Monday, 25 June 2012

How a Torontonian columnist describes Winnipeg

41st Mayor of Winnipeg, Glen Murray

Image Source: Yonge Street Media
Given some (sorta) recent discussion of Winnipeg's status as a "small town" on Winnipeg Internet Pundits, it seems topical for this prairie city blog to review outside perspectives on the Gateway to the West. Who better to have a say than a columnist from Canada's biggest city?

On a piece about the 41st Mayor of Winnipeg's rising political aspirations in Ontario, Toronto Life writer Gerald Hannon has this to say about the 'peg and it's interaction with the former mayor:

Osborne Village, Winnipeg (Top)

The Annex, Toronto (Bottom)

Image Sources: Winnipeg Tourism (Top)
Wiki Travel (Bottom) 

The city [Winnipeg] already had a long history of gay activism and at least two gay bars, but the scene was, in many respects, very small-town. 
When people talk about what makes Murray a natural leader, they usually only mention his first four-year term as mayor. In a city accustomed to staid, business-as-usual and largely invisible politicians, Murray was in your face. He immediately signalled a new civic regime by inviting Jewish, Catholic, First Nations and Sikh leaders to participate in the opening ceremonies of the new city council. Murray was also heard to joke, while wearing the mayor’s chain of office, “Now I just need earrings to match.” 
The Murray honeymoon ended when he revealed a talent for realpolitik. The issue that lost him many of his supporters was the matter of preserving the old Eaton’s building, a 1905 heritage property in the heart of downtown Winnipeg, empty since the company went out of business in 1999. There were plans, backed largely by private money, to build a new arena and performance centre on the site, and though there were alternative locations, Eaton’s was the choicest. Jane Jacobs supported an Eaton’s preservation project. So, it seemed, did Glen Murray—until he voted in council for the building’s demolition. The MTS Centre, home to the Winnipeg Jets, now stands on the site. Shawna Dempsey, a Winnipeg artist who met Murray when they were both involved with Affirm (a United Church gay group) and who was thrilled when he won the mayoralty, was also a member of the Save Eaton’s Building Coalition. She calls what he did a betrayal, and believes he did it to win the respect of “the good ol’ boys who like sports.” Kaj ­Hasselriis saw a sea change in the man’s politics: “He’d always been so big on community consultation and debate. 
This decision was made in Premier Gary Doer’s style—shove it down our throats.” Murray acknowledges that the Eaton’s demolition lost him friends. He calls it “one of those terrible moments in politics, and a difficult and heartbreaking development decision,” and then launches into a good 10-minute justification, complete with on-the-spot, hand-drawn sketches illustrating why the building had to go (his explanation comes down mostly to the refusal of both the feds and the province to pony up the money to rehabilitate its feeble structure). 
Steve Peters, the former Speaker, remembers Murray as a good heckler and one of the loudest members in the House, his strong baritone regularly riling the opposition. Murray once referred to them as “sissies,” a comment the Speaker forced him to withdraw. The Tories, Peters says, would get him back, sometimes referring to Murray as “the member from Winnipeg.” 
("Confidence Man: how Glen Murray is positioning himself to grab the reins of political power". Gerald Hannon. Toronto Life. June 23, 2012.)
While it certainly seems like Winnipeg's regarded as a small town from Canada's biggest city and one of the WIPs (sometimes it's hard to recall which voice goes with which name) stated that "we our a small town", I don't really see that as being valid unless "big city" and "small town" are the only options. Winnipeg is in my mind and always will be the quintessential middle-ground - a mid-sized prairie city. People help one another out and are friendly like a small town, but there are various big city problems (such as a murder rate greater than most big Canadian cities and second only to Edmonton - another prairie city) as well as big city attractions (cafes, a large art gallery, cultural districts, two public universities).

"Prairie Town" is an awesome - profound - song, nonetheless.

The columnist is very right about City Hall - municipal politics has been very uninspired and institutionally conservative. Aside from throwing barbs at the NDP come election time and having stuff go wrong at photo opts, one can't really say our current mayor makes it into the public consciousness that much. One also can't really say he's had too many visionary ideas, unless you count pipe dreams like ""Light-rail Rapid Transit" in an era of demising civic revenues and a property tax freeze (a cut, in real dollars) with no federal or provincial funding deals.

Hopefully, Winnipeg will have more Murray calibre mayors and less Katz's come future years.

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