Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Reflecting on Assiniboine events and Audit

Now that city council has concluded, and the findings of the Audit report on the Assiniboine Avenue bike project have been unanimously accepted I can finally speak to it all.

I could go on here about how disappointed I am and such but...I can't, really. Maybe that's what people expect me to say about it. However, the fact that an audit on the Assiniboine path (item 11) was done is a major victory. That I was able to speak at EPC and council is major, because it wouldn't have happened without this audit. Without this report, things would have just moved on without anything being done or anything being considered or the problems with consultation being bought to light.

The only thing I am disappointed with, is that the treatment I received from city officials and 311 staff in this journey, will not be investigated at all. Apparently, being lied to and smeared within city departments is par for the course when it comes to actively participating in municipal-level politics. Apparently, nobody on council thinks anything should happen to the people who told me multiple times that I could not contact the Auditor, and then proceeded to defend their decision to do so. No citizen should face this sort of interference in trying to be involved.

In the wake of that, it was my councillor at the time, Jeff Browaty, who stood up for me and assisted me in contacting the Auditor, and providing assurance that the Auditor had at least received my letter. Mr Browaty, to this day, is also the only person who has ever offered me an apology.

To say I'm disappointed in today's debate though, I just can't say that. There is an amazing sense of accomplishment here. The City Auditor to write a report on this. In the wake of last week and my lambasting of the members of EPC, James Turner in particular took up the story and ended up on Page 1 of the dead-tree-Sun. Turner also remarked to me that he has never before seen this level of action upon the actions of a citizen, and that in itself was outstanding. It was on CBC news that day as well as a print story by Jen Skerritt, and I'm not sure about the Metro. This is the most noise I could have possibly made about this, way more than I hoped or thought would happen.

Everyone knows the process was a sham. And because of the debate today at City Council, I can walk away assuredly that this will not happen again. Certainly Councillors Fielding, Orlikow, Smith, Wyatt, Browaty, and certainly the Mayor, are aware of how badly this was done. You can listen to the Mayor's comments from last week here, which confirm that they well understand that this sort of thing will not happen again, and that any bike path in the future to be installed, will not just consist of consultation with Bike to the Future, and bike-friendly "stakeholders."

Jenny Gerbasi today attempted during the debate to spin this against the opponents of
the bike lane, saying that it was a "small group" out to "hijack" this otherwise beautiful, amazing wonderful transformation. She was undoubtedly referring to myself and the "TGCTS group," apparently oblivious to the fact that, and the audit supports this, that it was a small group of pro-cycling folk hijacking the entire consultation process.

Paula Havixbeck to her credit as a relatively new councillor, would have none of that. This to me was the most interesting part of the morning debate on consultation. Why? Because she challenged Gerbasi on the notion that this was a "small group out to hijack" the process. Havixbeck pointed out that there were 9, count'em, 9, parties involved in the lawsuit against the city regarding the bike path. All 9 of those parties, she noted, were not on the "stakeholders" list. So is it any wonder this lawsuit came to light? Hey, maybe if consultation happened, those 9 would have been identified as stakeholders in their own neighbourhoods.

It was also quite honouring to have Colin Craig of the Canadian Taxpayer's Federation come to speak. Again, it is an amazing sense of accomplishment, to have someone like that come to speak and know that it was happening as a result of your work. Not only mine, but the work of TGCTS as well. Colin noted that while this project was considered small-time, peanuts, that these little things add up. He raised pertinent questions, my favourite being, what will happen or has happened to the people at fault for this, have they been demoted, or have they had a reduction in pay?

Of course not. And that at the least is the kind of action that should be taken. Recourse. Ross Eadie went on at length about how some raised pedestrian crossing on Powers was useless and should be removed. How does that happen? Where does the money to fix the mistakes of the consulting companies come from? Who was in charge of these decisions? Why are colossal fuckups allowed to go by without reprimand?

Lastly, and (sort of) unrelated. I want to briefly address how AT projects are in no way environmentally friendly, nor can cycling lobbyists claim that it is.

Moving cars off of a thoroughfare into already-gridlocked streets is not environmental. It is irresponsible and completely contrary to the on-the-surface goals of AT stuff. What cycling lobbyists really want, is for all cars to be off the road. But having to detour and sit in traffic for an extra 10 minutes per commute or more, is not going to make people leave their cars. It's going to make them hate bike lanes. There is nothing "progressive" (hey, that's the oxy-moronic name of this blog) about it. There is nothing "progressive" about shutting down entire streets that serve hundreds or thousands of vehicle trips per rush hour. Those cars will not leave the roads. Those people will not leave their cars for bikes or buses. Not in this city. As long as we continue to sprawl, and continue to ignore building a solid residential population downtown (you know, one that outpopulates Waverly West), then people will remain in their cars.

My blogging colleague James Howard has written rather flattering things about my work on the iconic Slurpees and Murder:

Speaking of unsurprising, the consultants behind the Assiniboine Avenue bikeway project were charlatans who fudged numbers and forged consultation, nobody on City Council could be bothered to listen to public concerns or question the information they had been handed, and nobody involved in the whole mess would admit that any wrongdoing or impropriety had occurred until the relevant documents were forcefully wrangled out of the system through Freedom of Information action.

...This is the culmination of tremendous work by Graham, who struggled against the various departments of City Hall for well over a year on this case.

Oh, and thanks for mentioning my art show, James.

So there we are. This is all pretty substantial. I'm just wondering if I'll ever get that phone call from the Winnipeg Foundation about the Free Press' "citizen journalism" program.

Where to from here? I'm not sure. Not much seems to catch my interest in Winnipeg these days. Then again I am sort of preoccupied with the arts scene and such, searching for work (an endless adventure) and trying to figure out what's next or what to do with this website. And on that note, if you've any comments or suggestions about my writing in the past 5 years, or maybe you see something that's missing on the Winnipeg blogosphere scene, drop me a line.

To cap off here, I have to say that none of this would have been possible without The Great Canadian Talk Show and the work that were done on that program. Everything seems even more vindicating when you consider the amount of flak that TGCTS received at the time. I believe we were called "conspiracy theorists" at one point. We turned out to be right. In the spirit of the show, give credit where credit is due.

The TGCTS podcasts get better and better as we get better working with the new medium, and it's really starting to take shape. You can subscribe via iTunes for free and have the show downloaded directly to whichever device you like. Plug TGCTS on in your car during the drive home to drown out all that awful stuff that passes for radio in this town.

You have the power. I proved it.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Planet of the Arts: starting January 20th

Some GOOD, happy, exciting things instead of boring, nit-picking bureaucratic analysis and commentary.

Since August I have been an artist in residence at Artbeat Studio Inc. Our art show starts January 20th, with a reception starting at 7pm. So I would like to invite my fine readers to come out. The show runs until January 28th if you can't attend the opening reception. Artbeat is located at 62 Albert Street, 4th floor.

On display will be my work as well as the work of my 6 colleagues, all of different backgrounds and disciplines, so there is quite the diverse range of work. Personally I will have a poetry book, a collection of over a year's material, as well as just over 20 visual pieces.

Also on display will be a piece that will be auctioned (soon, hopefully!) to raise money for Bradley Manning, the US Military whistleblower accused of leaking information to Wikileaks. He spent 572 days in prison before his first pre-trial hearing, over 300 of those spent in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day.

Artbeat Studio Inc is a non-profit that provides studio space to groups of up to 9 artists for 6 months at a time for artists living with mental illness. It is a safe, positive, secure environment to improve our work, to learn the process of being a self-sustaining artist, as well as access to services that help with personal development. All 7 of us for the 14th bi-annual show "Planet of the Arts" have learned and experienced a tremendous amount and with the conclusion of this show, we can look forward to moving forward with our goals and ambitions.

Most readers of my website here may not know the other part of what I do, and this is it. It's quite an accomplishment for me to be able to share this with you at this point. Though this summer, I was featured in a Gordon Sinclair Jr column (I know, I know) for my street art in Assiniboine Park.

So whether you know me via my blogging, my twittering, my work around various communities, from The Great Canadian Talk Show, or if you happen to follow me now here after meeting me in Assiniboine Park, I invite you all to come down on Friday, January 20th, or throughout the week as the show runs. I've created a FB event if you like reminders like that (which it seems less and less people do).

Planet of the Arts, that's me. At Artbeat Studio, 62 Albert St.

The show will be in memory of my colleague Grant Czerepak, who passed away suddenly this week. His intricate and intelligent work will be on display as well. Rest in Peace, Grant.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Assiniboine Avenue Vindication

All the work done by myself and The Great Canadian Talk Show in 2009 and 2010 about bike lanes and the systemic problem of public consultation has finally, and unsuspectingly, been vindicated.

We've been right all along.

The City Auditor did in fact write a report based on the complaint I made in August 2010 about the gross mismanagement of the Assiniboine Avenue bike path. In that report the auditor echoes my concerns, and proves that politicians and residents alike were lied to: consultation DID NOT happen.

I will write more later, but for now:

The Winnipeg Sun story by James Turner and this Free Press piece by the prolific and insightful Staff Writer are up.

It was particularly comforting not only to have the Mayor personally thank me afterwards, but to say on the record that he agreed with the criticism that myself and TGCTS have brought forward. Russ Wyatt also mentioned prior to voting on the report, that the Auditor had done "good work" and that the report was "very revealing."

More to come.