After the last civic election, politicians and pundits moaned and groaned over the low voter turnout, 38.2 percent, the worst in 20 years.
While it was more a reflection of the unelectibility of the challengers to Mayor Sam Katz---a man-hating feminist and a man-loving homosexual activist---it also demonstrated how little engagement there was between the citizens of the city and their alleged political representatives.
Barely more than one in three thought it worthwhile to vote. It sent a bad signal to city hall.
Over the next four years city councillors pretty much ignored the wishes of Winnipeg taxpayers to do whatever they wanted, comfortable in the thought they would never be held to account.
Of course they paid lip service to "public consultations", holding sham surveys of public opinion which they then used as an excuse to ram their own pet projects through.
And all the while they cried crocodile tears at the poor turnout in civic elections.
Well, you know what they say about wishes---be careful what you wish for, it might come true.
We have one tiny golden opportunity to double the voter turnout of the last election.
The law permits city council to ask the province to add non-binding plebiscites to the ballot. And what a better time than now?
There are a handful of important and costly decisions that have been debated at city hall, with no final resolution. This October, we can be able to say with certainty what the public really thinks about these matters. No more guessing. No more pontificating. No more alleging.
1. A new stadium
Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz and unelected Premier Greg Selinger, the dirtiest politician in Manitoba, have signed on to a deal to build a new football stadium at public expense for the benefit of one man, failed businessman David Asper.
If that isn't fishy enough, the deal calls for Asper to have the exclusive right to buy the land where the existing stadium stands and the exclusive right to buy the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for a bargain basement price. If he doesn't exercise either option, then the public taxpayer will bail him out of the deal and pay his share for the stadium.
Asper has already reneged on a public pledge to cover cost overruns on the new stadium and he doesn't have the money to either buy the team or buy the land at Polo Park.
But Sam Katz and Greg Selinger remain committed to the deal, although at this point nobody knows how much a new stadium will cost, what it will look like, or who will pay what share.
Two proposed ballot questions:
Should Winnipeg be part of any agreement to build a new football stadium without knowing how much it costs or what part of the cost the city is responsible for?
Given that the existing deal to build a new football stadium benefits a sole entity with no explanation why, should we issue a new bid for proposals for a new stadium, open to everyone.
2. BRT or LRT
Phase One of a bus rapid transit line to the University of Manitoba is almost finished. Phase Two was estimated to cost $189 million which would be co-funded by the province.
The Mayor says costs have already exceeded the estimate. He wants to replace Phase Two of BRT with a LIght Rail Transit (LRT) line. LRT will cost $325 million at least, but the Mayor believes he can get the federal government to pay part of the cost.
Should we finish Phase Two of bus rapid transit?
Should we delay Phase Two of BRT until we know how much it would cost the city to install LRT instead?
How long should we wait for an answer?
One Year? More (fill in your answer)
3. Disraeli Bridge
The existing Disraeli Bridge must be replaced very soon. The public was given three options of a replacement. The public chose Option Two which would cost $140 million. The city, without further public consultations, decided to build two bridges simultaneously, one for bicycle traffic only, at a cost of $195 million (and counting) with the province contributing $55 million. The benefit will be that the bridge can remain partially open throughout construction which could take a year and a half.
Given that the public chose the mid-priced option for a replacement bridge..
And given that they were aware of the bridge closure during construction...
And given that the provincial contribution is just taxpayers' money from a different pocket, and won't cover the entire cost of the double-bridge project....
Should the Disraeli Bridge replacement project be capped? Should there be a top price which, if exceeded in the tendering process, would trigger a reversal to the public's choice of a $140 million bridge?
You get the point.
Let the people speak.
There's no reason to trust the politicians to make your point for you, not when they've got their hands deep, deep in your pocket.
City council can put a series of questions on these expensive matters on the ballot.
By doing so, they can stimulate public discussion and involvement, reverse the decline in voter turnout, and see true democracy at work.