Look south, left

Winnipeg’s progressive community should look at Minneapolis’s example

Winnipeg’s progressive left community should look to Minneapolis for an example of a progressive city after losing the 2010 municipal election.

The story of the left’s failure begins with the 2006 civic election, when Winnipeg’s city council swung to the right, and Sam Katz won his second term as mayor. That defeat apparently meant that a united coalition of New Democrats, Progressive Liberals, Greens and other social activists needed to start coming together if Sam Katz were to be defeated in 2010.

However, as the 2010 civic election showed, the progressive left could not cut the mustard when it counted most.

Vote splitting between left-liberals and NDP-endorsed candidates in some wards and divide-and-conquer style NDP nomination races plagued this campaign.

Even worse was the lack of new ideas put forth by mayoral candidate Judy Wasylycia-Leis, whose focal points included a green jobs platform generally catering to the activist base.

Amid the frustration of policy failures and arts fundraisers for progressive candidates that do not attract the average citizen, there is hope for progressives in Winnipeg. It involves taking a deep look at themselves and at what needs to be done to reach voters who are not activists.
Progressives can begin by taking a bus trip to Minneapolis to see what they have accomplished.

For starters Minneapolis’s mayor is R.T. Rybak – about as progressive a mayor can be while still reaching out to rank-and-file citizens.

For example, in 2007, after the collapse of the Interstate 35W Bridge, Rybak lobbied hard and had light rail constructed on the bridge to replace it. This exemplifies Winnipeg’s short-sightedness when it comes to creating new or renovating old bridges like the Disraeli Bridge.

Winnipeg’s progressive community could also learn lessons about how to approach poverty and environmental issues by studying what Minneapolis has done.
In the 2010 state of the city address, Rybak emphasized the importance of the green economy.

He and his twin cities counterpart, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, created a training program for green jobs that allows disadvantaged and unemployed workers to be part of clean energy and green manufacturing jobs through federal funds.

This is something neither Katz nor Wasylycia-Leis ever lobbied for during the mayoral campaign.

As the 2010 civic election showed, the progressive left could not cut the mustard when it counted most

Rybak also discussed the importance of small business as a poverty alleviator by launching the Great Streets program, which has helped 85 small businesses with building improvements by offering low interest loans and grants. At the same time it has created 420 new jobs and retained 125 new jobs by investing $3.7 million in commercial corridors.

Winnipeg does not have any sort of similar community development based program.

Also of interest in the Minneapolis state of the city address was that arts and culture were not mentioned once.

Instead, Rybak and his council have focused on bread-and-butter issues such as green jobs and small business, infrastructure, road building and crime reduction. These issues have fallen by the wayside among Winnipeg progressives.

Yet, by focusing on those issues, Winnipeg’s progressive community would be better able to sway centrist and independent voters without alienating their activist base.

Minneapolis has shown the way forward for the activist community here in Winnipeg.

There is a lot of time between now and 2014. But will activists seize the moment and work hard in order to rebound from adversity? Or will they continue to remain close and yet so far away from victory?

The model for success lies in Minneapolis. Stay tuned.

Adam Johnston is an economics and rhetoric and communications student at the University of Winnipeg who focuses on environmental, economic and technology issues at http://moderneconomicstechnologyenvironment.wordpress.com.

Published in Volume 65, Number 13 of The Uniter (November 25, 2010)

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