Why is Stephen Harper trying to play mayor in Winnipeg?
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Sometimes I have to feel for Mayor Sam Katz, as it seems that everyone else wants to do his job for him (insert your own “well, if he’d just do the job himself” joke here).
First you have the obvious candidates: Special interest groups, unions, social media critics and know-it-all newspaper columnists. But we can be easily ignored, or pitted against each other.
Then there’s the enemies from within: City councillors and administrators who try to run their own little part of the empire. While this can get messy at times (fire hall, anyone?), usually the rogue operatives can be brought back in line through the skillful use of carrots and sticks, like EPC appointments and public floggings.
But the real problem arises when the 800-pound gorillas of government — the provincial and federal authorities — decide they want to play in the local sandbox.
We’ve talked about provincial meddling in civic affairs in this column in the past. Whether it’s announcing money for projects the city hasn’t even approved yet — like the Southdale Community Centre expansion a few years ago — or doling out operating funding for specific priorities (i.e: transit, libraries, policing) rather than letting the city make its own spending decisions, the province is far too involved in civic business.
But the federal government is just as guilty of going way beyond its own scope.
For example, the feds announced last week they’re contributing $100,000 toward field and clubhouse improvements for the Transcona Nationals football club, and another $63,000 for playground improvements at the Oxford Heights Community Centre.
These might be great community-driven projects, but no one can make a legitimate argument that football fields and playground slides are in the national interest.
Oh, but they’ll try. The money for these projects is coming from the Community Infrastructure Investment Fund, which is described on the government’s website as “part of Canada’s Economic Action Plan 2012, the Government of Canada’s multi-faceted plan to aid in creating jobs, growth, and prosperity.”
Yes, that’s right. We’re going to see-saw our way to prosperity, and tackle employment growth through actual tackling.
It’s easy too see why senior levels of government want to mess with civic responsibilities. Even though the city takes the smallest cut of overall taxes, the areas it’s responsible for — like roads, parks, recreation centres and police and fire departments — touch citizens in a way that’s often more tangible than provincial or federal services.
But when governments refuse to stick to their knitting, then they’re rejecting good management practices in exchange for a bit of good publicity. And given the current state of federal and provincial finances, clearly both governments should have bigger priorities than choosing playground equipment or mapping out bus routes.
In the long run, if Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Premier Greg Selinger really want to help cities, then they’d be better off trying to find ways to empower local governments, rather than trying to play mayor themselves.