Wrong direction

Just when one might think that the taxpayers have been tapped enough for big public projects in Winnipeg another one pops up. On Monday the federal government, the province of Manitoba and the City of Winnipeg all announced they plan to pour about $50 million each into the expansion of the Winnipeg Convention Centre.
Winnipeg has done pretty well at diverting federal and provincial dollars into city based projects over the past few years. There was the MTS Centre, the Canadian Human Rights Museum, the new football stadium (Investors Field) and now an upgrade convention centre. It’s a lot of cash for fun stuff.
Now some will argue that these are all good investments. After all, the arena brought back the Jets and some very popular concerts. The new stadium will house the Bombers and the University of Manitoba Bisons. The CMHR has done nothing so far and it’s doubtful if it ever will achieve its goal. The convention centre is a puzzle as many people have attended events at the centre but very few events have ever filled the place to capacity.
At a time when cities, towns, villages, RMs and First Nations communities are having trouble funding even the most basic services, it should be questioned if the governments’ priorities are in the right place. It seems that governments need and crave flagship projects. It has always been thus in Canada. Consider the trans-continental railway, the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Trans-Canada Pipeline, the Commonwealth Air Training Plan, and many others. Political action seems to need a focal point.
But what about the the ugly backside of all this modern focal point spending. The ribbon cuttings look good, the building facades look impressive. But compare today’s focal point spending with those of days gone by. The railway and the seaway were major long term contributors to the economy and commerce of the nation. They were essential. Stadiums are nice but they don’t contribute to the economy and essential services like a railway, a seaway or a pipeline.
The other problem with modern focal point projects or mega-projects of the modern type is that they ignore the needs of a huge percentage of the population. At a time when many communities don’t have clean water and many more have sewage systems at the point of collapse, it’s tough to justify expanding an underutilized convention centre. The irony of ironies about the CMHR is that it’s supposed to focus our attention on human rights abuses and female aboriginal sex-trade workers are being murdered almost within its shadow.
Recently the federal government took a lot of flack about cutting 20,000 jobs. What media didn’t tell us is that the Harper government, since it came to office, filled over 30,000 new jobs. Governments all have a spending problem.
Some years ago, while making a presentation to a Manitoba legislative committee, I said if they would give me two assistant deputy ministers, two accountants and two weeks I could cut 20 percent out of Manitoba’s budget and nobody would notice the cutbacks.
I stand by that statement. It will never be allowed to happen because governments never want to be as accountable as small businesses are, they never want to work as hard or as smart as small business. A glaring example is the salary list of just the communications department at the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. Reportedly the WRHA has 15 publicity people.
The country is also very biased. Racism abounds, otherwise we would toss out the Indian Act and allow First Nations to self govern like a municipality does. We are biased against rural because few understand rural and most have fled the rural life style. We are biased against the poor and the elderly, otherwise we would have more effective services for both.
The underlying problem is that through a haze of overall laziness, lack of incentive and a fear of change, we are more content to let things drift than we are to steer the ship in a change of course.
We used to build railways and seaways. Now we renovate aging convention centres and build misguided museums. Pity, isn’t it?

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kwaddell@kenwaddell.ca This is a Sunrize Group internet solution (204)226-2247