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Who ya gonna call? The skinny on the Disraeli Bridge misdirection


Five weeks ago, The Black Rod got an e-mail from a resident of Point Douglas.

He was frustrated at getting nowhere with city officials as he tried to get information on the plans for the Disraeli Bridge reconstruction. Actually, "nowhere" would have been one step closer than he got. The stone wall on information was so thick he couldn't even get acknowledgement that anyone had heard his knock.

"Can you help?" he wrote.

"Give us a couple of days," we replied.

We quickly determined this was a story that needed as wide exposure as possible. As many as 14 homes in Elmwood were threatened with expropriation and the elected "representatives" of Point Douglas and Elmwood were ducking all questions from residents of the area.

Our correspondent had taken his story to the mainstream media, particularly the Winnipeg Free Press and CBC, and had been given the brush-off from the "professional journalists." No story here, they said.

We put him in touch with Marty Gold, host of The Great Canadian Talk Show, Kick FM's drive home talk show, who has become the go-to guy on City Hall issues in the city. Suddenly, the residents of the North End had a voice. A LOUD voice.

Our e-mailer carpet-bombed the airwaves with stunning information:

* At least 14 homeowners on the Elmwood side of the Red River would be expropriated, or hope they had been expropriated, because the City was taking over their front yards for the new bridge.

* One resident of Elmwood had spent thousands of dollars last summer remodelling his home to upgrade the neighbourhood, only to discover that now the value of his house and the houses of his neighbours would be equal to the lean-to's thrown up by squatters along the riverbank.

* City officials being paid to "communicate" with the public said they couldn't talk to anyone until contracts were signed with the bridge builders, by when it would be too late to have any input on the design of the bridge.

* The North End has become a black hole in the city as the so-called representatives of the area, Councillors Mike Pagtakhan (Point Douglas) and Harry Lazarenko (Mynarski), and MLA "Invisible" George Hickes (NDP-Point Douglas), refuse to answer phone calls or e-mails, or otherwise answer questions or provide information to their constituents.

Pagtakhan owes his allegiance to the Filipino voters in the west end of his riding and Lazarenko is elected by voters in West Kildonan, meaning both of them can ignore the North End.

Hickes, who lives in south St. Vital but "represents" Point Douglas, has been the Speaker of the Legislature for a decade, during which he's refused to go to bat for his constituency by claiming he can't be involved in partisan disputes.

But we had managed to turn up the heat and it was burning the city flacks.

Suddenly our correspondent was being invited to "information" meetings on the Disraeli Bridge. Except that little information was being passed along.

Then-- surprise, surprise--this past Friday, the city's Disraeli Bridge website exploded with news.

Yes, there might be expropriations, they said belatedly. Maybe a couple.

And the new bridge would affect 7 other "residential properties" and 10 "business properties." The exact locations was confidential. There would be meetings soon to inform residents of the city's plans.

Guess what? The same professional journalists who told our e-mailer they weren't interested in his story suddenly became very interested.

The Winnipeg Free Press carried a story about the expropriations on Saturday. CBC and CTV did their bits on Monday. And Tuesday morning CBC Radio had their own interviews.

The coverage was abysmal, although we did learn the city plans to take chunks out of the front yards of homes on Riverton Avenue after paying the homeowners a whopping $1000 for their land.

CTV's Susan Tymofichuk insisted on using city hall jargon.

Hey Sue, you know those "residential properties" you keep talking about? They're somebodies' HOMES.

One of those homeowners had a map of the affected houses in her neighbourhood; CTV didn't bother showing it. Why confuse viewers with the facts?

Nobody with the MSM seems to understand the story at all.

Nobody mentioned that city councillors shed their responsibility for the Disraeli Bridge in a vote to make unelected Glen Laubenstein, the city's top bureaucrat, the Bridge Czar. He has complete authority to rebuild the Disraeli with no city input. AND, he has no accountability to anyone.

The Disraeli Bridge debacle has been a charade from the beginning.

The mayor and council had one goal and one goal only---to avoid a repeat of the famous picture by Winnipeg Tribune photographer Frank Chalmers showing a devastated old woman leaning her babushkaed head against the door to her expropriated home as the tears ran down her face.

First they pretended to have public "consultations" on a structure to replace the existing Disraeli Bridge. Three options were offered and the public was asked which they preferred --- as if they actually had any say in the matter, which they didn't.

One option was announced with great fanfare, except that the city was holding secret talks with a bicycle lobby group that wanted something different. So, lo and behold, the city made Disraeli announcement #2 revealing plans to build two, count 'em, two bridges---one for cars and one for bicycles. And no, the public would not get to discuss the plans.

Then, months of silence. Months during which the NDP used the pending closure of the Disraeli Bridge as an election ploy in a federal byelection and a provincial byelection. Suddenly came still another announcement---a new plan for still another bridge, or was it two? There was going to be a new Disraeli Bridge, and a bicycle bridge attached to the plan.

And no, the public would have no say in it despite the added $50 million cost, a cost explicitly rejected in the first set of public meetings.

But now we see the real game.

1) First, make the area residents think they have a say.

2) Co-opt the one group that could cause some embarassment by having secret talks that make them think they actually have the final say.

3) But above all, never ever say a word about expropriations until it's too late for the people to do anything about it. They can't get their political reps to raise a stink because they have no reps.

4) And stress the good news, the bridge will stay open during construction, saving commuters ... 10 minutes a trip.

'sall good.

The story might have had a different outcome if the mainstream media had done their job when it mattered, instead of playing catch-up to The Black Rod and The Great Canadian Talk Show.

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