There’s a provincial election happening Sept. 10 and in an effort to make sure Selkirk voters keep their hometown front of mind when they hit the polling stations, the city is taking the unprecedented step of encouraging citizens to raise important community issues with local candidates and reminding voters what’s at stake when they cast their ballots.
“We’ve never done anything like this before, at least not in my memory,” said Chief Administrative Officer Duane Nicol.
“There are plenty of important issues that will dominate this election cycle, including health care and getting drugs off our streets, and they should dominate, because they are important to all Manitobans, but there’s other local topics that tend to get lost in provincial or federal elections, and we’re simply trying to raise their profile.”
Getting Everyone Involved
In addition to erecting billboards in strategic locations, the city has placed ads in local newspapers this week as well, asking citizens to question candidates when they come to their door or call them on the phone. The city has provided seven important issues that all residents should be concerned about, and will reinforce the messages with social media posts throughout the campaign.
“Most of these are topics that won’t make headlines anywhere else in the province, but we know they are important to citizens of Selkirk because they have raised them with us in a variety of ways,” Nicol said.
Mayor Larry Johannson said Selkirk is a city that is experiencing tremendous growth and the election provides a chance for people to have their say and keep the momentum going.
“We’re not telling anyone who to vote for, but we are asking the people of Selkirk to ask the candidates their position on things that the province has control over,” Johannson said.
“When the candidates come to the door, don’t just shake their hand and wish them well. Take them to the task on issues that matter most. This is your money that they are in care of; make sure it’s spent on the items that most matter to you.”
Bringing Up the Issues That Affect Citizens of Selkirk
Chief amongst those issues is provincial commitment to the city’s Main Street. Residents might not be aware that Selkirk’s main thoroughfare is a provincial road, meaning it’s the province that decides when it’s going to be repaired or improved.
The province has done renewal work on Main Street twice in recent years, including this year’s work from Heap to Strathnaver Avenue. But Main Street north of Manitoba Avenue is in poor shape and needs provincial commitment for the work to continue.
There are two other issues that residents raise regularly as well, either on social media or while talking with members of Selkirk council. They are the Selkirk Bridge and the Manitoba Avenue and Easton Drive intersection.
The Selkirk Bridge is the link between the city and East Selkirk, as well as a connection to the east side of Winnipeg and the beaches. It has been allowed to deteriorate and the thousands who drive it everyday know it and talk about it needing to be repaired, resurfaced and repainted.
The intersection at Manitoba Avenue and Easton Drive needs to be aligned with Agnes Avenue, and the city is encouraging residents to press candidates on their position on realignment and commit to pushing for it.
“We hope that people will cut the ad out of the newspaper and put it on their fridges, and when a candidate comes over or calls, grab that ad and ask what they will do about Main Street, or the Selkirk Bridge or the intersection. These are the things people ask the city about, and now they have the opportunity to ask the people who will be representing them at the provincial level and can make these things happen,” Nicol said.
AMM Looking at the Bigger Picture
Mayor Johannson is the chair of the Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM) Cities Caucus and supports the group’s Partners in Growth campaign, which calls on the next provincial government to commit to a multi-year program of increases to the Municipal Assistance Grant at the rate of growth of the province’s GDP and return provincial funding for road renewal to pre-2017 levels.
The campaign points out that municipalities contribute more than $16 billion to the provincial economy but often are asked to put more than their fare share of funding towards the nuts and bolts of their own towns and cities – sometimes pitching in more than 50 per cent of the cost to build roads and other infrastructure.
Partners in Growth, as well as the City of Selkirk ads, ask that the province exempt municipalities from paying PST, which would save Selkirk more than $800,000 per year; that it fund municipalities at the rate of economic growth and create a multi-year program of increases to the Municipal Assistance Grant; and that it restore funding for road maintenance and renewal to pre-2017 levels.
The final question the city asks residents to raise is will the candidate fight to keep Selkirk Linen open. A provincial report has called for its closing – and the loss of 50 jobs.
“We are in the business of attracting jobs to our community, not letting them move away. These are good paying jobs and we want them to stay here for the benefit of Selkirk and the region,” Johannson said.
Nicol said the city is experiencing growth and renewal not seen in decades and is increasingly being seen provincially and nationally as an innovator and a leader in the municipal sector.
“We take great pride in being leaders at the City of Selkirk. Part of that leadership is citizen engagement. Council has been tenacious, visionary and vocal – and that has served us very well. We’ve received significant investments from other levels of government and the private sector. But at election time it is the voice of the people that matters most. Right now all citizens can play a part in Selkirk’s development and help us make our community stronger and more sustainable,” Nicol said. “Encouraging people to get engaged, to ask questions and claim your stake in your community’s future is what this or any election is about. We’re happy to support the AMM’s Partners in Growth campaign, and we’re happy to compile our citizens’ top concerns and put them front and centre as well.”
For a full elaboration of the seven questions being asked, click here