Well, Winnipeg’s 2022 municipal election was pretty… anti-climactic. A council with exactly one brand-new face; the others all incumbents from previous councils. There were some really exciting candidates who ran excellent races, but none of them secured a seat. But. While I went to sleep on election night feeling disillusioned and disappointed, with the benefit of a few more days’ perspective, I do think there are things to celebrate about this election.
In a post about the 2018 civic election and accompanying Portage & Main referendum, I wrote this:
“Throughout this election, I’ve not been particularly encouraged about Winnipeg’s ability to evolve. So many conversations I think we need to be having are not happening (stupid pothole monopoly). It’s been easy to feel bummed out and discouraged when reality is such a far cry from how you imagine it could and should be.”
This time four years ago, the election was hmmm…how do I put this politely? Uninspiring? (In a Vice article about “Winnipeg’s sad, weird election”, James Wilt noted that “the best Winnipeggers can apparently hope for is a spattering of very vague commitment to improve transit and affordable housing.”)
To the best of my recollection, during the 2018 election, no one was making campaign statements about building “a city for people, not cars”. No one was talking about bike theft. No one was talking about “fix it first”. No one was suggesting that maybe adding more roads and capacity was a bad idea. No one was talking about parking minimums.
I heard folks say the 2022 election was lackluster and boring, but I don’t agree. Candidates’ realistic chances of winning notwithstanding, I think we had a race with a huge amount of choice–maybe not in every ward, but certainly on the mayoral ballot. As my friend Lorraine put it, “This is an engaging election with a good number of decent candidates for mayor, at a time when we desperately need decency, vision and action from a new mayor and council. ” In fact, for the first time ever in a municipal election, my husband and I were so excited about particular candidates that we made financial donations to several campaigns.
Back in 2019, our local tree committee invited groups from across the city to join up to fight for better urban forestry funding in the forthcoming municipal budget process. Preparing for that first meeting of what would become the Trees Please Winnipeg Coalition, we wrestled long and hard with one particular decision: whether we should dare to suggest that a few million dollars from the roads budget should be reallocated to urban forestry. After all, we were living in an era of property tax increases we’d been assured would be used on roads and only roads (as if there were no higher or more worthy or needed expenditure). Despite knowing that the room would be full of people interested in trees, nature, and probably climate, we also suspected that the all-consuming-yet-never-sufficient roads budget might be seen as untouchable. Thankfully, though, they went for the idea, and I like to think that the Trees Please Winnipeg Coalition played a small role in shifting the local narrative away from car-centrism over the last few years.
In 2022’s civic election, everything related to roads spending was on the table and being said out in the open. Sure, the winning mayoral candidate was the one who wants to widen Kenaston and extend Chief Peguis, but there’s just no comparing the types of campaign concepts and promises that took place this year with those in 2018.
The pace of change is so slow, but I think it’s really helpful to step back every now and then and see that things DO change. I think about this every time I watch that timeline film that plays on a loop in the Winnipeg Gallery at the Manitoba Museum (I have been known to need a Kleenex by the end of it!). Year to year, it feels as though our city is hopelessly stuck. But when you look at the astonishing amount of social change that’s happened in the past century, it’s encouraging.
In this spirit, here are a few changes that have happened, just in the past few years, through the City of Winnipeg. Individually, maybe none of them is huge or groundbreaking, but each is a step in a positive direction. And critically, it reminds us that someone thought it was an important idea and championed it.
- Fare-free transit for kids under 12
- Free period products in city facilities pilot program
- 30km/h neighbourhood pilot project
- Green bin pilot project
Are things happening alarmingly and discouragingly slowly, especially in the face of the climate crisis? Yes. Are they enough? No. But they’re something to look to, and say, progress CAN happen.
Maybe change hasn’t come yet, but at least we’re talking about it.