Winnipeg mayoral and council candidates describe their “Ideal City”

Reminder: Candidates who have not yet responded, but wish to do so, are welcome to send in comments prior to Election Day. New comments will be added at the earliest opportunity.

(Oct. 19 update: Hennessey)

(Oct. 8 update, 8:28 p.m.: Stiller)

(Oct. 6 updates to 5:05 p.m.: Churchill, Havixbeck, Hennessey, Jonasson, Borden, Wasylycia-Leis, Quaye, Metcalfe, Comstock)

On Oct. 22, Winnipeggers will elect a new mayor and city council, who will collectively set the direction our city will take for the next four years.

As a public service, I sent the following e-mail on Sept. 21 to all but two mayoral and council candidates. In one case, no e-mail address was available for the candidate, so I sent the message care of the agent as the next best option. In another case, both listed e-mails bounced, so I sent the invitation to the campaign office by post on Sept. 22.

Hi _____: 

I write a blog here in Winnipeg called The View from Seven ( It normally receives about 70 hits per day, sometimes more when there is a new post, and reaches people locally who are interested in politics and current affairs, directly and via Google. You might have also seen commentaries reprinted from time to time in the Winnipeg Free Press’s Sunday Xtra.

I am preparing to write a post which would allow all 2014 city council candidates to answer the following two questions in their own words: “Which city other than Winnipeg, anywhere in the world, comes closest to being the ideal city? Why?”

The purpose of these questions is to get a better sense of how candidates visualize “the ideal city” in their own minds — a relevant question given that the new city council will determine the direction this city takes over the next four years. Therefore, I do ask that all who respond please specify a city other than Winnipeg, and a rationale for their choice.

Responses will be published with little or no editing. Responses will be presented by electoral ward (or under the “Mayor” heading in the case of mayoral candidates), and sorted randomly. Where candidates have chosen not to respond, that will be noted as well.

Sunday, Oct. 5 is the target date for publishing this post, so I do ask that all responses be submitted by e-mail to no later than 6 p.m. on that date.

Thank you in advance, and all the best.

Kevin McDougald
Creator of “The View from Seven” blog, Winnipeg

Some candidates responded with impressively detailed and thoughtful responses, a couple didn’t really answer the question at all, and some have yet to respond. Space will be made available for late arrivals — but, like those who have already generously taken the time to respond, I ask that any further respondents please stick to answering the question at hand, and avoid taking shots at others.

I invite you to read the comments made by those mayoral and council candidates who have responded, and consider the extent to which each candidate’s view of “the ideal city” matches your own as you prepare to vote. And don’t forget to bookmark this page so that you can check again regularly for updates.

Thank you kindly to all candidates who responded.

Mayor of Winnipeg

David Sanders: No response as of Oct. 5

Paula Havixbeck: Is planning to respond as of Oct. 6.

Michel Fillion: Stockholm, Sweden Why? Like Winnipeg, this city enjoys the four seasons, visually and recreationally. It definitely shows cleanliness, respect for the past, aiming towards the future with technology. This city clearly paints itself as a city where citizens can thrive in an essence of enjoyment. ” To live, to work, to play ” is their hidden motto.

Robert-Falcon Ouellette: No response as of Oct. 5

Gord Steeves: No response as of Oct. 5

Brian Bowman: Campaign staff member wrote in response, “Thank you for providing Brian the opportunity to participate. I¹ve sent your questions on to him for response.” No further response as of Oct. 5

Judy Wasylycia-Leis: The ideal city is where poverty rates are low and quality of life high, with decent roads but also good public transit and active transportation infrastructure. The ideal city also has lots of opportunities for young people and a thriving arts scene. Lastly, it’s critical that an ideal city have an open, transparent government that uses taxpayers’ money effectively.

There are many cities in Canada and the U.S. that meet some or all of these criteria, but I decided to use Seattle as an example of a city that comes pretty close to being “ideal” based on these criteria. Poverty rates are relatively low. It has a great local arts, music and theatre scene and is highly ranked among North American cities for quality of life and business and career opportunities. Seattle is also well known for its extensive bus active transit systems and it has been working to increase cycling and active transit ridership, including overhauling its cycling master plan that calls for 474 miles of new or improved bike routes. Much of this is due to a progressive city government, which posts its data online and has been recognized for taking advantage of the internet to promote public participation along with more traditional civic participation methods.

No city is without its flaws, but I think Winnipeg could one day be a city that others aspire to emulate (even with our winters). We already have fantastic local arts, culture, and sports, and with new attractions like Journey to Churchill and the CMHR opening, we’re well positioned to increase our position as a tourist destination. What we need now is a progressive, forward-thinking, accountable city government with a vision to make Winnipeg even better. That means better infrastructure, including bike paths as well as roads; better services like public transit as well as snow removal, water and waste; and better opportunities, especially for young people. It also means a government that answers to the people of Winnipeg, rather than just to a few developers with high-placed friends. That’s why I have made these the core issues of my campaign over the past several months, as the basis of my vision for Winnipeg as A City That Works.


Evan Duncan: No response as of Oct. 5

Luc Lewandoski: No response as of Oct. 5

Marty Morantz: No response as of Oct. 5

Nadine Stiller: I think Calgary is an example of an ideal city because Mayor Nenshi is an exceptionally good Mayor and a politician who demonstrates integrity.  His leadership was outstanding during the flood crisis and was exactly what the citizens of Calgary needed to see itself through.  Also, Calgary is prosperous, has good infrastructure, public transportation and roads, and is home to and attracts industry and business.

Kevin Nichols: Cities are like cars, every one of them has their own unique issues. While some may be very luxurious, they can be expensive to repair. Some run great but look terrible, and yet others suffer from endless problems.

My ideal city, one with a low crime rate as well as opportunities for employment and growth. One that is clean with plenty of green space. A city that is easy to travel from one end to the other. A city where recreational facilities are placed to obtain the best location without infringing on others.

I can honestly say I have not travelled extensively to answer this question with first hand knowledge. So the city that comes closest to what you are looking for in an ideal city would be Sioux Falls South Dakota. This city was clean, very few infrastructure repairs being done or needing to be done. Recreational facilities were easy to get to for any visitor, and there were plenty of employment opportunities to be had. This is my ideal city.

Daniel McIntyre

Harvey Smith: No response as of Oct. 5

Dave Donaldson: No response as of Oct. 5

Keith Bellamy: No response as of Oct. 5

Godwin Smith: No response as of Oct. 5

Cindy Gilroy: No response as of Oct. 5

John Cardoso: No response as of Oct. 5

Elmwood-East Kildonan

Jason Cumming: No response as of Oct. 5

Paul Quaye: An ideal is tough to be embodied in one city and would be more of an amalgam of many good ideas, practices and policies from many cities. For instance, I could say something like New York or San Francisco for reasons of critical mass or density of people to drive efficiencies of scale in many areas of infrastructure and transit as well as cultural centres and “must visit” areas that drive tourism. I could say Calgary or Vancouver as Canadian examples of progressive development with a dash of geographical luck. Others may include Quebec City for embracing their cold weather nature, many European cities (which I have unfortunately not visited as yet) for preserving their history and integrating it into their daily lives, and even small to mid sized cities across the US Northern Midwest (Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana) and Canadian Prairies for sheer perseverance.

My thought is that we should take these examples best practices and apply them to Winnipeg. Some things are out of our control like geography, as we are not a coastal city or in proximity to the mountains, but we can be the best Winnipeg we can be in shaping things that work elsewhere and adapt them to our circumstances.

Hope this answers the question to a degree. Not the direct single city answer, but no one place is perfect even in my opinion.

Thomas Steen: No response as of Oct. 5

Jason Schreyer: No response as of Oct. 5

Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry

Norm Miller: No response as of Oct. 5

Jenny Gerbasi: My choice is New York City. It is a high density, vibrant, diverse city with extensive mass transit, infrastructure for active transportation and gorgeous public spaces.

Recent efforts in enhancing “placemaking” have made their many districts/neighbourhoods even better places to enjoy with more public art, improved pedestrian environment..essentially making more space for people to enjoy the city and their lives by transforming wide streets to include seating, bike paths, microbusinesses and plantings. There is a rich cultural and creative life there which is also essential to an interesting and quality city.

Shane Nestruck: First let me say I have travelled widely in N. America and even in China, but I will have to limit my answer to the cities I am familiar with that have something in common with Winnipeg and from which we can learn. So I choose to suggest Montreal. Not for what it is but for what we can learn from it.

I grew up in Montreal and left there at the age of 30 (1978) having spent my youth playing music in every corner of that city with many of the cultures in that city.

Now it needs to be emphasized that Montreal is one of the architecturally most beautiful cities in N. America. This is partly due to the heritage provided by the Roman Catholic Church that chose to replicate many of the famous churches in Europe in the city. Also early in its modern history there was a serious respect for the historical value of ‘Old Montreal’.

Then there is the spectacular Mt Royal that is one of the greatest urban green spaces on the whole continent.

Of course there is the ATTITUDE that remains from the 350 years of competition with New York City to be the ‘Gateway to the Continent’. Yes NYC eventually had the Erie Canal that connected it to the Great Lakes but Montreal had the Lachine Canal ( named after one of the early fur trade ‘promoters’, La Salle, who suggested that the St. Lawrence would lead to China!) and then there was the St. Lawrence Seaway which (to my knowledge) was the last big attempt at outdoing NYC.

So I grew up in a particularly wonderful city but during my youth, life in cities changed, cars clogged the highways and roads and Montreal was ‘Traffic Hell’, a car-culture city that was destined to be consumed by its success and growth. For my whole youth the city was the site of construction failures as engineers and city planners tried every thing to alleviate the traffic gridlock… They even built a miles long ‘canal’, below grade, for a super highway that was projected to solve the problems but which , as happens in every such situation, only encouraged more cars…. The history of the 401 in Toronto and the subsequent failure of the 407 are common knowledge to eastern Canadians and to the populations of the eastern U.S…. But, nevertheless, Montreal tried those ‘failed’ concepts.

And here is WHY I chose Montreal: Then, at about the same time that Mayor Juba was promoting a monorail in Winnipeg, in Montreal a somewhat corrupt Mayor saw an opportunity to be seen in history as the saviour of the city. Using the ‘deadline of the 1967 Worlds Fair and Canada’s hundredth anniversary he managed to coordinate the forces in Montreal to build a subway. But not just a subway… a world class subway. Today, Montreal, a city whose existence was threatened by the automobile and ‘eternal road building’ has become the best city in N. America in which to bicycle, and the best city in N. America to live… because it has survived the threat and moved on into the future.

Since Mayor Drapeau, corruption has continued, maybe worsened, but the life of the city and the lives of the people there continue to be driven by an optimism that is reflected in the fact their city has a future, has survived the cancer that destroys N. American cities and can continue to thrive. No, not because it is the ‘Paris of N. America’, not because it has such historical, cultural and architectural beauty, not because it has such wonderful green spaces, but I chose Montreal because it somehow had the instincts, or is that political leadership, to survive the cancer of the car and again become a place to live.

Today Winnipeg is in the exact same ‘political swamp of ignorance’, ‘political bog of cronyism’, ‘political morass of corrupted values and shallow short-term thinking’ as Montreal was in the ‘60s. The only question is will Winnipeg survive this Dark Age of Political Leaderless Myopia!


Ross Eadie: No response as of Oct. 5

Trevor Mueller: Our modern working city will have:

Open and Transparent Government with recorded voting
Newsletters on what Mayor and council is doing and voting on
Roads we can drive on and don’t need continuous repair
Public transit that is safe and efficient for the entire city
24 hour drop in centers for youths
Every neighborhood that is safe
Clean water we drink and use

Dave Capar: No response as of Oct. 5

Greg Littlejohn: No response as of Oct. 5


North Kildonan

Evan Comstock: The most ideal city that I have been to is Kyoto, Japan.

Their sense of culture and community is shown in the many large festivals and multi-generation homes where neighbourhoods grow-up together.
Kyoto for tourists is known for its temples and shrines, art galleries, universities, mountains and forests.  The history is amazing from the Imperial Palace to the Budokan.
Their downtown is filled with pristine malls and world class shopping, with several department stores I can imagine the Bay being like in its conception. People dress like I image they do in Paris, and I always felt that my clothes were dated.
Kyoto has recently upgraded its water ways and created a restaurant district that places patios over looking the river.   There are other older well lit neighbourhoods where small waterways, cobblestone walkways are filled with unique shops and quaint restaurants.  Great places for a date, day or night. My favorite places serve what is called ‘Yakiniku’  where each table has a grill and you can cook your own food.
 Crime is extremely low, maybe the lowest in the world?
I think the most appealing factor is the flow between people and their relationships.  People worked extremely hard to create the best atmosphere possible.  There could never be an unhappy customer, and the people working go out of their way to help-not for tips, but for the integrity of their workplace.
I also loved the arcades!

Jeff Browaty: No response as of Oct. 5

Andrew Podolecki: No response as of Oct. 5

Old Kildonan

Donovan Martin: Responded by e-mail, “Thank you for reaching out. I would love to participate. If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Looking forward to reading your blog.” No further response as of Oct. 5

Devi Sharma: No response as of Oct. 5

Suzanne Hrynyk: No response as of Oct. 5

Point Douglas

Anthony Ramos: No response as of Oct. 5

Dale White: I have not travelled too much but Saskatoon is my ideal. The road system is such that it easy to get around the city, It has beautiful trees like Winnipeg and the people are seemingly always positive and hopeful for the future. Winnipeg is very similar but still lacks the positivity and confidence. There is less negativity in Winnipeg than there was before but still too many people criticize every effort at making the City a better place. One of my campaign slogans: Imagine-a Better City!

Mike Pagtakhan: No response as of Oct. 5

Anne Thompson: Thank you for this platform. I pray you the strength to please forgive me as I am unable to answer the questions as written if I am to respond to the stated purpose.

I am one of those outside-of-the-box-still-inside-the-circle-of-Love-while-reaching-for-the-Light-of-Truth-type of person. My daughter says I need to learn to ‘talk young’, so here goes: Want truth? Talk to me. Everything else following this is just ideas with details.

I have yet to see the ‘ideal’ city although I have traveled as far East as Vatican City, as far North as Great Bear Lake, as far South as Guatemala, and as far West as Port Hardy on Vancouver Island. I am aware of physical neighbourhood features as well as other city qualities I believe would enhance our lives if added to what exists here.

The Ideal City Municipal Code keeps distance between matters of state and matters of faith to assure no extremist religious penchant. Ideal City also has in place policies and procedures based on agreed to principles and values – applicable to all Ideal City employees, including senior executives – that would ensure everyone knows what to do, why they’re to do it, and how to do it; that ensures everyone receives support to make them successful in their respective jobs; that ensures everyone follows through and is accountable for meeting their performance expectations and obligations. Much in the manner in which a successful company or corporation is financially structured, Ideal City’s financial responsibilities would focus to benefit primarily the shareholders, secondarily the customers, next the employees, then lastly, the general public.

Shareholders are defined as municipal taxpayers who are Ideal City residents (similar requirements as Manitoba Health), and the Ecosystem – both equal in whole or part; customers are the purchasers of Ideal City products and services (so a fee-payer is owed a service, just as a road toll payer is owed good condition well-kept roads on which to travel for getting to work/recreation/other after coming onto Ideal City roads from other municipal communities); employees are any person directly or through contract employed by the Ideal City; and the general public is everybody else, for example: non-resident municipal taxpayers (to discourage over-empowering absentee landowners), non-taxpaying municipal residents (such as, but not limited to students, temporary workers), the travelling public (through traffic), tourists.

Manitoba is a world leader in a technology that takes heat from frozen ground at low cost that Ideal City uses to the fullest extent of its citizens’ imagination, including having so-called ‘geothermal coil sinks’ from which neighbouring buildings – residential/commercial – draw upon for their heating and cooling needs. This renewable resource uses scant amount of electrical power that is drawn from the buildings’ own independent clean energy generators.

Food security is also more assured because geothermal-, hydroponic-, aquaculture-, and vermiculture technologies and processes are combined within a variety of urban buildings dedicated to waste reclamation and food production.

These municipally owned and operated industries, strategically situated throughout the city, offer bags and bags of worm castings and inert soil conditioning for sale in large indoor warehouse-style public markets alongside copious amounts of vegetables and fruit and fish raised there.

Ideal City actually adds to its treasury by processing its residents’ trash. The markets also offers neighbourhood meeting places, with independent restaurants and cafés dotting the area mixed in with crafters and artisans of all types and classes selling their wares. Examples of jobs from all classes of employment: from traditional, to manufacturing, to modern highly technical, to service, to entertainment can be found in their vicinity.

From reading, travel or documentary, I have learned that, for instance:

- In Manila, someone has developed a paint that mitigates the effects of pollutants emitted from motor vehicle tailpipes. This paint is supplied to artists who apply it onto surfaces (retaining walls, buildings, figures/forms) near roadways. The cityscape is beautified whilst pollution is minimized. The themes in many of the depictions are of cultural historic significance, lending a sense of ownership and of belonging to citizens.

- I wish I could accurately describe what I like about one of the good street planning examples from Brandon, Manitoba. I lived for a while in that fair city in a house at the corners of Brandon and Seventh, if memory serves me correctly. The residential streets in that area did not continue through. Rather the traffic is made to follow a curbed road curve. This has the effect of slowing and of minimizing traffic on so designed residential streets. Citizens of all ages and abilities were able to safely navigate the area. Active transportation was strongly practiced

Rebecca Chartrand: No response as of Oct. 5

River Heights-Fort Garry

John Orlikow: No response as of Oct. 5

Taz Stuart: No response as of Oct. 5

St. Boniface

Ryan Davies: The ideal city is, to me, a place that is able to strike the delicate balance between economic viability, sustainability, and overall quality of life.

I’ve had the good fortune to live in a number of different cities in Canada and other countries. I’ve spent time in downtown Tokyo, marveling at the spectacular density and frenetic pace, and I’ve lived in Saskatoon, a small city on the verge of a major boom. I’ve seen the shocking disparity between wealth and poverty in Buenos Aires, and witnessed firsthand the geographic advantages and challenges in a city like Vancouver.

Each of these cities have elements that are an important part of what makes a city ideal, but for me, the city that comes closest to being ideal is actually Ottawa.

Ottawa consistently ranks highly in liveability studies. It has a thriving cultural scene, a stable and diverse economic base, and a viable transportation plan that includes an effective mass transit system as well as expanded infrastructure for cycling and active transport. All of these contribute to the overall quality of life in the city.

Ottawa faces many of the same issues that Winnipeg does including urban sprawl issues and an infrastructure deficit that continues to grow. Despite all of this, the city continues to make infrastructure repairs and new mass transit and active transit corridors a priority in order to facilitate growth and keep the city moving in the right direction, both literally and figuratively.

The crime rate is lower in Ottawa in every major category and has seen an 11% drop year over year. While Winnipeg continues to pour more money into policing and new hires, Ottawa has the highest rated police service in terms of effectiveness in Canada according to the Fraser Institute while having the lowest numbers of officers per capita.

The City of Ottawa is accustomed to a highly transparent system in having easily accessible records showing money spent and motions at City Hall, as well as a very strong tendering process that is again made widely available for the public to see. Their cultural makeup, layout of the city, earnings per resident and many other comparison points are very close to that of Winnipeg yet Ottawa continues to outshine Winnipeg in a vast number of areas as I have pointed out.

The great news is their model is highly attainable with similar outcomes very plausible. Winnipeg is at a crossroads and is failing in a great number of areas. We have created a deficit for ourselves not only financially but in a great number of areas. This can be improved upon by viewing models that are working in municipalities that closely resemble ours and Ottawa is a shining example of what can be achieved when we pull together as a community, demand change at City Hall and have leaders with the interest of the residents at heart and not that of special interest groups or their own bank accounts.

Paul Najda: Although Winnipeg is disallowed from your questionaire, I will pick this city but not present day Winnipeg.

To clarify, the Winnipeg of 50-60 years ago was ideal because of its potential. Unfortunately, since then it has gone in a number of wrong directions and is starting to suffer from big city problems. If I have to choose a present day city it would be Fargo, N.D. because it is now at the stage where Winnipeg was as mentioned earlier.

As far as what Winnipeg should strive for, Minneapolis, MN would be the ideal because of their quality of life, the arts, transportation, etc. and because of their similarity to us as far as climate and location. Thanks for gettiing in touch with me,

Matt Allard: No response as of Oct. 5

Brad Gross: No response as of Oct. 5

St. Charles

Shawn Dobson: No response as of Oct. 5

Grant Nordman: No response as of Oct. 5

Don Woodstock: No response as of Oct. 5

Dwight Hildebrandt: There are many Ideal cities around the world and in Canada but if I was to pick one that Winnipeg could learn from it would be Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

They are building a ring road that is a true ring road with bridges and on ramps and off ramps. This speeds up travel from one part of the city to another. They celebrate their river, there is a beach area and the river is the centre of their summer lives in that city. The river is in full view and surrounded by park land.

Saskatoon expands outward only so much every few years then they stop the urban sprawl and then the city must start growing upwards. This allows the tax base to catch up to the new infrastructure needs and costs. Their roads are taken care of and maintained. The people are happy and do not feel overtaxed and are not taken to the cleaners by photo radar being used in suspect ways.

Eric Holland: No response as of Oct. 5

Geoff Borden: Response coming soon, as of Oct. 6.

St. James-Brooklands

Stefan Jonasson: I’ve had the good fortune to travel across Canada, the United States and Europe, so I’ve experienced several world-class cities firsthand and I’ve seen both their virtues and their shortcomings.  Several cities come to mind as excellent places, but the one that comes closest to being the ideal city, in my mind, is Copenhagen, Denmark.

Why?  It’s a safe and clean city, where residents take pride in their surroundings and participate robustly in public life.  Copenhagen is a city of parks and public squares, gardens and gathering places, where people come together for leisure and recreation.  It boasts a quick and convenient public transportation system, alongside bike paths that are so well developed and used that they have left-hand turn lanes — yet automobiles are able to move quickly throughout the city.

The city is dotted with distinctive neighbourhoods, each with its own charm, yet each understanding itself as part of something larger than itself.  Homes are well built and well maintained, offering a wide variety of housing choices, and even the least fashionable neighbourhoods feel safe and comfortable.  Fine architecture is seen throughout the city and public art is there for all to enjoy.  The cultural amenities of Copenhagen are remarkable — theatres, museums, amusement parks, art galleries, and live music venues abound.  A wide variety of businesses prosper in Copenhagen, while workers are well-compensated and respected.

The people come across as simultaneously industrious and relaxed, working diligently but making time for family and friends.  Offshore windmills bear witness to the city’s commitment to green energy, while a culture of recycling pervades the public consciousness.  Overall, Copenhagen seems to be a city where the public good and private responsibility, community and individuality, have found their proper balance, so that the quality of life is enriched for everyone.

Scott Gillingham: No response as of Oct. 5

Bryan Metcalfe: My answer would have been Calgary.  I lived there for a couple of years and have visited numerous times since.  I personally like the way they have developed their road ways and pedestrian/bike paths which were done with good planning well in advance of their population growth.

Fred Morris: No response as of Oct. 5

St. Norbert

Joe Chan: I am introduce my shifty hall and my dream city
[followed by web site link]

Janice Lukes: Responded by e-mail, “Kevin – this is an EXCELLENT idea – brilliant – I am on it! I have just the city – thank you for doing this!!” No further response as of Oct. 5

Sachit Mehra: I love Winnipeg. I chose to raise my family and continue to run my family business in this city.

However, if I had to choose another city as an “ideal city” to live in, I would have to say it is Montreal. Winnipeg and Montreal share many similarities; they have a diverse population and thriving cultural community. Both have strong market areas, eclectic hospitality venues and a variety of retail spaces. The economies of both cities are relatively diverse however they are challenged by rapidly expanding neighbourhoods, road congestion and the deterioration of green space.

I lived in Montreal with my wife, Caroline, and our two sons, Mohit and Givan, for three years. In that time, I observed and experienced many civic practices that I feel Winnipeg could take cues from.

The one that stands out the most is Montreal’s focus on transportation. The attitude I discovered in Montreal is that when priority is placed on making it as easy as possible for residents to move around the city, it will have a population that is more likely to spend, travel and enjoy the city’s conveniences to the fullest extent.

Although both Winnipeg and Montreal are similar in their cultural traits, Montreal excels in its approach to connecting its city centre and population through a network of transportation systems. This includes active transportation, a subway system, highways and an excellent transit system.

During my years in Montreal, I appreciated the ability to wander around downtown, rent a bike from an automated stall, travel to another area and then return the bike to another automated stall. The system was seamless and allowed me to travel without substantial cost or impact to my surroundings.

Another key piece to the transport map was the excellent subway system. It was efficient, clean and well networked with the trains running on time. What really stood out for me was that most every station had a personality of its own. Each one had a piece of public art, including sculptures and, in some cases, even stained glass. It was a joy to land at a new station and appreciate a new venue.

Montreal also enjoys a vast highway system for those that choose to travel by car. Generally efficient and congestion free, I found it easy to get from downtown Montreal to my residence off the plateau in a reasonable amount of time. The lanes were wide, traffic-light free, with good opportunities to merge off into surrounding neighbourhoods.

Finally, the metro, or transit system, is one of the easiest ways to get around Montreal. Fares are competitive and the buses operate until late hours to serve a variety of schedules. Winnipeg has an opportunity to move forward to address its transportation concerns and I feel Montreal’s model presents many ideas we can use as inspiration.

With our population increasing yearly, we will soon be a city of one million strong. With our current system of road networks, we will face a serious challenge to efficiently move our citizens around our city. With a newly elected mayor and city council, we have the momentum to transform our city’s transportation system and, in turn, and increase economic activity in our city while improving the well-being of our citizens.

I truly want to leave my kids a modern, forward-looking city that offers them a variety of choices. This is why I’ve decided to run for city council – to bring that change to City Hall.

St. Vital

Brian Mayes: I would say Paris is my favourite city to visit, but I don’t think one can compare a city that big to Winnipeg. I think of any city I have visited in recent years I was most impressed by Portland Oregon, so that will be my answer in terms of “ideal’.

There are obvious climate differences between Winnipeg and Portland, but Portland has done some thing well that Winnipeg could learn from: a downtown that is welcoming to residents and visitors through a mix of residential development, green spaces and historical preservation; a mix of bus routes, streetcars and light rail; and an environmental approach to some of the same problems (e.g. combined sewer overflows) that happen in Winnipeg.

Moreover, I found a real interest in urban issues in Portland, with public engagement in civic discussions. There were still problems that were not ideal – e.g. a large youth homeless population – but overall I thought Portland’s civic development offered some ideas for Winnipeg’s future.

Steven Hennessey: I am not a traveller so my experience in other cities is limited. Although Toronto, Dallas, Calgary and Vancouver are cities I have travelled to in the past, I want to draw on my experience in one city that I visited recently and is visited often by citizens of Winnipeg. Many people might not see Minneapolis as the mecca of ideal cities but I believe it sets some standards we can strive for as a comparable city within our climate, infrastructure needs and is also a reasonable distance to Winnipeg.

My first impression of Minneapolis is how the Highway/Freeway system flows. It is clean, continuous and easy to navigate. I believe our ring road system should be the same way. City council should develop a plan for the next 20 years to developing and designing our inner ring road and perimeter so that it flows continuously without traffic lights. The design of our traffic flow is critical to growth and prosperity.

The second most impressive part of the city was the waterfront development including current proposals to increase walkability and livability along the river. Current and new designs by the City of Winnipeg that include densification, footbridges and retail space will help rebuild our river front properties. I believe we can do this with private investment and skilled marketing. Having a vibrant riverfront creates growth, tourism and revenue.

I was also impressed with the downtown. It was active, busy and appeared safe. There were Police and security patrolling during events, mobile CCTV, city street workers on ‘segways’ cleaning and monitoring the downtown. It was also very well lit and had a good mixture of green space, architecture and entertainment. The arena and ball park attracted a great deal of business and the surrounding restaurants and pubs provided a feeling of connectedness. The LRT was also impressive and well set up and traversed the city from downtown to the Mall of America. Vehicle traffic was negligible downtown. We should be looking at future where we rely less on vehicle traffic downtown and use our existing rail lines for LRT while increasing bus transit through all downtown corridors.

Although we have some of the same amenities as Minneapolis we still lag behind in growth and vibrancy in the evening. The one current issue that faces both Winnipeg and Minneapolis is surface parking lots. Currently, Minneapolis is beautifying these parking lots as a step to increase development. Winnipeg should be looking at options to develop our surface parking lots and increase activity in the downtown area. I would advocate continued support for the Downtown Biz, Forks North Portage Partnership, Exchange District Biz and other stakeholders responsible for the continued development of our downtown. As seen recently with the proposed development of the parcel 4 at the Forks our growth as a city comes with innovation and creativity. As Minneapolis has shown, creative planning with continued investment works.

Glenn Churchill: From the cities that I visited, my “ideal” city would be New York City. NYC has many benefits and attractions that foster a great living environment.

Being a Transportation Engineer, the first thing that comes to mind when I think of NYC is the public transportation system. The ability of NYC’s Transit Authority to combine their bus, rail and subway system and move millions of people every day is incredible. It is efficient and affordable. While Winnipeg won’t ever require a transportation system that complex, getting Winnipeg to a point where our transit system is able to meet users’ needs efficiently and effectively is a goal to strive towards.
NYC also boasts one of the top arts and culture communities in the world. Museums, theatre and other attractions give the city its heart and soul. Winnipeg might not be on the same scale as NYC but we can still nurture the quality arts scene that is just as vibrant and should be a  show piece for the city.
Another aspect of NYC that I find appealing is just the way of life. There are corner grocery stores and shops within walking distance of any residence. There are many diverse and vibrant neighbourhoods, each with a sense of community. City services seem to be well planned out to reduce the amount of inconvenience for residents. Even with a city of millions of people, they still have dedicated green space. Central Park is amazing. Ensuring that Winnipeg maintains and develops it’s green space is required to help build that sense of pride that Winnipeggers feel when they go to places such as Assiniboine Park and St Vital Park.


Ray Ulasy: No response as of Oct. 5

Blessing Feschuk: No response as of Oct. 5

Russ Wyatt: No response as of Oct. 5

George Baars-Wilhelm: No response as of Oct. 5

So, how much would it cost to get more nonstops from Winnipeg Airport?

Europe's Ryanair is known for its low fares, its frugality, and its strange sense of humour.

Europe’s Ryanair is known for its low fares, its frugality, and its strange sense of humour. (Click for source)

Calling for more airlines and cheaper fares at Winnipeg’s James Richardson International Airport is a favourite preoccupation of Winnipeggers. So much so that one mayoral candidate a few days ago pledged to work, if he is elected, to bring a true discount airline to the city — though even he personally was unsure how this could be done.

But airlines are no longer a political tool as they were in the days when many were government-owned, but now for-profit enterprises engaged in, as former American Airlines CEO Bob Crandall once put it, “a nasty, rotten business”. If they are to start service to a city, they will want reassurance that the new route stands favourable odds of being profitable.

This means more than just having people show up for flights. Not all passengers are created equal: the business traveler in seat 23A who paid $800 for a last-minute round trip to Toronto is certainly more valuable to the airline than the holidaymaker next to her in seat 23B who booked well in advance and paid just $500 for the same round-trip.

Thus, the more seats that are likely to be filled by the $800 passengers, the more impressed an airline will be with a city’s potential. Revenue, not just headcount, is critical to a route’s survival.

How much revenue does a flight need to break even? One rough way of estimating this is to look for a key figure in the airlines’ annual reports or news releases: cost per available seat mile (CASM) or, in the metrically minded countries, cost per available seat kilometre (CASK).

This can be as little as eight cents per seat per mile for an ultra low-cost airline like Europe’s Ryanair, which crams the seats in tight and has even mused about installing pay toilets on its fleet, or as high as 23 cents on Swiss, which tends to be a little more generous with passengers and actually uses well-paid Swiss-resident crews. (This is significant: Norwegian, an international low-cost airline, has faced criticism on both sides of the Atlantic for hiring American and Asian crew members because this is cheaper than hiring actual Norwegians.)

Multiply the cost per seat mile figure by the number of seats on the smallest aircraft capable of doing the job — sorry, but you can’t fly a Regional Jet from Canada to France — and the number of miles to the destination of choice, and you have a rough estimate of the minimum revenue each flight will need to bring in to be considered worth operating.

In Winnipeg’s case, the least demanding route to aim for would be a 50-seat American Envoy regional jet service to the American Airlines/Oneworld hub in Chicago. With operating costs averaging out to about 17 cents per seat-mile, American’s regional feeder service could be considered a break-even proposition at about $6,200 in revenue per flight. (This would include fares, ancillary revenues and cargo, but exclude taxes and surcharges collected from passengers.)

With impressively low costs in the nine cent per seat mile range, Delta Connection would also be able to break even at relatively low revenues on, for example, a flight to Delta’s New York JFK hub. (This would draw business away from Delta’s own Minneapolis/St. Paul hub, however, so the airline might not be keen on such a route.)

Air Service Costs 1

At the high end of the scale, long-haul flights have the highest revenue hurdles to get over. Icelandair, with costs equal to 17 cents per seat mile, would need reassurance that each flight would earn $87,000 in revenues to justify the Winnipeg-to-Iceland Boeing 757 flight that has been talked about for years.

And we can probably rule out Virgin Atlantic ever starting wide-body service between Winnipeg and London: with 314 seats to fill for 3,943 miles at 15 cents per mile, each flight would have to pull in nearly $186,000 in revenue to be considered worthwhile.

Longer flights not surprisingly require higher average revenues per passenger to break even. Even if a “dirt cheap” carrier such as Spirit Airlines — with low costs of about 11 cents per seat-mile — were to hypothetically start a 1,880-mile Winnipeg-Fort Lauderdale service using its 145-seat Airbus A319s, revenues on a fully loaded flight would need to average out to $207 per passenger each way to break even.

Air Service Costs 2


Why countries are more likely to break up than to merge

Tomorrow, Scottish voters will go to the polls to answer a simple and direct question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

When the campaign began last November, it was widely believed that the result might be similar to the outcome of the 1980 sovereignty referendum in Quebec, in which 60 percent voted against cutting the province’s ties with the rest of Canada.

But a vigorous “Yes” campaign led by Scottish first minister Alex Salmond, and a lacklustre “No” campaign led by Alistair Darling, Britain’s former Chancellor of the Exchequer, has dramatically closed the gap. As of this evening, a comparison to the too-close-to-call 1995 Quebec referendum might be in order, as the final polls suggest a slight “No” lead.

Despite our own experiences with Quebec nationalism, many Canadians still wonder why about one-half of Scots would want to separate from a relatively large and successful country of 64 million people to become a small country of just over five million people.

Isn’t bigger supposed to be better? Indeed, why don’t countries that share the same language merge to get rid of this wasteful duplication of governments and to increase their power on the world stage: Austria with Germany, New Zealand with Australia, Uruguay with Argentina, Ireland back into the United Kingdom . . . and Canada with the United States?

Alas, global might seldom translates into domestic bliss. Last January, this blog noted that when citizens of OECD countries were asked to rate their overall life satisfaction on a zero-to-10 scale, the countries at the top of the list read like a who’s who of small countries with little global influence: Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, Sweden and Denmark.

Further analysis suggested that satisfaction with life was closely tied to having a job and a steady income, feeling healthy, living in decent housing, and having a good personal social support network.

Credit Suisse, a Zurich-based bank and financial services company, also noticed that small countries tended to do better than their larger neighbours in securing a good life for their citizens, and conducted their own study, called “The Success of Small Countries”, to understand why.

Not only did Credit Suisse find a negative relationship between a country’s size and its per capita GDP, but they also found that smaller countries tended to do better in education, health, equality and other aspects of human development — even noting that Scotland has a higher level of human development than the U.K. as a whole, while Catalonia does better than Spain, the country many Catalans hope to separate from in the years ahead.

Smallness might also lead to pragmatism. The Credit Suisse report noted that smaller countries have opened themselves more to international trade than their larger neighbours, and have been more enthusiastic about globalization and technology. Their governments also tend to be less wasteful, in part because they don’t have to please as many parochial constituencies, as the report notes:

The larger the country, the more the need for local and regional governments to manage some of the key social services like education or police services.

Decentralization also gives rise to transfers from the central government to the poorer regions or states to allow for a more balanced growth and relative wealth across the country. Transfers — a political tool to keep a country together — add complexity and may lead to distortions and inefficiencies if not allocated properly . . .

The USA and the European Union provide a valuable illustration of this dynamic. In the USA, Federalism has added costs as each state has its own government infrastructure and ability to issue legislation. The result of this ‘government’ structure is often overspending and higher deficits at the regional or local level.

The same could be said about the European Union and the component states: 40% of the legislative acts of the EU concern agricultural policies, while agriculture represents less than 5% of European GDP.

A final factor that smaller countries seem to have on their side: higher levels of urbanization. The report notes that “cities are the most efficient form of human settlement” and are a “massive driver of growth and of wealth”. Urban societies are said to be “more practical and less ideological”, are better at producing higher-income jobs, and have citizens who are more comfortable dealing with cultural differences.

Thus, the Credit Suisse report might hold some of the clues to the appeal of Scottish nationalism. An independent Scotland would be under less pressure than the British government in London has long been to please far-flung constituencies, could focus its energies on building a healthier and better-educated population — which it needs in troubled areas such as Glasgow — and would have little choice but to be open to globalization. It would also be a highly urbanized country, with about 70 percent of its population living in the regions surrounding Edinburgh and Glasgow, and about 80 percent officially living in urban areas.

Yet this should not be taken as an endorsement of the “Yes” camp in tomorrow’s referendum. The Economist, always a source of sensible advice, points out in its call for Scots to vote “No” tomorrow that the nationalists’ optimism about oil revenues and the possibility of keeping the British pound as the Scottish currency are contestable. They also point out that, horrified by the close call with national breakup, the British government is likely to give the existing Scottish legislature so many additional powers within the U.K. that independence would be hardly worth seeking.

Border Security: Norway’s front line against illicit butter and contraband chicken

Busted: The driver of this Passat tried to convince Norwegian Customs that the 800 containers of yogurt shown here were for his personal consumption. They didn't believe him. (Click for source.)

Busted: The driver of this Passat tried to convince Norwegian Customs that the 800 containers of yogurt shown here were for his personal consumption. They didn’t believe him. (Click for source.)

On Monday, Norwegian Customs officers were on duty along the Swedish border when they pulled over a suspicious looking vehicle bearing Swedish licence plates.

Their suspicions were confirmed when they quickly discovered that the unfortunate Swede was indeed a smuggler — and that it wasn’t the first time he had been busted by Norwegian authorities.

The Customs officers ended up seizing no less than five hundred kilograms (or 1,100 lbs.) of the dastardly Swede’s goods before they could end up on the streets of Oslo, Bergen or wherever in Norway he was destined.

Five hundred kilograms of what? Marijuana? Cocaine? Heroin? No; none of these.

“Inside his getaway vehicle – a Volvo car,” a Norwegian news site reported later that same day,”was 500 kilogrammes of raw, frozen chicken.”

“The Norwegian customs team was not particularly surprised by the Swede’s haul, however, as he has been caught doing the exact same chicken run eight times before,” noted in its report.

The incident came days after a Danish visitor was stopped by Customs with 1,000 kilograms (2,200 lbs.) of meat crammed into his car.

He claimed that he was on his way to attend a football game in Trondheim, and that he planned to take the undeclared meat back out of the country with him.

This might seem absurd in Canada, where chicken is one of the cheapest of meats. But in expensive Norway, where groceries are about 50 percent more expensive than in Canada and restaurant prices are more than double what we would pay, cheap food has become a lucrative black-market commodity.

One reason for the high price of Norwegian food: the protectionist policies that Norway maintains to shield its agricultural sector, despite years of complaints from other countries throughout Europe.

Under these policies, imported frozen chicken is subject to tariffs of up to $18 Cdn. per kilogram.

Contraband chicken has consequently been a problem in Norway for years. Back in 2006, Norwegian Customs — which does not screen 100 percent of travelers arriving from low-risk countries, but instead relies upon the honour system and spot checks to ensure compliance — seized a total of 25 tons of meat of various kinds, rising to 39 tons the following year.

In addition to tariff evasion, contraband meat is considered a concern because it is “virtually never refrigerated and conditions of smuggling cars are unhygienic,” a Norwegian news site reported in 2008.

“The cars are filled with meat on the floor and in the seats,” a customs official told the reporter.

It’s not just meat that traffickers stand to make money from in Norway. Norwegian Customs’s 2011 annual report tells the tale of two inept Swedes who tried to offload 250 kilograms of illicit butter to passersby in a small town north of Oslo for 500 kr. ($89 Cdn.) per kilogram.

“That they were attempting to sell the butter outside the Prix supermarket in Beistad indicates a real lack of market analysis,” the report sardonically noted. “Supermarket customers notified the police, who in turn notified Customs and Excise.”

“The two smugglers admitted having brought the butter in via Storlien the night before. If the sales had been better, the smugglers would have pocketed NOK 125,000 [$22,180 Cdn.] for the whole consignment.”

The “butter bust” happened as Norway’s heavily protected dairy industry suffered a bad year. The barriers intended to protect the industry left Norway without a backup source to make up for the domestic industry’s poor output, resulting in empty shelves during what both bloggers and the business press called the Norwegian Butter Crisis.

As the Christmas season approached — and demand for butter for Christmas baking soared — reports began to appear of people offering hundreds of dollars online to anyone who could hook them up with some butter.

Yogurt has become another heavily trafficked item in Norway’s expensive, protected dairy market. A 2013 Swedish news report explained how one man had been caught multiple times by Norwegian Customs trying to sneak a total of 720 kilograms (1,590 lbs.) of yogurt in from Sweden.

The same man had been previously stopped trying to smuggle hundreds of kilograms of cheese into Norway in the trunk of his car.

In another case last year, police were notified of an overloaded Volkswagen Passat arriving on a ferry from Sweden. The vehicle turned out to be loaded up with 800 containers of yogurt, along with large quantities of chicken and powdered milk.

Despite the driver’s pleas that he had purchased all 800 containers of yogurt for his personal consumption, his purchases — valued at more than $3,500 Cdn. — were confiscated and destroyed by customs officers.

Those Danish tourists, and why ultra-cheap airfares don’t work in Canada

Aug. 10, 2014 screenshot showing promotional deals advertised on EasyJet's web site. (Click for source.)

Aug. 10, 2014 screenshot showing promotional deals advertised on EasyJet’s web site. (Click for source.)

“My girlfriend and I (Danish) were tourists in your country for 5 weeks this summer. We had the most incredible adventure and met the most wonderful Canadians, who welcomed us warmly into their homes,” wrote Holly Chabowski, a U.K.-born Danish visitor, recently in “an open letter to the people who hold power and responsibility in Canada,” which was subsequently published in the Ottawa Citizen and elsewhere.

So far, so good. But there was more.

“Before arriving in Canada we had a genuine impression of a clean, healthy and sustainable first world country. Upon arrival in Toronto we were horrified to see great oceans of car parks deserting the landscape and 12 lane high ways, rammed packed with huge SUVs, with people going no where,” Chabowski continued.

“A greater shock came when we discovered that this kind of infrastructure is not reserved just for the sprawl surrounding towns and cities but that highways actually run through city centres too. As humans trying to enjoy Canada’s major cities (Toronto, Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa and Halifax) we were treated like second class citizens compared to cars. The air was dirty, and the constant noise from horns and engines was unpleasant.”

Oh boy. Imagine if they came to the Prairies!

To no one’s surprise, Chabowski’s comments stirred Canadians up.

“We live in a culture that looks at cars as a means to get around. I’m sorry that bothers you. We could do better, absolutely. But acting so disappointed about it… well, that smacks of a certain degree of arrogance…”, wrote one commentator on the Ottawa Citizen web site.

“Instead of getting so defensive maybe we should start pushing our city to build infrastructure that supports walking and biking,” wrote a more sympathetic reader.

Yet, in addition to stirring people up, Chabowski might have inadvertently answered a question that has long bothered Canadians: why — in addition to the taxes and add-on fees — are the cheap airfares that Europeans enjoy so rarely found in Canada?

Part of the answer can be found in the differences between European and North American cities.

European cities are not just walkable, but wanderable. Whether you are in a larger, cosmopolitan city like London, or a smaller, more provincial one like Copenhagen, one can easily kill a couple of hours of spare time wandering aimlessly, following one’s nose and seeing what’s around the next corner, without getting bored.

Try doing that in many North American cities, aside from a few exceptions like New York City, Chicago, Montreal or San Francisco. It won’t be easy.

Because European cities take much of the effort out of having fun — one can just show up and have an enjoyable time without much advance planning — it is easy to stimulate consumer demand for travel.

That is exactly what European discount carriers like EasyJet and Ryanair have done, knowing that European cities are so visitor-friendly that many people will jump at the opportunity to pack a small bag and head off from Amsterdam to Rome for a three-day weekend for 193 Euros ($284 Cdn.), taxes and mandatory surcharges included.*

It’s an economic concept called price elasticity of demand. Because they are so wanderable, cutting the price of visiting European cities strongly increases the number of people willing to pay to do so. (It doesn’t hurt that passport ownership is high and that Europeans — like Australians, another travel-loving lot — have four weeks annual holiday by law to play with.)

Apart from the exceptions already noted, North American cities are largely dull and even unsafe places to aimlessly wander. As noted by our Danish guests, many cities are essentially car-dependent central business districts surrounded by miles of single-use industrial or residential neighbourhoods, as dull and featureless as the prairie or the desert.

North American cities are clones of every other city of similar size within several hundred miles’ distance — and they require any tourist intrepid enough to end up there to put a lot of work into being a tourist. Without places to wander and explore, visitors have to put infinitely more effort into figuring out what to do with their days.

Thus, there is little point in offering EasyJet-style airfares between many cities in North America. Even if you could take a $284 weekend round-trip from Winnipeg to St. Louis, from Halifax to Hamilton, or from Calgary to Salt Lake City — all distances comparable to the Amsterdam-Rome trip noted earlier — why would you?

Hence it makes much more sense for the airlines to carefully keep supply in line with demand, knowing that just about anyone traveling between those North American cities must have a compelling reason to want to do so, and that they will therefore quite willingly pay the $600 Cdn. fares currently listed for Aug. 29-Sept. 1 roundtrips.

Lowering those prices would mean charging people less than they are willing to pay for that trip, while attracting few (if any) new customers.

If places like Winnipeg, St. Louis, Hamilton, Calgary (outside of Stampede Season) or Salt Lake City were easily wandered, fun-with-no-advance-planning-required cities to visit, then it would make more sense to offer much lower fares to appeal to peoples’ sense of fun and adventure.

Alas, there is little we can do about the layout of our cities in the short term, and will have to accept our cities’ weak tourist appeal as a fact of life. But at least we will now know why we can’t jet off to our continent’s many other cities at the same relatively low fares and with the same adventurous spirit as our European friends do.


* – Based on fare shown on EasyJet’s web site on the afternoon of Sun., Aug. 10, departing Amsterdam for Rome on the evening of Friday, Aug. 29 and returning on the afternoon of Monday, Sept. 1.

Abstinence-only programs based more on wishful thinking than on research

School board elections are seldom paid much attention to in Manitoba; least of all in early August when many Manitobans are trying to make the most of the short summer ahead of the invariably long, dark winter. Yet one previously obscure school board candidate did the seemingly impossible by making a much-ignored suburban school board race into a hot topic of conversation on the most unlikely of days: the Tuesday after the August long weekend.

Candace Maxymowich, a 20-year-old candidate for trustee on the Louis Riel School Division board in southeast Winnipeg, pulled off this feat starting with an early morning Twitter session.

“Personally, I do not support sex education other than abstinence,” she tweeted to Winnipeg residents Zach Fleisher and Ben Brisebois, who sought further details about an earlier Maxymowich tweet in which she referred to “parental rights & the moral integrity of children” as campaign issues.

The tweets that set a sleepy school board campaign on fire.

The tweets that set a sleepy school board campaign on fire.

Less than an hour later, Maxymowich tweeted that “[t]here is research that argues abstinence education is effective.”

By the afternoon, the issue had not only drawn comments from across the Winnipeg Twitter community, but had also become a leading story in the local news, despite Maxymowich’s mid-morning claim that abstinence-only sex education was “not something I’m campaigning on.”

But what exactly does the best available research say about abstinence-only sex education, which, as described by the Guttmacher Institute, “treats abstinence as the only option outside of marriage, with discussion of contraception either prohibited entirely or limited to its ineffectiveness in preventing pregnancy and disease.”

“While sexual abstinence—at least until one is old enough and mature enough to engage in healthy sexual relationships—might be advisable, there is little evidence that the abstinence-only approach is effective,” said a 2002 article in The Lancet, one of the world’s leading medical journals, which also criticized the approach as “one of the best examples of ideology impeding sound public-health policy.”

“It is understandable why so many groups, in particular conservative religious groups, wish to promote values that they feel are under assault in modern society,” the article continued.

“But the origins of [out-of-wedlock pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, etc.] and other problems of society are much more complex, and denying young people full and accurate information about sex, contraception, and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases not only puts them at needless risk, but also threatens to undermine their trust and respect of some of society’s most important institutions: its schools, health system, and government officials.”

A report written two years later by Advocates for Youth, a U.S. not-for-profit organization that favours sex education, examined evaluations that had been done on abstinence-only programs in 11 states, and found that few of them could claim much success in producing the results their proponents had hoped for:

Evaluation of these 11 programs showed few short-term benefits and no lasting, positive impact. A few programs showed mild success at improving attitudes and intentions to abstain. No program was able to demonstrate a positive impact on sexual behavior over time. (Page 2)

A study published in 2010 in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, meanwhile found some positive effects in a study of more than 600 African-American students in Grades 6 and 7, noting that those who received an abstinence-only “intervention” were less likely to report having had sex in the following three and 24 months than did those in the control group. But the study also observed that there was little knowledge about the intervention’s impact in later years, and that the results “do not mean that abstinence-only intervention is the best approach or that other approaches should be abandoned”.

A research article written by two University of Georgia academics and published in 2011 by PLoS ONE examined the track record of 48 U.S. states. They found that states that pushed abstinence more strongly tended to have higher teenage pregnancy rates, leading them to conclude that “abstinence-only education as a state policy is ineffective in preventing teenage pregnancy and may actually be contributing to the high teenage pregnancy rates in the U.S.”

Finally, a study published in the Pediatrics journal in 2009 looked back at National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health data on the 289 adolescents who had taken a “virginity pledge” in 1996, and compared them to 645 who did not take the pledge. When researchers followed up five years later, “82% of pledgers denied having ever pledged”. Despite their protestations, the so-called pledgers did not differ much from non-pledgers in their reported pre-marital sexual behaviour, but were “less likely to protect themselves from pregnancy and disease before marriage”.

It’s a good thing that abstinence-only sex education is not something that Maxymowich plans to pursue strongly if she is elected to the Louis Riel School Division board in this October’s municipal elections. The findings from elsewhere suggest an abstinence-only policy would largely be a waste of time and effort, expose Winnipeg to widespread ridicule, and represent a triumph of wishful thinking over prudent research in making public policy.

Related: World Bank/United Nations data on adolescent fertility rates by country (births per 1,000 women, aged 15-19). In 2012, there were 14 births for every thousand Canadian women aged 15-19 years. Affluent countries boasting less than half the Canadian rate included Switzerland, South Korea, Germany, Italy, Austria, Denmark, Japan, France, Singapore — and the famously socially liberal Netherlands.

Among English-speaking countries, Ireland did significantly better than Canada (8 per 1,000), and Australia was roughly on par with us (12 per 1,000). New Zealand (25 per 1,000), the U.K. (26 per 1,000) and the U.S. (31 per 1,000) were significantly worse off.

Time to make Winnipeg’s walking tours more visitor-friendly

Winnipeg might not be known for being one of North America’s leading or even Top 50 mass-market holiday destinations, but this city does attract some tourism nevertheless through several narrow but lucrative feeds:

Business and convention traffic: Though busy during the day, many of these visitors are looking for something to do after 6 p.m. rather than spending the evening watching TV in their hotel rooms.

Rural and small-town visitors: If you live in small-town Manitoba or northwestern Ontario, or even parts of North Dakota and Minnesota, Winnipeg is the closest largish city to go to for the weekend for something a little more diverse than the limited small-town shopping and entertainment options. For many Manitobans, Winnipeg is also the nearest place to go to for appointments with professionals and specialists.

People in transit: Winnipeg’s position on the Trans-Canada Highway, on VIA Rail’s transcontinental rail route and as the transfer point for hunters, anglers and whale/polar bear-watchers heading north allows it to sell some of its attractions as ways to fill the time during stopovers.

People visiting friends and relatives: As the city’s immigrant communities continue to grow by leaps and bounds, this will continue to generate tourist traffic in the form of friends and relatives coming to visit.

One activity that tends to sell well to all of these groups, as well as to locals, is the urban walking tour. As those who have been on walking tours in other cities might attest, a well-done tour not only gives a city a little more character, but is also a good way for visitors to meet other travelers from around the country and the world; some can even take on a flirty edge. (“What happens in Vegas…” doesn’t necessarily have to apply to only Vegas.)

Too bad, then, that Winnipeg’s walking tour scene leaves much to be desired. While there is an array of walking tours offered, it’s a rather scattershot affair.

The West Exchange District tour sounds good if you’re interested in architecture or in hearing more about the stories behind this funky central Winnipeg neighbourhood. But when does it run? The tour’s web site notes that the “first” tour leaves 133 Albert St. at 9 a.m., and the “last” departs at 4:30 p.m. But what about the tours in between? Since it’s a 90-minute tour, do they depart at 90-minute intervals? Who knows? (And if this sounds like a good thing to do on a Sunday, sorry: the tours only run Monday to Saturday.)

I’ve heard great things about the Hermetic Code tour at the Manitoba Legislature. Sounds like an interesting weekend thing to do for locals and visitors alike. The weekend, you say? Sorry, it’s a once-a-week tour, starting on Wednesdays at 6 p.m. Weekend visitors and many locals are out of luck.

The Old St. Boniface Tour seems like a good way of exploring the history of Winnipeg’s French-speaking community. It runs twice a day, seven days a week, which is good (though it’s curious that Tourisme Riel, which runs the tour, doesn’t seem to promote it on their own web site). Instead of starting the tour from the Old St. Boniface City Hall on Provencher Boulevard, however, it might make more sense to start from The Forks: this is where one will find the city’s highest concentration of tourists, and that would make it easier to sell the tour as an “impulse purchase” to people with time to kill. Just a suggestion.

And why is the West End BIZ’s Mural Walking Tour alternately shown as departing from 581 Portage Avenue and from Bannatyne Ave., many blocks away? (And the requirement that participants in the Food Tour book “no less than two days prior to the day of the tour” would quite frankly turn me off as a tourist as being annoyingly bureaucratic.)

Aside from a listing on the Tourism Winnipeg web site, many of Winnipeg’s walking tours are otherwise organized and marketed individually. This is a tourism activity, though, which could benefit from common branding.

For example, many of New York’s best walking tours are under the Big Onion Walking Tours umbrella. In London, London Walks offers one-stop shopping for walking tours. In Berlin, the market is split between Original Berlin Walks and New Berlin Tours.

The benefit of having a city’s walking tours organized and marketed under one or two organizations as opposed to Winnipeg’s scattershot arrangement is that many of the tours end up feeding customers into one another: all of the information is in one place, and people who are satisfied with one tour are tempted to try another one of the company’s tours. Getting this aspect of the local tourism industry into better shape would go far to giving visitors a better experience in this city.


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