Centre of the Continent

Thoughts from the middle of North America

Archive for Winnipeg

Saving Winnipeg’s History Through the NHL Invasion

Avenue Building, currently being restored. The sign should be part of that restoration.

The keepers of Britannia’s ancient history were the Druid religious leaders. The Roman empire was known to be one of the most religiously tolerant in all of history but the Druids were known for human sacrifice and that was one practice that Rome could not allow. With that as justification, Caesar systematically wiped out virtually all evidence that they existed and with them most of the now unknown history of the island. With the invasion by Rome came trade and culture. With the devastation came technology and the political structure that eventually allowed Britain to become the power that it did. It was because of the invasion that Britain grew in stature much quicker then it would have otherwise. The unfortunate consequence of this is that the history if the original inhabitants was lost forever.

The vision for Winnipeg’s downtown core can finally be seen. It wasn’t just Portage Place. It wasn’t just the MTS Centre. It wasn’t any one project or development. It was and is all of them. Mistakes were made in the early attempts to revive the core. As seen in the closing of Portage and Main to pedestrians and blunders with Webb place, the focus was to move people as quickly as possible. No one is to blame as this was the prevailing theory of urban planning at the time. It is now known that to keep a neighbourhood alive the key is not to move people efficiently through it, but rather to slow them down and give them a reason to stop. This includes residential projects and a mix of commercial activity from huge well known companies to small, unique shops that can be found no where else. Good food and companionship is important so a variety of eateries and cafes are vital. These elements must then come together to create coherent atmosphere.

Already evident is a flurry of commercial activity as a direct result of the return of the NHL to the city. Businesses that once shunned the downtown as a crime-ridden slum are now racing to find a way to cash in. In this there is as much opportunity to save the history of the city as there is to lose it. Investors, especially those from outside of the community, will be happy to profit from the attention a new downtown location can give them. They will be the first to leave if times get tough. This makes all the more important that each new proposal is scrutinized with extreme care to ensure that it has the best long-term interests of the community as a whole at heart.

Port Hope Ontario is a great example of what can be achieved with a clear vision and determination not only retain historical character but to celebrate it. In the spring 1980 a huge portion of the town’s business district was wiped out when the Ganaraska River became a destructive monster. Seizing what could have meant the virtual end of the downtown as a successful destination, the town embarked on an ambitious plan to reform their main street into a walk into the town’s past. This didn’t mean the there would be no new ventures but that the investors were encouraged to re-create their businesses with the appearance they might have had a century earlier. The atmosphere and continuity created was a huge success. The flood itself is now commemorated with a festival that just celebrated it’s thirtieth successful year.

We have seen this work in Winnipeg. There is no better example then the Red River College Princess Street Campus. The facades of the existing historic buildings were meticulously maintained while inside is an extremely modern and functional facility. We need to be prepared look at every new development downtown with a defined vision. As a community we cannot allow our history to be lost in exchange for a quick rebuild. Anyone who wants to come in and be a part of the vision can be sought out and encouraged.

The legions are in their ships and crossing the channel. We cannot stop them, nor do we want to. The only successful way to negotiate will be from a confident position of power – power that will be defined by the clarity of that position.

Would be Caesars:  Will we praise or mourn your arrival?

Disaster Politics

So the provincial Conservatives will be going hard at the incumbent NDP MLA’s over perceived flood botched flood response. Comments asking those affected to compare themselves to victims of other disasters was a horrible thing to do – true or not. All of that aside, only a desperate party would use a natural disaster to try and gain power.

When it comes to water, Manitoba is full. It really does not matter what was done, someone was going to suffer. Perhaps the Conservatives would like to return to the days when there was no control systems in place? To the situations like the 1997 flood of the century or worse. These are water levels not seen in at least 350 years. Hugh McFadden can spout all he wants about what he calls mistakes but he produces no expert to dispute the actions of the government. He can only echo the cries of the rightfully upset victims and try to give credibility to a few “what if’s” and “maybe’s” . If only the decision was made to lower the lever of Lake Manitoba earlier. Maybe there didn’t need to be a deliberate breach. We can all be arm-chair water drainage experts and claim we could have done better but I certainly don’t have any proof to back it up. Neither does anyone in the provincial Conservative party.

I absolutely support any and all efforts to return all this year’s flood victims to as close to where they were before as possible, but we must be realistic. First homes and businesses need to be given priority. Summer residences and cottages, not so much. More importantly, the opportunity to learn from this must not be allowed to pass. As nice as lakefront beach houses are, there is a risk assumed with that as assuredly as if the home was built on the side of a mountain in an earthquake or avalanche prone area of the world. That known risk is unfortunately part of the cost of building there.

I can see the demonizing ads now. Two elections ago it was crime. Overall crime rates were and are still falling. (Don’t believe what you read in the Sun.) There was a guy – the stereotypical criminal – trying to scare the elderly into voting for a Conservative government. Who will the Conservatives use this time? Perhaps a caricature of Mother Nature? Fortunately for the NDP, governments rarely change when things are going well.  The economy in Manitoba is growing and is stable. Things have been managed well through the recession and while that is little comfort for the flood victims, their anger alone won’t be enough for a Conservative victory.

And don’t forget …

It was under Howard Pawley that we lost the Jets and he was kicked out the very next year. NHL hockey is back and after that first pro puck drops, nothing else will really matter. The Manitoba NDP will be one of the first to reap the benefits come October.

Practical Socialism — Part Two

I wanted to continue with my thoughts on what is a new breed of socialism in Canada. The federal NDP will be voting on a resolution to remove the word socialism from the party’s constitution this weekend but in no means does that signal the end of the left. Contrarily, it will help to ensure it’s continued prosperity.

In North America, socialism is a frightening word. It’s mere mention brings up irrational connections with communism, Marxism and the totalistic Red Scare of the cold war. I have to admit that I was inspired by Monte Solberg’s commentary for the Ottawa Sun. (Who’s afraid of the NDP? Me! – June 13, 2011 — {LINK} ) The most enlightening aspect of his piece is that for all of the attempts to horrify the reader, I actually found it supportive of the causes the NDP is fighting for. This is utterly amusing.

The New Democrats want to severely limit the interest on credit card debt. This is to help reverse the trend of working people piling up more debt then they can ever pay off. In an interview on Sun TV, Mr. Solberg went so far as to say that this would prevent people getting credit in the first place. This is part of the point. Talk to any debt councillor and they will tell you that the worst issue they have to contend with is companies offering credit to those who in their current financial state, shouldn’t be approved. This is a good thing. Large interest rates on store credit cards and quick convenience store loans are there to compensate for the percentage of bad debt the lenders know they are in store for. It makes much more sense in the long term to not extend bad credit at all. These extended-period, mega-interest monies are usually for unneeded items that to the debtor offer a little short-term gratification. There are cases were this credit is being used for necessities and that is a even bigger issue altogether.

The same goes for cell phones and the fairness measures that the NDP wants to institute. Tempting customers with the latest smart phone and giving to them free for signing a 3-year contract is virtually usury and extortion. In a sensible world consumers should pay for their hardware upfront and then they can come and go as they please. For basic communication, less expensive phones can always be available. This is yet another debt trap that consumers can do without.

Bill Maher likens conservative philosophy to a religion; no matter how much damning evidence may be put in front of them, a conservative continues to have faith in their standard policies. The belief that cutting the taxes of the rich creates jobs and prosperity is just such case. The eight years G. W. Bush was in power were the least productive in the U.S.’s history. With all of the corporate tax-cutting and Wall Street pandering the economy there only netted three million jobs. At the same time, the US federal government nearly doubled it’s debt. It likely won’t happen but the American Government is but weeks away from defaulting on it’s treasury bonds. How can this policy and it’s forced continuation be seen as successful? Yet, it is the model that our own Conservative government wants to follow. Will higher tax rates lead to some corporations leaving Canada? Yes. If a corporation does not wish to be a part of our social structure then it is a taker and is welcome to leave.

Monte Solberg is taking up the cause of the big banks, big telecom and big oil. These are the most profitable sectors in our economy. Show me a major player in any of these fields that even came close to any kind of economic calamity. Can you say the same of your family and neighbours? These companies don’t need government help to make a profit.

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New Jack City? … or “How To Sell A Tabloid 101”

An Analysis of the June 8, 2011 Winnipeg Sun Lead Story

Wow.

I must live in the most dangerous city in the world. How do I do it? I mean, and survive?

The Winnipeg Sun loves a good crime story and today is just that – a story. Pumped up by “Angry” Tom Broadbeck’s opinion that the responsibility for crime lies entirely with the provincial NDP in Manitoba. The Sun is a great believer in the “shock and awe” school of journalism. What that means is that they pick a single statistic and / or an example of a horrible crime to fit their agenda. Today’s rag is no exception.

PAGE 1

Headline: “NEW JACK CITY” and a photo “illustration” of a man being dragged from his car. Basically a catch-phrase and a dramatization intended to shock readers in believing that this is such a common crime that they caught it on film. Problem is, they didn’t. The “illustration” is just that. It could have been drawn by a fantasy artist. It’s not even based on an actual incident. It “illustrates” something close to a worse case scenario. As long as you’re into fictionalizing the news boys, hire some effects artists and get some fake blood. Just saying — you’re not even doing a good job at doing a bad job.

PAGE 4

Don’t open with any sort of thought. Oh no … that might allow a reader to think. Open with the heart-wrenching story of a woman who was carjacked in 2009. The story is tragic as are all the stories of victims. My heart goes out to each and every one. But as for value in a news item it has little. This is what anyone teaching high school level statistics calls anecdotal. It’s good for raising a reader’s blood pressure but serves no other purpose. But there are some real numbers so let’s not leave them out.

In the middle of the page there is a chart that shows the stats for car-jacking incidents from 2004 through 2010. There are many problems with said chart. First, what does it actually refer to? Reported carjackings? Attempted? Failed? There’s more to simple numbers then meets the eye. Also, what was happening before 2004? Was the trend rising or falling? Is this just a statistical blip? We have no way of knowing. Any real analysis needs a much bigger picture then  six years. The chart starts in 2004 at 13, 2005 – 25 (+12), 2006 – 37 (+12) 2007 – 50 (+13). Then in 2008 it drops to 38, spikes at 59 in 2009 and back to 49 in 2010.1

Now, the Sun wants you to believe that we can blame the MPI car immobilizer program for the rise in carjackings. There’s one problem with that and their own chart shows it – the immobilizer program began in 2007. If the rise in incidents had even continued at even the same pace after the program as it had been before then the number for 2010 should have been much higher. From 2004 to 2007 the number increased by 37. If I add 37 to the 2007 number, it adds up to 87, not 49. The chart clearly shows that the numbers were increasing more rapidly BEFORE the immobilizer program. If you were to actually plot a curve for the average rate of increase, it has been dropping since 2007. I will state again, that is since the MPI started the program. All that aside, blaming MPI for this crime is like blaming me for my neighbour getting robbed because I installed a better lock on my door. It just doesn’t make any sense.

PAGE 5

Oh Tom. What ever happened to you to make you so angry? I’ll say your angry because it seems to cloud your judgement so often. Today, you followed your paper’s pattern to the letter. You opened your column with the story of a car-jacking. Again, while I’ll assume it’s a true story, it’s anecdotal. To that was added another art-project “Illustration”. Your theory is that to stop crime, put all criminals behind bars longer. That doesn’t work and there’s evidence to back it up. You just delay the inevitable. They will get out eventually and they will commit crimes. Whether it be five years or ten years of twenty years down the road. You (and your aging readers) just hope to keep them in long enough that you won’t have to deal with it. Crime itself is an economic system. Just like any other economic system, as long as there is a demand, someone will attempt to supply. Throw away a criminal and another will take his place. The threat of punishment has been shown unequivocally not to deter. Shut down an avenue of supply and criminals will find another. Why? Because it makes economic and social sense to do so. The only real solution is to make crime unattractive and unprofitable and to replace it with something that is more so.

In 1989 Italy released all offenders with less then three years remaining on their sentences. These criminals were effectively given “suspended” sentences for the remainder of their time. The longer the time remaining, the longer the threatened punishment and the more effective the threat was. With an important exception – dangerous criminals. The threat had no effect whatsoever on the most dangerous offenders.2 Would carjackers be considered dangerous? I would think so.

Let’s look at the most extreme deterrence – death. In the United States, numbers consistently show that murder rates in states without the death penalty are invariably lower then in states with the death penalty. Violence begets violence.3 

A huge 1997 report from the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Maryland to the United States Congress4  (which was largely ignored) looked at every possible crime prevention technique. In the end, there was no correlation between the threat of longer sentences and lowering the crime rate. In fact, the states with the highest incarceration rates and the stiffest sentences remained the states with the highest crime rates. This report looked at decades of data from hundreds of sources. I’m afraid Tom, that six years of stats from one crime doesn’t quite cut it. All columnists should be required to do a little research before they decide that they know what’s best for the criminal justice system. It’s easy to yell and scream and demand vengeance. It takes thought and deliberate planning to actually try and solve a problem.

Overall, crime rates have been falling steadily since the early 90’s and even violent crimes that were lagging behind in their secession have levelled off.5 Unfortunately, that doesn’t sell ad space. One bold headline spouting a half-truth apparently does.

I’m not a “bleeding-heart liberal” mind you. I actually support harsh penalties for harsh crimes. I believe that violent repeat offenders that don’t show remorse or change in behaviour should rarely see the light of day. What I don’t believe is that this will actually lower crime rates. Crime is power, power will fill a void. To tackle crime you have to deal with the reasons the crime is happening. The social causes. The economic need. Youth turn to gangs and crime because they see no other direction to go. As distorted as this view may be, in their minds it is reality. No threat of incarceration or even capital punishment will change that. The same university report mentioned above specifically looked at “scared straight” programs were at risk youth were given a chance to see what life incarcerated was really like and there was shown little effect on the rates of offending for these youth. Right or wrong, the criminals believe that the risk is worth the possible pay-off and that anything that happens can’t be worse then how they perceive their life is now.6

Ask any medical professional and they will tell you that the best way to prevent an infection is to not have conditions that foster it’s growth in the first place. In risky situations be sure to wash your hands and be careful not to cross-contaminate. Crime as a disease is no different. Clean the environment and build up resistance through the development of the community as a whole. Don’t ignore an issue as they are like wounds in this analogy – prone to deadly outbreaks if left alone. Separation from the infected area (amputation) is only a last resort.

Finally, the tabloid media has to take some of the blame for making crime cool. It’s how to get noticed. Want to be on the front page of the Sun? Commit a crime. Do some good for the community and Laurie Mustard gives you a paragraph on page six.

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Works Cited:

1 The Winnipeg Sun, Wednesday, June 8, 2011 – Pg. 2 (Source: Winnipeg Police Service?)

2 C. Montaldo, Do Stiffer Sentences Act as a Crime Deterrent?, About.com Crime / Punishment (Original Italian study published in the Journal of Political Economy)

3 Deterrence: States Without the Death Penalty Have Had Consistently Lower Murder Rates, Death Penalty Information Centre (With data from the US Census and the FBI)

4,6 Sherman, L. W., Gottfredson, D., MacKenzie, D., Eck, H., Reuter, P., & Bushway, S.
(1997). Preventing Crime: What works, what doesn’t work, what’s promising. National
Institute of Justice. Retrieved June 8, 2011 from http://www.ncjrs.org/works/

5 Statistics Canada, Exploring Crime Patterns in Canada, (2005) Catalogue no. 85-561-MWE2005005

Drivers & Cyclists & Pedestrians! Oh My!

This is a post that has been brewing for a long time. I live in the downtown area of Winnipeg and have since I moved here from Kenora in 2005. Living that vacation hotspot, I had to deal with the influx of tourists from Manitoba every summer. Their driving was atrocious but we had the tendency to give them the benefit of the doubt. “They’re from out of town and lost or just not sure of things …”, we’d say. Then I moved here.

To my surprise, these same ‘Toban drivers aren’t any better on home turf. In fact they are as bad or worse. Why is this so, Winnipeg? Nothing got me more upset then seeing Tom Broadbeck’s stories of the “unfair” ticketing of drivers that he would call a “tax grab”. Seriously, Tom? I don’t care what you call it – if any driver is breaking the law then fine them. I don’t care if they were caught in person by an officer, by a traffic camera or by psychic link to a palm-reader in Osbourne Villiage – if they broke the law then they should pay.

Do as many blitzes as you want. Stop every speeder, every diamond-lane sneaker and every amber-means-go-faster driver on the road. Grab all the dollars you can. Ezra Levant calls this the “Nanny State”. He believes specifically that drivers should be able to do whatever they want while driving whether it be texting, doing their make-up, or watching porn and that they should only be penalized when this quantifiably endangers a life. The problem with this thinking is that it means waiting for the accident to happen. At that point the lives may be already ruined or lost. For him this is an issue of freedom. Somehow in North America, we have created in our car-centric society the belief that it is an innate right to drive a car. If you travel in Europe you actually find that in some countries some laws are not as strict as in North America — Germany and it’s Autobahn for example. It’s the attitude that is different. Driving is considered a privilege and treated as such. When such an attitude is prevalent, laws can actually be more lax. People respect their own place and more to the point, the place of others around them.

Respect. That’s what it really comes down to. Creating the right to drive mentality has made the drivers a unique upper-class in their own minds. Those that do not drive by choice or otherwise are looked down upon and so this feeds into the question of ultimate road ownership. Persons that ride the bus or walk to work are of a lesser social standing. This begins as early as age 16 when the young and well to do own or have access to vehicles. You can’t blame the individual drivers for this because they know that the streets and highways were designed around them and in most cases any other forms of traffic are afterthoughts or outright an nuisance. Go to Kenaston without a car — there are few sidewalks and it is clearly designed to get around by car – even within itself. So why wouldn’t a driver think that a system designed for him is owned by him? The cries ring out loud when any attempt to remedy this imbalance is suggested or, God forbid, gets approval.

I have my issues with cyclists and clueless pedestrians too. They need to follow the rules and behave safely as well. I’m sure Tom and Ezra cheered as news of the Winnipeg crack down on cyclists hit the wire a bit ago. As did I. Strange however, I did not see either of them speak about an over-bearing nanny-state or socialist tax grab when it came to those ticketed on bicycles. Guess it didn’t fit their agenda.

Everyone needs to just get along. The rules of the road are important as much as stand-alone protection of the public as they are a guideline for others’ expectations. For example, the law on amber lights is that the driver is expected to stop if it is safe to do so, not if he or she feels like it. Likewise, when you cannot safely get through an intersection because of congestion you are to stop before entering it. If you were to enter the downtown core any given morning, you would believe the opposite on both of these. And then there’s the speeding. Have we not learned by now that especially in an urban setting, it rarely pays to drive faster and weave in and out of traffic like some crazed Indy driver? I particularly remember one day because the car in question was exactly the same as ours. It weaved in and out and passed us a number of times and very nearly caused an accident at one point. Nevertheless, without fail, we would catch up to it every few intersections. Get it picture people? None of these things really get you to your destination faster. Again I say; as far as I’m concerned put a camera at every corner. Blitz drivers every morning and evening rush. Make it truly unprofitable to break the law and fill the coffers at the same time.

Pedestrian, cycle and transit corridors are met with the “but more people drive” argument time and time again. Well yes, more people do drive but that’s the issue. More people need not to drive. There is no solution that favours more cars – no matter what a city does it cannot ultimately keep up with the demand for parking and traffic volume. There is a finite amount of space and dollars. Pedestrian paths and bikeways cost infinitely less to build and maintain and a well designed transit system is infinitely more efficient.

Don’t hate me, Winnipeg drivers. More importantly – please don’t hit me with your car.

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The NHL Comes Home to Winnipeg

“Hockey in Canada has never been stronger …”

– Gary Bettman, NHL Commissioner

Winnipeg NHL Announcement 2011-05-31 - c. E R A Brohm

After years of waiting and weeks of genuine anticipation, the NHL is back in Manitoba’s capital. Mark Chipman of True North Sports and Entertainment made the announcement along side Gary Bettman at the MTS Centre at 11:22 Central time this morning. This is the moment that big league hockey finally returned to the starving Winnipeg market. The party was planned at the Forks and this this morning, the event team went into overdrive. DJ’s, live music and video screens to broadcast the official word were in place in time for the announcement.

The 15-season Manitoba Moose will be staying put for now although there are as yet unconfirmed rumours that the successful American Hockey League team and farm team of the Vancouver Canucks may be headed to St. Johns, Newfoundland. As the AHL’s Winnipeg future may be uncertain, the only controversy surrounding the the NHL’s return is what the new team will be called. The hearts of the city of course lie with “Jets” but business and marketing gurus have suggested a change — new era, new team, new name. Will the name matter? If there is a new name, I foresee the stands filled with Jets jerseys for the first few seasons. Any new team will have to earn a place on the fan’s backs.

Organizers are planning to sell seats from $39 – $129 and the drive to sell 13,000 season tickets will start immediately. Is Winnipeg willing to shell out NHL prices to see hockey? Yes they are. As I overheard one fan, “The worst seats (in the MTS Centre) are still better then some of the best seats in the old Winnipeg Arena.” More importantly, Winnipeg and Manitoba faired better through the recent recession then most and actually continued to to see some growth. Development in the downtown core has been unprecedented and there is finally a credible long term plan for it to continue. This is a welcome change from the single-project miracles that by themselves had no hope of stemming the decay.

The rebuilding of Winnipeg’s street cred as a sports-friendly city began almost as the dust was settling from the loss of the Jets in 1996. The creation of the Manitoba Moose in that same year and the Pan Am games the next proved that not only could we support sports, we could do it after taking a huge hit to our psyche.

What’s next for professional sports in our city?  Major League Soccer perhaps? Bring back the Fury I say, the more the merrier.

Nothing Really … A Couple Photos …

Little Dog Lost

Little Dog Lost

Chute

Coal Chute