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Will civic hopefuls go 'on the record' about The Big 4 ?

When a big-city newspaper devotes four pages to the mayoral election, it should be a cause for celebration in recognition that electing a mayor is serious business with serious consequences.

When those four pages turn out to be stupid questions about pop culture, you're left wanting to pull out your hair at the waste of space and opportunity.

At least that was the first reaction at The Black Rod to the election coverage in Sunday's Winnipeg Free Press. But then we realized we had just misread what the newspaper was doing.

In reality, the Free Press was signalling that the election for mayor is over. Sam Katz has lapped his opponents twice over and is jogging to the finish line backwards and blindfolded. It's now time to have some fun with the remaining two and half weeks of the campaign.

Maybe the unemployed gay activist, the self-employed lawyer wannabe, and the "raise taxes" eco-feminist failed to catch the public's imagination with their issues. But that doesn't mean there aren't serious matters that deserve to be discussed during a civic election.

The Winnipeg Free Press may not think so, which is why they went the make-the-election-a-joke route.
But The Black Rod believes that all candidates, for mayor and for city council, should be grilled for their stand on The Big Four.

1. Urban Reserve

Once there were two on the table, but only one survived the year.The Roseau River Reserve had been talking about buying a parcel of land at the old Canada Packers site in St. Boniface for Winnipeg's first urban reserve.

That plan hit the dumpster when Indian Affairs told them early this month that they would have to spend a bundle to clean up the land to meet environmental standards before reserve status could even be considered.

In August, the Long Plain Reserve bought a piece of land in St. James from Manitoba Hydro for an urban reserve. Their plan is to build a $40 million Native Governance House on the property, with construction to begin in late 2007. The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs hopes the federal government grants the property urban reserve status before the building is completed in a couple of years.

Mayor Sam Katz took a fact-finding trip to Saskatchewan in January and came home a booster.
"From what I saw today, I felt very confident that this will become a reality," in Winnipeg, Katz said to the CBC on his return home. "I was very pleased with what I saw. Most importantly, it was verified to me that you definitely can create an even playing field, which I know is one of the main questions that people have."

He was accompanied on his trip by Ron Evans, Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. The AMC is the chief proponent of the First Nations Governance House.

Barely three weeks after Katz came back to Winnipeg, Ron Evans was in the news.

Band council involved in 'influence peddling, blackmail': court
CBC News
The former chief and councillors at Norway House Cree Nation say they will appeal a federal court judgement that accuses them of blackmail and influence peddling.

The chief in question? None other than Ron Evans.

Justice Pierre Blais blasted the chief and councillors for failing "to respect the notion of representative democracy."

Marcel Balfour, an elected councillor, started asking questions about how the reserve was being run, specifically about expenditures on the Helen Betty Osborne Memorial School. He found himself frozen out by Evans and his supporters.

His computer was seized, his cell phone was disconnected and Evans cut his salary from $60,000 to $5000 a year. Balfour was told he could get back in the good graces of the chief and council by shutting his mouth and not to ask questions about how the $40 million for the school was being spent.

Justice Blais called that a "clear indication of influence peddling and blackmail."

In a separate case, another judge ruled that Evans acted unlawfully when he appointed one of his strongest allies as acting chief before resigning to go to the AMC.

Evans now wants to bring his brand of native democracy to Winnipeg under the protections of an urban reserve.

Winnipeggers got another look at what an urban reserve would mean when another judge ordered the province to extend no-smoking legislation to on-reserve casinos.

No way, said the AMC's Evans.The province can't dictate its no-smoking policy to reserves, he said. It's a jursidictional issue. Reserves (read urban reserves) will decide for themselves whether smoking will be allowed or not.

The AMC has coughed up $15,000 for Roseau River First Nation Chief Terry Nelson to go to court on the issue.

Ahhh. Terry Nelson, he of the aborted urban reserve in St. Boniface.

The demise of his plan also brought some interesting information to the attention of Winnipeg citizens.

Everyone, including Katz, always says that urban reserves will be on an equal playing field with other businesses in the city because they will sign a service agreement that covers the costs of property taxes, business taxes, fees, police and fire service, water service, and whatever else business pays. ( Nobody ever explains why reserves just don't pay these without a special service agreement.)

Now it turns out that Chief Terry Nelson is disputing a bill for back taxes from the RM of Franklin for land bought in 1999, and is refusing to sign a service agreement because, as the Winnipeg Sun put it, "the reeve was being unreasonable." Nevertheless, a proposal to have the land become an urban reserve is still working its way through the system.

- How does Winnipeg plan to enforce a "service agreement" if the urban reserve decides that city council is "being unreasonable" and refuses to pay?

- Will urban reserves allow smoking in public places like, say, restaurants and Governance Houses?

- If the First Nation has $40 million to build their own faux Legislature to boost their egos, do they need any extra funding from city coffers for anything?

- What kind of due diligence will the city undertake on our "partners" in the urban reserve. What standards will the city insist on? Can we agree on No Blackmail?

2. The Asper Human Rights Museum

You have to give the late Izzy Asper an A-plus for audacity -- er, chutzpa -- for his plan to build the 240,000-square foot Canadian Museum of Human Rights at the Forks.

When the backers say they want to build the iconic equivalent to the Eiffel Tower in Winnipeg, they're not kidding. It's not just rhetoric. They mean every word. And God bless them.

And if the sheer boldness of the idea doesn't leave you in awe, then maybe the price tag does.

The Asper Foundation, which is leading development of the museum, used to use a figure of $270 million for two stages--construction $200 million and an operating-plus-perpetual- endowment fund $70 mil. The fund would go toward sponsoring 100,000 students and their chaperones to come to the museum for three days each year.

But costs have been creeping up this past year and the latest estimates toss around the figure of $311 million. And remember, this is Politician money.

In Real People's Hard Earned Tax Money, we all know the final cost will be a half a billion dollars or more once all the "unexpected" expenses are tallied.

The city's nut? Twenty million. For starters, surely.

We were worried the museum promotion machine was stretching the truth a bit when they said they expected the museum would draw 400,000 visitors a year. But then we learned that the dinosaur exhibits at the Royal Tyrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta, draw 400,000 people annually. So it wasn't such a stretch, after all.

Not unless you think dinosaurs are a bigger draw than, uh, human rights. And who doesn't?

Do you think there's a reason why the Aspers have to ambush people, wrestle them to the ground and twist their arms until they cough up a donation to the human rights museum?

Let's face it. A museum dedicated to human rights is as appealing as a lecture from your Mom when you're a teenager.

Sure, it's important. Sure, we're thankful. Sure, they deserve recognition. Can I go now?

Do a simple experiment yourself. Tell your children you're going to take them to a museum this weekend. Which museum do they want to go to? Dinosaurs? Or human rights?

Let's see. One is fun and exciting. The other is educational and depressing.
Tough choice, there.

If election candidates think Winnipeg has $20 million to pump into a black hole, maybe they should also look at some other ideas. (Just in case, don'cha know.)

Is an architecturally spectacular building what we want to put Winnipeg on the world map? Make it a museum of comic book heroes. Who stands for justice and fairness better than costumed super heroes?

The legion of comic book readers (i.e. anyone who has ever been a ten-year-old boy) would fill the private funding requirement in a flash. Heh, heh, The Flash. Get it?

You wouldn't have to subsidize 100,000 reluctant children a year, you'd have to find accomodations for 100,000 parents of super hero crazy kids.

Or take the money and bring Garth Drabinsky to Winnipeg and let him make his magic.

Introduce him to musician and theatre producer Danny Schur who's struggling with his homegrown musical Strike.


Drabinsky made Toronto the centre of mega-musical theatre with Phantom of the Opera, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Showboat, Joseph and the Technicolour Dream Coat, Ragtime...They shut him down, killed Livent, hit him with every charge in the book (still pending after how many years), but with him went a magic era of big box office musicals.

Could we rekindle that kind of magic with $20 million here in Winnipeg?

Now that's chutzpa.

( 3 and 4 tomorrow )

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