhood policy area to an industrial policy area which would industrial park standards to the land. The land involved is “approximately 55 acres” (agenda, 101) between Gateway Road and The City of Winnipeg Hydro Transmission Line, south of Springfield Road which is owned by the Palliser Furniture Company. Originally the land was designated as industrial but was changed to a neighborhood policy in 1989. Palliser has decided to transfer “50% of its manufacturing capability from their North Carolina plant to their Winnipeg plant” (agenda, 101) and have reapplied to have that parcel of land designated as industrial in order to expand the plant.
This topic was presented by Councillor Thomas who wanted the hearing regarding the redesignation to be held in the evening at the East Kildonan – Transcona civic offices due to the fact that most of the citizens living in that area work throughout the day and a good response from the areas citizens would be unlikely. Councillor Thomas did not give her opinion of the proposed amendment as she wanted to wait until after the hearings to see how her constituents felt on the issue. The other Executive Policy Committee members had no comment on the issue and it was decided that a finalization on the times and dates of the hearing regarding the rezoning of the land would occur in the near future.
Since I do not live in the area, it is easy for me to say that the city should go ahead and rezone the land in order to allow the Palliser Furniture Company expand its facility. I can understand that the residents might have some concerns regarding the land as to what will happen to the property value, will noise levels be increased, and will their taxes be adjusted, but as it stands today, that area is covered in weeds and is more of an eyesore than it would be if Palliser did expand their plant on that land. With Palliser there, at least you would be assured that the lot would be clean like the existing Palliser plant in the Vulcan/Burnett industrial area. Plus the additional jobs that would be created would be a boost for the city and its economy which is something that cannot be ignored.
The third topic of discussion was most likely the main event of the Executive Policy Committee meeting. Many members of the local media were on hand to see what would happen to the proposed sale of land located at the “southeast corner of Empress Street and St. Matthews Avenue” (report, 2a) which was formally an exceptional soccer stadium called Alexander Park ,that slowly deteriorated and was eventually torn down in favor of the Winnipeg Soccer Complex to house major soccer events.
The American-based company, Home Depot wanted to buy the “13.9 acre lot” (Martin, A10) in order to develop it into a “105,000 square foot hardware store” (Martin, A10) at the price of “5.1 million” (Martin, A10). Due to the complexity of this issue and the number of people who wanted to speak about the development of the land, the committee decided to suspend the rules and allow all delegations to speak in the city council hall in front of all the councillors and the mayor. Delegations on hand were the Friend’s of Omand’s Creek, MLA MaryAnn Mihychuk (NDP-St. James), Home Depot landscape architect Michael Scatliff, and numerous people from the West End.
The major sticking point in closing the deal was the fact that the residents were concerned with the new property line as the stakes were already in the riverbank which did not allow enough room for a walkway to be built along the creek and proper buffering to be planted.
The views taken by city council seemed to be in favor of the proposed sale of land to Home Depot. Councillor Glen Murray (Ft. Rouge) supported the project said he felt that Home Depot was going in the right direction with only a few details to be ironed out. Councillor Al Golden (St. Vital) also supported the project but did not go right out and say it, instead he asked minor questions to Home Depot’s landscape architect Michael Scatliff that made it clear that he supported the project. The only councillor to go out and publically state that she was against the project was Councillor Thomas. She asked Michael Scatliff numerous questions regarding building plans, the proposed walkway along Omand’s Creek, and of the potential buffering that was going to be planted but, all of the questions she asked could have been answered by herself if she would have taken the time to read the Report From the Board of Commissioners. The one councillor who I was surprised that did not state his opinion publically was Councillor Amero Silva (Daniel McIntyre). It was his ward whose citizens were being affected the most and his refusal to comment on the issue showed a lack of representation on behalf of his wards people.
The biggest problem I felt that lead to the eventual failure of the prevention of the development of the Alexander Park land was the fact that there were too many groups present with too many issues and suggestions without having one common goal. MaryAnn Mihychuk was concerned with the seasonal garden center as it was too close to the creek and should be moved to the south side of the building. The Friends of Omand’s Creek were concerned with the building and wanted it moved at least three meters west of the creek’s riverbank. Other residents of the West End were there to say that they did not want the building there at all, and instead wanted it for the green space. With all these ideas, it is easy to see how the residents best interests were not listened to.
I was disappointed to see the city go ahead and grant the sale of land to Home Depot for a few reasons. As a local soccer player, I can remember when Alexander Park was the best soccer field in the city, and home to the elite teams of the city. The past few years there had been a rumor circulating in the soccer community that Alexander Park Stadium would be rebuilt and home again to some great soccer matches, but that was quickly abolished in my mind when I heard of the proposed sale of the land to Home Depot. More importantly though, I was concerned about the negative impact it would have on the economy. Yes, the project would create immediate employment providing many people with jobs, but with the great purchasing power that Home Depot has, their prices would be reduced by so much that the small, local hardware stores would be forced out of business and we can only guess as to how many businesses this will be. A perfect example of this is a situation the occurred in Winnipeg this past spring. Hallas Hardware located in the North End on MacGregor Street near Mountain Avenue had been serving local customers for almost 50 years selling the traditional hardware store items to sporting goods. Hallas Hardware was a fixture in the North End with its large faded letters on the front that gave the building its character, was forced out business with the introduction of massive stores like Canadian Tire, Superstore, and Wal-Mart and their massive purchases and extreme undercutting. I can only guess as to who will be next to be forced out of business with the introduction of Home Depot to the Winnipeg market. Is all this worth it for a city the size of Winnipeg which already has enough giant discount stores?
I felt this was a good experience to see city council in action and to observe just how they go about in making changes and developments to our city. Before the meeting I thought that what would be taking place at the meeting would be uninteresting and boring but I was very wrong. It turned out to be quite interesting when observed live compared to the recorded version on television. Also it was quite interesting to watch how the councillors reacted to the media’s presence. At the Executive Policy Committee Meeting in the West Committee Room where no media was present, all the councillors acted pretty normal and down to earth. As soon as the meeting shifted to the council chambers where all the councillors were present along with the media, the attitudes and reactions were completely different. Councillor Golden kept on running around between his seat and someplace behind the scenes. When he did speak, he was loud and abrupt. Councillor Bill Clement (Charleswood) looked as if he was resting in private with his hands behind his head while Councillor Thomas made sure everyone knew when she was speaking and how she felt. I kind of made me wonder in the end why we elected these people and are they really looking after the citizens in their wards as most of them seemed to be in it only for themselves.
City of Winnipeg. Agenda of the Executive Policy Committee for October 9, 1996.
City of Winnipeg. Report From the Board of Commissioners from October 7,1996.
Martin, Nick. “Home Depot Deal OK’d.” Winnipeg Free Press 10 October 1996, sec. A:10.