For most Winnipegers, civic elections elicit nary a blip on our collective radar as years past have produced lackluster candidates and even more unimaginative policy ideas. Those trends and patterns may have served the city in an adequate fashion as a mid-sized prairie town, but times have changed: Winnipeg is now a growing city and is only now presenting itself as a city on the upswing after years of minimal growth or even slight recession.
Since 2010, Winnipeg has inaugurated a terminal at the airport, constructed a new football stadium and garnered ourselves some nationwide attention for our feverish fandom of the newly minted Winnipeg Jets. In the next year, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights will open and put us in the national spotlight. The City predicts that by 2035, the population of the Winnipeg Metropolitan Area will cross the 1,000,000 mark, accounting for a period of unprecedented growth in our sleepy prairie metropolis.
Along with those impressive feats, however, what Winnipeg truly faces is the hard realization that we are transitioning to becoming a big city. To brutally paraphrase a motif from Spider-Man, this would require us to step up and change how we run our cities. For example, that means actually working to create an open system of government, so citizens can see who makes decisions affecting our cities. Water parks next to national human rights museums? Not so much.
Winnipeg’s civic leadership has been admittedly below par in the past few years. What the city needs now is a civic vision that allows us to look forward. No offense to the patchwork policy around snow clearing and removal, but quite simply it has to be improved. The same goes for our consistently brown water with our decaying infrastructure, and I can’t speak to the quality of our transit system without immediately pondering the location of the closest watering holes.
This is where you, the reader, enter the equation. As citizens, it’s important for us to drive the change and progress we want to see in our city. At the point of this writing, few candidates have formally declared their intention for various council and mayoral positions, but rest assured people are listening and looking for policy ideas to run on. If you have a passion or vision for the city, put it forward. Go to a forum, volunteer for a campaign or even tweet about it.
What Winnipeg truly requires at this point in the game is a comprehensive plan to move from a middle-sized city to a national player. We’ll need to seriously address our policies towards urban sprawl, clarify how we proceed with development and under which stipulations, while also working to fix and address our transportation system. It’s a laundry list of problems for the city, but what we truly need are citizens to get involved and move their own city forward.
Zach Fleisher studies politics at the University of Winnipeg.