Thursday, June 20, 2024

Quebec's Mistake, Manitoba's Gain in Film Industry

 Watch about any movie in the world and you are likely to see the above logo. B.C. often shows up too, less so Ontario. Quebec and B.C. are visual effects superstars. It appears that Quebec has made a big move that will cost them thousands of jobs right away. The service production tax credit which brings several thousands jobs to Montreal is being capped at 65% of a production whereas before it had no limit. The credit itself will go from 20 to 25%. Those in the industry were out of work in the thousands right away. All attempts to amend or change the law with the provincial government have struck out. Workers who have been in the industry in Montreal for 20 years are looking to move.

Quebec's mistake might be Manitoba's gain. Manitoba already has one of the best tax credits for film and television in North America. A few tweaks and they could capture much of the loss of the 8000 jobs in Quebec. A few foreign-owned companies doing vfx in Montreal are looking to move. B.C. is already a crowded market, Ontario is an expensive one. Manitoba might be perfect. We benefitted from film and TV changes in Saskatchewan in the past and this could be another area where we stand to benefit.

In case anyone thinks Manitoba can't compete, looks at the numbers of newscomers to the province. As a percentage from the beginning of the year, Manitoba ranks third in 2024.

This year the film and TV industry is doing quite well in Manitoba. The repeat business is a testament to the locations, crew and tax credit. Both PCs and NDP have been part of this successful program so there is no reason to think it will not continue. The only reason Quebec has dropped the program is because they believe money going to foreign service production needs to go to Quebec French language production. The loss of 8000 jobs though doesn't suggest this is a good strategy.

Manitoba keeps adding to the things that make the region attractive to film and TV. Additional soundstages to complement the locations that production companies want. Direct flights to Los Angeles and now Atlanta, two big movie territories, are extremely attractive to foreign service productions. And Winnipeg has direct flights to all the other TV and film centers in Canada. Equipment and crews are locally sourced and experience grows every year on various tiers of production. Locally sources actors are increasingly recognized world-wide due to the amount of work then get.

There are many different components to TV and film, Drama, comedy, reality and documentary as well as animation are some of the main categories. Visual effects is a very large area as well and Canada has done well in it. It is the one area Manitoba is not big in. Frantic Films used to pre-visualization and effects but sold that part of the company. They are now mostly reality and variety shows like the Winnipeg Comedy Fest. Many of our home production companies have gotten good at reality and documentary TV. Others have become good at producing Canadian TV series both comedy and drama. 

Can Manitoba be the new home to VFX for people leaving Montreal? I don't see why not. The big question is: Is it on anyone's radar? Have people been approached? This probably requires work from the premier and mayor's office plus Manitoba Fil and Sound. But then how many times does 8000 jobs suddenly come up for a move?

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

NDP Take Tuxedo in Historic Byelection Win


Some ridings are so consistent in supporting one political party that other parties put in a placeholder candidate often from outside the area. The sacrificial goat is to show the flag but no real resources are thrown into it as there are more winnable ridings in need of people and money.

Byelections are where a lot of resources can be thrown in. The focus is often on the individuals running and less on the overall party and leadership, The NDP chose Carla Compton to run against three other candidates including PCs, Liberals and Green Party, The PCs had a contested nomination and lawyer Lawrence Pinsky was chosen. Liberal chose foster parent advocate Jamie Pfau and Green Party leader Janine Gibson ran as well. In the end it was not even close. 

Carla Compton won by 600 votes with less than 50% turnout. PCs will be shocked this morning and are blaming a snap election but they knew Heather Stefanson was leaving and have been sleepwalking about the leadership race, policy direction or figuring out what happened in the general election and how to be relevant again. The party seems on the verge of a takeover by less established forces on the right. Perhaps they are hoping for some Alberta or Saskatchewan conservativism to bring them success again. However, even Saskatchewan after a two terms in office is trending downwards. It is the inevitable result of  having a record warts and all.

The NDP is solidifying it's popularity now. Wab Kinew is trying to look and act the part of premier. There has not been a major scandal or failure so far that can't still be tied back to the previous government. It won't always be that way. A major storm and poor response, a failure tied to present health policies, crime that is tied to inaction now will whittle away at support. There is an expiry on governments in terms of creativity and energy. They can revitalize but it requires new people in and not just an appearance of change but actual change.

The present government will face no real opposition for some time to come. The best bet for them to get things done is now but change can be glacial. Approving new hospital work can take years to get underway. In many cases, a successful project is completed after a political party is defeated and the incoming party receives the rewards. Examples can be hydro projects, water diversion works or urban development programs. A successful government just tries to make sure they articulate an agenda and set out to it successfully. Even when they do something successfully, it might not be remembered at election time.

For the next three or so years, Tuxedo will be in NDP hands. It will be up to the new MLA to build a team and resources there because in a general election, the party won't be able to send teams of people in as they during the byelection. It is possible that happens. But we can expect the Progressive Conservatives to re-build and if they can't win back seats like Tuxedo, they will spend a long time in the wilderness.

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

St. Hospital Emergency Room Expansion

Hospital construction is never cheap. Or easy. Or convenient. St. Boniface Hospital tried to renovate its emergency room over the last few years but with only three emergency rooms in the city, the hospital has really reached beyond capacity for what comes their way. The Conservatives realized that squeezing the heatlhcare system was making their election success more unlikely too late. They authorized St. Boniface work so that it's completion would only be 2025 at the earliest. Perhaps they thought the start of it would inspire confidence but the long waits in ERS only caused the public further hardship.

The cost of $141 million is funded through federal transfer payments and based on patient load at the hospital will be much needed. There is not much room for building at St. B. so they are building out towards Tache. Part of an old low-rise building was removed and a parking lot. This will be the 86,200 square foot new construction. There will also be a renovation of 18,000 of existing space. The 10 ambulance bay is also part of the plan.

In recent days the enormous estate of Miriam Bergen announced a $10 million donation to St. Boniface Hospital in part to the building of the ER. The overall estate is $500 million so we are likely to hear these type of donations for years to come. Her father and mother had also donated through the Martin and Ruth Bergen Cardiac Centre for $3 million. For a time St. Boniface Hospital had a out of town CEO. As being top executive of the hospital depends on meeting donors, living in Montreal seems a long way out of reach. Too may top executives living elsewhere have been phoning it in.

Sometime next the new ER wing will open up and then the focus will be to ensure it is staffed and ready to go. The Urgent Cares all need investment as well. These projects never happen quickly. The cuts can happen quickly but the build up is never quick. And building the ERs usually means, must mean building up investments elsewhere in the hospital but also to personal care homes. 

For St. Boniface the issue now and in the future is likely parking. The parkade is too small both across the street and underground. Cars are parked in private lots all over the neighbourhood. There are a few potential surface lots that could be converted by they aren't cheap. They start at $50 million and need to be maintained and secured. They often make people who have to work or use the hospital parkade bitter. But free parking would likely be filled day and night. Such is the woe if you build it, they will be come...and stay.

I don't know how parkades get paid for. Misericordia added another floor to their parkade recently but never heard how they did it. Even hospitals like Seven Oaks, Concordia, Grace and and Victoria don't have unlimited space. Hospitals are like large businesses. They are constantly fundraising in ways that just weren't seen 50 years ago. Most, like HSC, have built out to the road and upwards. St. Boniface is doing the same but the river and two bridges and parks limit how much they can extend themselves. It seems inevitable the build across Tache.

It seems ironic that there are better bus terminals for malls than there are for hospitals. Bike paths are not going to quite cut for the bulk of traffic going to hospitals. Ambulances need clear paths to get in and out. The city doesn't seem to plan for hospital traffic except to put parking meters up. Where is the bus terminus? As we have more buildings go up including medical school buildings, the bus or public transit question will only increase. Not to mention, where are the multi-unit houses close to hospitals? Not nearly enough. This means far too many staff and those who need medical treatment so far away.

In 2025 we'll have the new emergency room but will we planning nearly what we need to do have our hospitals and the locations they are serve the community better. Will HSC and St. B be like fortresses, inconvenient to get to, scary to stay at and awful places to work or will we be making them better for staff, patients and people who live next to them?

New York Times versus Washington Post

In recent years, two of the largest newspapers in the U.S. have struggled under the challenges of operating print and digital publications in a time when news operations are closing all over the U.S. and the world. Both papers have deep pocketed owners are navigating a world that shouts fake news for reporting that doesn't reflect their views. In America, newspaper readers are more likely to vote Democrat in recent years. This should not diminish their importance in news gathering. For the Washington Post, the commitment of their reporters has seen one assassinated and another held hostage for treason in a very short time.

The New York Times has about 1500 staff and the Washington Post has about 1000. Both have had their share of controversies over the years including that of bias and continuing bias. Some of this even applies to something like the New York Times Best Seller list that some conservatives says works against them. A recent Economist magazine investigation says they are right.

At one time books stores like McNally carried New York Times but that is an expensive proposition when the digital forms are so available today. Almost all print papers that used to come to the city from other places have ended. A place like Dominion News used to carry so many newspapers from all over daily. There was a time when Washington Post Syndicate columnists would appear in newspapers all across North America including Winnipeg. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Washington Post began to be known as being the investigative and insiders report of Capitol Hill. The reporter as hero with Bernstein and Woodward became synonymous with The Post.

It isn't like the New York Times was being a slouch. They had reporters in the various bureaus such as Vietnam covering some of the biggest stories in countries all over the world. But they also also reporters throughout the U.S. including fair size coverage in Washington. Between the Times and the Post, the amount of world-wide reporting bureaus easily surpassed U.S. TV and cable networks. No one quite has the coverage of the Wall Street Journal though. They have over 80 bureaus in over 50 countries. But it has always been different for a business newspaper reporting on markets across the world.

Almost all newspapers including the Times and the Post have laid off workers. Google, Facebook and others are hoovering up advertising dollars while using content produced by others. The Times has gotten better at subscription service and content people want to read and participate in such as Wordle and their crossword puzzle. Not everything is politics. New York City has so much media in it that if a publication does meet the needs, there are several newspapers in the city that will. Washington has a few newspapers but really only one is the daily newspaper where you would get your weather, sports and locals news as well. The Washington Post can't really think the Washington Times is competition.

There is a lot of disillusionment with newspapers in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world. They have made big errors in the past, made choices in their coverage but in some cases, it is just cynicism about all established forms of government, media, religion and culture. At worst, it is outright hostility. The culture wars writ large where the media is the enemy. Even business papers like the Wall Street Journal which are more likely to have conservative views are not embraced as they still don't show enough deference to Trump or his movement.

The Washington Post is going through some angst about losing readership and has changed their editor in the last while. So what is happening and why does the New York Times seem to have an edge in the new journalism world? I mentioned a few areas. The Times tries to engage with specialized areas such as book reviews, crosswords and other things. They have been known for their cooking section for a very long time. These are things along with video games that drive new audiences. The Times also makes use of social media and podcasts. They cut their sports department and contracted it out to wholly owned The Athletic. There was some calls that this might be union busting. Since sports reporters were transferred elsewhere in the paper, the argument didn't go anywhere.

The changes at the top at the Post possibly reflect that the paper, despite the need to be innovative, has failed to add value in the way as the Times has. The New York Times Books and Games sections make it a must read. They have a climate section and recipes section but recently shut down their weekend section of the paper. Politics and Investigation are too areas of strengths but if Republicans are not reading your newspaper, you are hooped.

The Boston Globe, another big metro paper, makes sure they are the go to for real estate in Boston. They also have advice columns. They also embrace podcasts which is where many of the younger news people go for information.  A few other sections are must reads and that is why their digital subscriptions are up. In Winnipeg, the Free Press has a religion section that other newspapers don't touch. They tried cannabis a few years ago but it didn't stick. They once had an exceptional pets section. Cars and real estate have made the Free Press a must read for many.

The Post is probably saved by their Metro section covering Washington, Maryland and Virginia. The local news and sports is what will keep readers coming back. There is nothing wrong with newspapers having an editorial slant. It is important to label news, analysis and opinion as clearly as you can. There will be people who dislike coverage no matter what angle it takes. In recent years many American newspapers have recruited reporters and editors from the UK who are thought to have a more spirited approach to news gathering. The opposite certainly isn't true where there are few American editors of the big papers in Britain. The Free Press is not immune and have hired some Brits from time to time to the staff themselves.

There are some fantastic columnists on the Washington Post but the New York Times does more to show them off on the first page of their website. And has been clearly pointed out, it is the editors job to make sure the paper is not boring. That is not to say to filled with clickbait but interesting coverage, strong analysis and well argued opinions. The new people in charge at the Post recently called their reporting boring. It remains to be seen if the Washington Post can reclaim lost readership. At the moment their CEO and publisher is fighting for his career in court over his time as leader at the Times of London. 

It is the New York Times that seems to have come up with ways to be relevant, make money but serve the public interested in a variety of things a newspaper provides. The line has blurred a bit and it is not just about print but pictures, video, podcasting and up to date breaking news. Still, a newspaper will take longer to develop stories, give them more in depth, develop sources and then break news themselves rather than just reporting after the fact. In recent years though, newspapers have fallen on manufacturing grievance rather than reporting. It is the low hanging fruit in journalism. 

The Times just doesn't have columnists. They have some very good reporters and do investigations well. These often require resources and time to do those stories. Not all are politics. Consumer and technology stores often take time take to put together. The various foreign bureaus offer insight just not found in television news since there are just fewer TV reporters based elsewhere. 

In the United States, polarization seems mean talk radio is a conservative medium, newspapers a liberal one. TV network news liberal and cable a mix of liberal and conservatives but even more slanted. Online it is often most slanted. It is sad that newspapers are being abandoned by conservatives. It didn't matter who you were in Washington, everyone read the Post. Now conservatives want to only hear from conservative sources and liberals want to hear from liberal sources. It is a confirmation bias that bangs it's head against certain realities. Unless some people accept alternate facts or narrative.

There is still much debate about social media like Google and Facebook hoovering up ad dollars. Even the Canadian federal government has spent millions on foreign owned social media advertisements. It seems counter to what is needed for a national media of any kind. Not every small newspaper can adopt the subscription model as successfully as the New York Times. Advertising remains important. The big social media companies seem prone to hacks, agent provocateurs from foreign governments and actors and sharing information with other companies who don't take privacy or security seriously. Worst, is the anti-competitive nature which concentrates everything in fewer and fewer hands.

So when it comes to Washington Post versus New York Times, it probably has to land with the Times because of all the extra stuff they bring to the table. And they have managed to change to a subscription model that makes money. The Times continues to be a newspaper that innovates and draws reader. Even Republicans read The Athletic which it owns. This might be the key for newspapers to beef up their sports and arts coverage to make the newspaper more universal. For kids, many read their first newspaper for the comics. After that for the sports, arts, etc. The only difference nowadays could be reading or viewing in digital. A newspaper needs to be able to deliver the goods digitally nowadays and how they present it is key. So for other newspapers out there, they should look at the New York Times to see what the future is like and how to be meaningful as well as successful.

Thursday, June 13, 2024

New Original Pancake House Coming Soon To Grant Park Festival

Many were so sad faced in the post pandemic world when the Original Pancake House location at Pembina near the Jubilee underpass closed. After enduring the endless construction on the rebuilt underpass and the Southwest Transit Corridor, the pandemic hit. And in the aftermath, staff shortages led to the various locations trying to cover one another. When the owners of Vic's  Fruit Market came from across the street in 2021 and asked about a potential sale of the property, the owners of OPH accepted and transferred staff to other three locations who were in desperate need. Vic's Market now has the space they've wanted for years.

The iconic Pancake House sign came down and it was a little heartbreaking for many who had seen it to the entrance to Fort Garry for decades. Such sign are rare to see now. The old sign was up from 1958 on when the Original Pancake House opened. The love affair with the restaurant only grew when they added the Polo Park location, now beside the mall. And adding a Forks location put them in the heart of the tourist area downtown.

It would appear family owned restaurant group has recovered from the job shortages that plagued it not too long ago because they have announced they are soon to be open in Grant Park Festival at 1170 Taylor. A Sobey's is the major anchor there and down the street is the largest city Walmart. In a few short weeks, the Original Pancake House will join Burger King and Boston Pizza in the south River Heights, just north of Fort Garry location.

Restaurant recovery is still in progress. Some days such as Monday are not great for the business still. Late night meals which were common have really reduced as people retreat to their homes much earlier. The area should be fairly good as most people in River Heights are used to driving out of their neighbourhood since there are very few restaurants in the area proper. And people in the area love their breakfasts and love pancakes.

The new location will have 170 seats as well as a 38 seat private meeting area ideal for birthdays and group events. Catering will be included as a service. A few specialty areas on the menu and within the location are promised as well. A cocktail and mocktail bar is mentioned. 
Old Pembina location above. Pembina Highway used to have some of the local commercial and restaurant gathering places. Fort Garry has a lot of residential area that makes Pembina the only place to go food. Quite literally some places in the city are food and restaurant deserts. The loss of the Pembina Hotel, Pancake House and the Legion makes for longer drives for local residents for breakfasts, vendors and meeting places.
It may not seem like it at first but the commercial strip along Pembina Highway is pretty narrow. The rail tracks limit expansion west and the residential areas of Fort Garry limit commercial growth east. It is just recently, we have seen a building upwards. The area north of the Jubilee underpass was low rise for years but no longer. Around the university are soaring towers with more to come. It easy to see why the Pembina location of the Original Pancake House might be in demand.

Just sound of the underpass and running west along the rail tracks, growth along Taylor was limited by hydro lines. What usually was built (if there was anything at all) was low rise structures. That changed when hydro lines were moved and in the years around 2010 and beyond development plans were made. Walmart was an early tenant as was Sobeys. Other restaurants, stores and a lot of apartment buildings have gone up since.

It is in the section where Sobey's is that the Original Pancake House will go back to four locations in Winnipeg. And people couldn't be happier.

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Benjamin Netanyahu

The man is a survivor in Israeli politics. However, things inside and outside of Israel could not be more dire. He has sold many on his commitment to keep Israel safe but the October 7 attack was a huge failure of military and civilian intelligence. His War Coalition is falling apart and even though there is joy at some hostages freed, there are tens of thousands protesting his handling of the conflict.

The divisiveness of his rule as of late as been suggested contributed to intelligence reports that Hamas and others looked at it as something to exploit. And they did. Israel's reaction was entirely predictable because they did the same thing when an Israeli soldier was kidnapped by Hezbollah years ago. The country had a collective rage and it was inflicted on southern Lebanon. It was not easy to extract themselves from that and it won't be easy to extract themselves from Gaza now.

No past leader in Israel has survived politically following such an attack. Netanyahu was already facing some of the fiercest protests and opposition seen in Israel. Courtroom battles have marked his tenure and he sought to weaken the courts in return. His far right coalition is seeking to keep Ultra-Orthodox Jews from serving in the military which angers other Israelis as deaths climb to 600 soldiers.

Netanyahu has lost in the past but always seems to come back. But he always came back with a promise of Israeli security. In light of what happened and his strategy with Hamas and Fatah and dividing Palestinians, he might try to blame others for the attack but it was on his watch. It was his policy and it was his failure. An election is coming and the electorate is highly motivated.

One thing is clear about Netanyahu over the many years is that he is against a two state solution. He has stated over and over he believes that Israel should annex West Bank and this is possibly the plan for Gaza as well. Does it solve Israel's security crisis? Not really unless it is about pushing Palestinians out of the region. Not as easy feat for just under 6 million Palestinians in the area. In short, it's a mess.

Hamas is an extremist group and a terrorist organization. Netanyahu's goal of destroying them all seems as far off as when the U.S. thought it could defeat the Viet Cong. If it was easily done, it would have happened already. Israel has a right to defend itself but if Netanyahu thought a weakened Hamas was not a serious threat and all he had to was bombard them occasionally, he was seriously mistaken. The fact that Hamas is prepared to sacrifice their own civilians in huge numbers and hide among them is a huge problem. Occupying Gaza and continuing building settlements in the West Bank is escalating the conflict.

The push on annexation and settlements is Netanyahu's goal and has been for as long as he has been in politics. His support in Israel has come from the promise that this brings security. It is an argument that even some of his allies have a hard time making after the attack. His enemies believe he is drawing out the war to cling to power. One of the likely reasons his war cabinet is breaking up is that there doesn't seem to be an end phase to it. Defeat of Hamas hasn't been defined nor what Gaza looks like afterward which is what the cabinet needs to hear. It was what the U.S. and the world needs to hear too.

It might be Netanyahu's wish to draw out the war in the hopes the there is a change of President back to Trump. It is that change that he figures he might get to agenda with U.S. backing. He probably doesn't have that time though. Israel is a democracy and an election is coming sooner than that. It won't be the first time Netanyahu has lost if he does end up losing. He has been in exile before but it may be harder for him to argue that his way of dealing with Hamas makes Israel more secure.

And there's rub. Netanyahu has come back so many times promising better security than the other options. It just doesn't seem to have the full sway of past statements. At some point Israelis themselves will push hard to end things, especially if hostages or more Israeli soldiers end up dead. The west is pushing a ceasefire agreement. Not to do Hamas any favours but because Netanyahu doesn't have a plan for what comes next because the plan is to continue for months and into next year. It won't be satisfactory to anyone, especially families of hostages,

The best hope is a democratic Israel pushes to put it to a vote and make what comes next an election issue. It will be messy but should bring clarity. Nothing about the conflict is easy. Protest in North America and around the world that seek to lay the blame solely at Israel's and how it has nothing to do with Jews except that they should be not be in the region, should be taken for what they really are. And that is an eradication plan. 

The main force for finding a solution will come from Israel. Hamas has shown they are committed to sacrificing their people but Netanyahu's way of dealing with them has failed. A generational change is likely. It is hard to see what the outcome will be but Israelis themselves are exhausted from failed strategies and conflict. A continuation of Netanyahu ensures that strategy stays. He has said so himself.

Monday, June 10, 2024

A New Core Area Initiative


Considering how important the Core Area Initiative was from 1981 to 1991, it is odd to think it has faded from many memory. The big thing is that for all public money from the city, the province and the federal government, it attracted a ton of private money as well. The territory it covered was expansive over downtown and into Osborne Village. The $196 million was spent on such a variety of things that had impacts in so many areas that helped Winnipeg for decades to come. Certainly without the program, we might not have see The Forks develop nor Portage Place.

And while Portage Place is derided as a failure, it got the parkade built that has been the funder for The Forks for decades. No lie. Money from that parkade kept The Forks afloat. It is also the most attractive feature for the Chipman/Thomson bid. The $3 million or so revenue from the parkade will help pay for their purchase and support the True North Arena.

The connectivity of all the different areas of development and renewal has to be understood to assess it's success. The example above with the Portage Place parkade. Quite simply without it, there would not be the money needed to keep The Forks going through the roach patches. Portage Place investment helped other private interests such as Air Canada, Investors Group and Relax/Holiday Inn from setting up shop on north Portage.

So was Portage Place a failure? The apartments, commercial building all around it say no. As a mall, it has faded. But on the bones of that development, residential and medical towers will go up. The problem with Winnipeg's downtown, as has been described many times before, is that it is fairly spread out which means there are large gaps where there is open space usually of parking lots. A city like Toronto, for example, has much closer distances between city and provincial government offices, central hospitals, universities and shopping. Winnipeg seems to be blocks away from everything.

The plan for the Core Area Initiative redux has various interest groups thinking it mostly will go to this or that. Bike interest groups believe it should go to bike lanes down every street. Business Improvement Zones believe it should go into street beautification programs. This ignores how widespread and how much leverage the old CAI had in getting millions upon millions from the private sector for work small and large. It wasn't supposed to go to one group to gorge themselves on. What is the point of bike paths on every street if there are houses on it?

The 1981 to 1991 CAI triggered so much downtown development but it also renovated tons of housing improvements from Osborne to Centennial. Unlike the 1960s urban developments the feds did across Canada that cleared land for major developments or concentrated a big low income housing project, money was allocated over a longer time to a larger variety of projects and social services and to a greater size area. There could have been a risk of diluting everything but the key always was to leverage other investments in the area in terms of people and money.

As mentioned before in this blog, 1980 was a horrible year for Winnipeg. The deep recession hit here early and hard. We lost the Tribune, Swift's and Canada Packers plant and thousands of jobs all within a few months. It was a deep recession and a long one. It hit all of North America but places like Winnipeg lost their place in Canada. Edmonton and Calgary with resources to pull themselves out of the slump, surpassed us in population and we saw head offices migrate there over the 1980s from the city.

The north part of Portage was always the poor sister of the south of Portage. The Eaton's and the Bay and stores on the south side were still a going concern. Movie theatres were still well attended downtown. However, the north side was often video and pinball halls and adult theatre. There were a few areas of strength like Kennedy Street which had Stagewest Dinner Theatre, Benjamins nightclub and a few other businesses but the northside was losing buildings to fire and there was a worry of steady decline extending to the south side.

This wasn't an idle concern. St. Vital Mall and Kildonan Place were very recent additions to suburban malls and population in the suburbs was booming. That is not to say there were no malls going up downtown. Winnipeg Square and Eaton Place went up just as the 1980s were starting. To a certain extent those malls achieved what they hoped for those areas of town. Winnipeg Square was a fine business mall with a very large parkade and Eaton Place gave Eaton's a new lease of life and additional parking while preserving the catalogue building.  However, neither mall was going to be able to forestall the difficulties elsewhere in the downtown.
Despite a very diverse economy, Winnipeg was in for a a much slower growth rate than our western neighbours. Population was leaving in steady numbers for the oil economy of Alberta. And for retirement, Winnipeg couldn't beat Vancouver's temperate climate. Still, as many will attest to Winnipeg was a good place to live in but in need of a plan.

At the time, Lloyd Aworthy made the jump from provincial politics to federal politics and became a powerful cabinet minister in the west. Some of that came as a result as being one of the only Liberals in the west. As an urban studies academic, he was well aware of what most cities were facing across Canada. Winnipeg became  a petri dish to see what would happen over a ten year period.

So what did happen? The Forks was probably the most successful outcome. Extensive consultations, funding for river paths, a national park and the clearing of rails but not the buildings for a long term plan. And The Forks continues to add piece by piece. Still, without Portage Place's parkade providing money every year, The Forks would have failed economically. It is where it is now because of that money. 

Portage Place is considered a failure. However, that can only be considered true if only the mall is looked at in isolation. The Prairie Theatre Exchange is a successful long term tenant. The mall had the first IMAX Theatre for the city. The three movie theatres were gorgeous. The parkade was the best. Axworthy had wanted an arena but local merchants were more keen on a mall. By the time Portage Place went up Winnipeg was over-malled. Polo Park went through a doubling up with a second floor which only added to the problems of downtown malls.

Portage Place was not the first mall to falter in Winnipeg. That honour went to Unicity Mall. Other malls like Garden City suffered as well. The end of Portage Place as a mall is likely in 2025 when the east side becomes the Pam Clinic tower and the west side becomes a residential tower. It is the in between part that will be interesting.

Lloyd Axworthy has identified in 2024 what might make the federal government interested. He has indicated it could be the relocation of the CP rail yards or the Little Forks National Park proposal. Both have transformative implications. One is where the Seine River meets the Red near Higgins while the other is an enormous tract running east-west that separates the downtown from the North End. The size of it should intimidate. The Forks was an enormous reach for Winnipeg but once the rails had moved it opened up huge opportunities.

A new Core Area Initiative could have a broad geographic area. The 1981 certainly did. Not all the money has to be dumped into one area. Nor does a project have to be completed within the timeframe outlined. The Forks started very late into CAI. And it continues to this day. The first Core Area Initiative had a lot of components to it and helped a lot of areas leverage investments in other projects for years to come. In recent years there seems to be a rush to spend in one area lest the money disappears and the planning is awful and the execution worse. A lot of planning went into The Forks and that has contributed to it's success.
The Core Area Initiative of 1981 to 1991 was followed up by the Winnipeg Development Agreement/Partnership of 1994 to 2001 and the Winnipeg Housing and Homelessness Initiative of 2001 to 2012. The fall off of any plan up till 2024 is probably one of many reasons we seem to be ill prepared for what comes next in the city. Taking a dozen years off has left sustainability off the table. One of the things that CAI did was not just invest in infrastructure but in people as well. Nothing works though if you don't do both. Later development plans invested in people but not enough in infrastructure to support/leverage other investments in the area.

It is a tricky business building sustainability into an initiative. A program should have a beginning, middle and end. In other words, it isn't solely an entitlement programs like old age security or an income support system. The program should be set up to help in such ways like renovate a home, help someone buy a home, seed money for some street renewal, plans for a park, consultations on larger projects, fund a security system, establish patrol offices and so on and so on. The first CAI was very much like this. While it did try to be leaders in some projects, there was an effort to repopulate central areas of the city and create more reasons to come to the central areas. And that was usually done as a secretariat or clearing house in partnerships with many other groups and levels of government.

A new CAI would probably be a good thing. Unlike past decades though there seems to be groups looking to gorge themselves on money directed to them alone. This will cripple the program if one neighbourhood wants $200 million of work or one lobby group wants that type of work only used for them. Quite simply, one neighbourhood getting $200 million for housing will only beggar other central areas or $200 million of bike paths won't revitalize the larger community. The success of this program will be covering a lot of areas with a revitalization and re-population goal. And if there is a very large project such as rail relocation or the Little Forks proposal, know that it the initial outlay of money should large come from other sources. But for the consultation stage or smaller projects that help launch the project, it can be the start of something great as it was with The Forks.

What is needed is vision. The big question is whether the province or Feds will be turned off by other requests for billions for suburban roads that look like highways. It sends the wrong message if the city keeps supporting sprawl it can't pay for later.

Friday, June 7, 2024

Kenaston and St. James Bridge Reconstruction

The St. James Bridge is getting to the time where maintenance every year will not cut it. Much like the Arlington Bridge, it might reach a time where one if not both of the spans will be closed. Crumbling infrastructures closed the Civic Parkade and made the Public Safety Building a danger. It is a pattern with the city that something becomes completely broken and then it takes years to do something about.

The changes to the St. James Bridge alone are massive and will be in the tens of millions and likely take at least two or more years to do. It is difficult to see what the city has in mind, especially around Portage Avenue and the fire department structure. Some other work around the Viscount Gort and along Portage is a bit of a mystery as well.

As the St. James Bridge proceeds south into River Heights and Tuxedo, it actually curves west and hits a stretch where the speed drops to 50 kms. It is a narrow stretch right off the bridge and has houses on either side. A few have been bought by the city and removed but there many others that the plan calls for their removal. It appears all access roads to Kenaston from Academy to Willow will only be service roads with no turns at Route 90.

If this was the only work done for the bridge and the approaches, it would a huge job. However, the fear is that traffic would bottleneck further down Kenaston and especially as it gets to the more commercial areas further south. The Kapyong development probably has all of the planners nervous. It should. If any street looked in need of a transit corridor, it would be this one. Six lanes of traffic is what is being planned. It will be even wider at intersections further up. Moreover, it doesn't indicate what changes even further south will have to be contemplated.

There is an indication of what the cost benefit analysis shows for the road and it is pretty thin soup. It will be about only a few minutes in saved time but at $730 million plus that doesn't seem to make a lot of sense. Moreover, the mayor says there is the Peguis extension that he says is also a priority. Both projects could cost $2 billion. It is hard to imagine where the money is going to come from. The federal government already commits money to the municipalities for infrastructure. The province has their own priorities which might not go to roads that cannot be sustained by the city after.

The city already spends about $100,000 a year to maintain Kenaston/Route 90. Fewer large trucks use it now that the Tuxedo Yards is no longer a container port. It is a busy stretch of road and can get bottlenecked. A big concern is that if the road is expanded that it encourages huge development just outside the perimeter. That is no idle concern. One of the last provincial government's objectives was turnpikes on the Perimeter Highway that was to facilitate exurban growth.

Part of the design as Kenaston heads south involves blocking road access except at major intersections like Corydon and Grant. At those intersections, there is considerable widening for turning lanes. Also part of the road will be berms and walls which we see in the Bridgwater section of Route 90. This has led to late night racing in past years since it seems no one is there to stop it.

Kenaston is indeed a mess the money spent might be a case of: if you build it, they will come. In other words, it could bottleneck even more and not get people to use other modes of transportation. There will be buses up and down Kenaston and in one year, the entire system of Transit will be changed. The goal is not to have to wait longer than four or five minutes for a bus. It is sure to be confusing at first and may require some adjustments along the way. However, the goal should be to increase density of residents along these routes. In other cities, use of a car is less of a need because of the consistency and safety of public transit. 

Most other cities, including American ones, are establishing light right, subways, trains and busy routes as it increasingly looks like roads cannot be expanded any further. Winnipeg has managed just one route for the Southwest Transit Corridor. The rest will probably come decades later. That's how slow the process is. It will be likely the federal government will wonder why huge amounts will be spent on roads in Winnipeg whereas Transit is low priority. 

Even before Kenaston is worked on, the First Nations will be working on the re-development of the now empty Kapyong site. It remains to be seen whether they leave one lane on either side open for road expansion while they build their hotel and conference centre. At some point road access will have to be considered. But will it be on a standard two lane road with some turning lanes. Once the development is built out to curb-side, the chance of having six lanes quickly fades.

As mentioned, there is no budget for anything to do with Kenaston or the St. James Bridge. The city will literally go cup in hand to the province and the feds and might come up empty. If they try to bear the costs themselves, they might not be able to afford anything after including repairing other falling bridges. As long as bridges like Arlington are permanently closed, it is hard to imagine not thinking about the costs of new infrastructure. 

The city is asking for a new Core Area Initiative from three levels of government for downtown but with all the requests for money being asked for by mayor and council, they seem to think tens of billions will flow to various projects. Big road projects are likely down on the list with the federal government. Even a new Conservative government next year is unlikely to be forking over billions to every municipal government with huge shopping lists. It seems unlikely the new NDP provincial government will be not so keen on two highways getting huge provincial funds either.

The only way of the above project gets money is if it is part of a public transportation component. Having a few bus stops doesn't seem to cut it. As Kapyong ramps up, the options on adding lanes might end. It may start to create some desperation at City Hall as buildings go up at the new development. However, with no budget and no fairy godmother, it is hard to see where they get the money for this.

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Violence In Osborne Village and Business Closures

Osborne Village isn't the only neighbourhood experiencing violence but it is the one with the highest density population in the city and the one mostly likely to see business flee and residents next. Already Unique Bunny and Starbucks have cited crime for closing. On a weekend a few weeks ago around 9 PM, a man was found unconscious after an attack right near Shopper's Drug Mart. It was dusk when many people were still out and about.

A series of violent incidents and closures have left Osborne residents nervous. All of this is happening with street patrols present. However, the patrols are overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of incidents and how widespread they are. It appears the Village is the recipient of these type of outbursts fairly frequently. But then again the entire city seems to having a steep rise in all sort crime.

It was a particularly bad weekend of fires, many arsons that kept police and fire on the go. Some valuable long term businesses that local residents use were either lost or threatened by fire. It was a weekend of endless sirens. In one case, a long term convenience store was a total loss. In another, a discount store was almost lost. Were they both arsons? At the moment they are being investigated.
The main reason given for the violence is the hardcore drugs, poverty and homelessness that has blown up all across North America in the aftermath of the pandemic. Some of this was becoming a problem even before 2020 but is has been compounded by adjustments to the economy everyone is making in terms of working from home and the slow scaling up of many businesses such as restaurants that are still not back to capacity.

It is very easy to squeeze the toothpaste out the bottle but a lot harder to get it back in. This is the pandemic aftermath of people still working from home, others who retired early, inflation that still hasn't let go and economic uncertainty. Mental issues abound. Some people are adrift which has led to addictions problems and chronic unemployment and lack of housing.
Osborne Village was called one of top neighbourhoods in Canada in the not to distant past and it could be again except security has to be raised for that to happen. Affordability in the area has dropped as small apartment units have disappeared in favour of luxury units and condos. Winnipeg is just a shade under what Edmonton's housing costs are and that is not good considering the wages are much lower here than there. The result is a lot of people cannot afford homes.

There are strong correlations on affordability and homelessness, poverty and addictions. All three levels of government have made a commitment to all sorts of housing going up this year but it a long process of gearing up. Approvals take forever, interest rates have affected budgets and supply chains are still struggling. Meanwhile, a number of people have fallen off any support system. The province is paying for overtime for police units to deal with the surge in crime.

The commercial strip along Osborne is getting a mix of new residential and commercial units. However, hundreds of residents in proximity to the latest attack shows that some people are not stopped by that. The drugs out on the street leave many in such a zoned out way that impulse control is lost. In other words, no shop or residence can afford to not keep doors locked and monitored. Step out of your place and you could be vulnerable. Even in your home, you might be vulnerable since arsons are everywhere.
The permanent closure of Starbucks for safety reasons is terrible. While not specifically stated, the open doors of their business as well as their washrooms meant staff felt and were facing increasing issues with security. Businesses like pharmacies and groceries with open doors are facing massive shoplifting issues that have only accelerated this past year. Not just here but everywhere. Big stores are reducing the amount of entrances to their business. Many stores are getting rid of self-checkouts and identifying it as problem area. 

Small businesses often require a knock on the door to get in. They never had self checkouts but layouts of stores not keep better sightlines. And no public washrooms. It is likely only increased security, changes in society and a more full court press on crime will help reduce the violence and property loss. The move by liquor stores to go to ID only entrance was able to stop the epidemic of violence and loss of goods inside. The cannabis stores never had to go through this because they had security built into their initial unveiling. A Safeway is not likely to ask for IDs. But it is entirely possible they set up more secure areas as they do with pharmacies. Stores in Britain and the U.S. are using bodycams for security. This could prove useful for identifying violent events and the people responsible.

The slow walking of actually approving housing developments puts pressures all along the system. It really can't take ten years to approve housing. Today's housing projects are likely the affordable housing 20 years down the road. The longer it takes to approve, the longer people have to wait. Meanwhile in that ten years houses are being lost simply due to age in some cases. It is worth mentioning this because the Osborne area has had people living on the riverbanks or various areas nearby the last few years. For many decades some of the most affordable housing was in the area. For Osborne to be safe or anywhere in the city for that matter, it can't have homeless desperately living through winters. Add to that struggling with medical, mental and addictions issues and you have communities that area struggling.

Unlike previous recessions, post-pandemic around the world has changed much about how we organize ourselves, work and look to have a civil society. Osborne Village will recover but much has to change. However, we are likely to see more store, restaurant and office closures before a handle is gotten on decline which is being seen here and many other places.

Sunday, June 2, 2024

Donald Trump, Next President of the United States?

Following the Trump trial in New York, more commentators have said it won't stop Trump from running and possibly winning the next election. Canadians following along can only wonder what such turbulent times can mean. While we have no say in the end results of a U.S. election, we are sure to be affected by it. It sometimes doesn't matter if the President or Congress is Democrat or Republican as either can be tough on Canada whether it is trade or foreign policy.

We are not nearly as polarized although there are people who have hated Trudeau with all their hearts. A surge of Canadians going to live in the U.S. have cited that as a reason to real estate agents for moves to such places like Florida. It will be curious if a different prime minister hastens a return. The truth is people move for work, climate and other reasons so moves might continue regardless. Home prices in Canada have had people cashing in for retirement moves or leaving for less expensive living in the U.S.

There is a lot of anger that has built up in North America and in the U.S. in particular. A seething grievance and upset is fueled by the various silos of information catering to beliefs its audience might already have. In Canada, we have only two cable news channels which some people on the right might consider extremist left wing. There was the Sun cable news channel that tried to make a go of it but it's ratings were poor which they blamed on regulators for not making it mandatory on cable. Rebel Media has taken over the right wing voice in Canada and is probably more outspoken than it was on TV.

In the U.S. there are multiple platforms for the left wing, right wing and very little for those who report straight news. FOX news is the biggest on the right wing media front in the U.S. and fully got on board in support of Donald Trump's return to the presidency. The polarization has gotten so pronounced that the primaries were a wash and the chosen candidates pretty much decided months ago.

Joe Biden has been down in the polls for months despite evidence that the economy has bounced back. However, inflation has made people angry and upset  about the rising costs. It will take some time before prices start to feel affordable. Some stores in the U.S. are lowering prices because the market has reached a peak. Habits have changed in many cases so that people are eating earlier, looking for bargains and feeling a little disengaged from the world.

The cutting of cable wires, streaming and fewer local sources of news means more limited sources of information getting out to people. There is less tolerance for any view not already established. News sources on the left and right reinforce established views and news operations that report straight news are treated with disdain. It is hard to see how people can information when there are no agreed upon reference points or facts.

Donald Trump is largely unaffected by the court cases or what the judge says in July. He can still run and win. It is entirely possible that Republicans wins Congress as well as the Presidency. I've said it before and I will say again: Canadians should not take a U.S. election personally. The majority of us don't live there, vote there and probably won't be affected any differently than if it was a total sweep of Democrats. In fact, we have been treated more severely sometimes by Democrats.

The next election will be about mobilization and turnout. Either party has anyone less than motivated and they will likely lose. Canada can only stand back and watch. Some international players might try to influence the results both legally and illegally but Canada should be vocally neutral. It is very possible we will be baited into world debate about how secure Canada is, how unfair a trading partner we are and how we don't contribute to defence. 

Canadian politicians, journalist and citizenry should have answers to these questions and more but not to get angry nor take lightly who is saying something and what they are saying. If Trump is elected and looks to punish countries that spend less than 2% on defence, Canada must have a response. And not just the prime minister but Parliament and its leaders. 

In the past, and even with Donald Trump, Canada has managed the relationship with the U.S. as best as it can. We want the U.S. to pay attention to our issues, many of which revolve around trade, but not so much attention that we are a target of negative outcomes. It is not easy. If Trump is in power though, we should realize that we could face a sudden policy change if we don't work through other layers of power in Washington. And no, a change of government to a Conservative party will not necessarily give Canada a boost with Trump. Ask the British if they were cut any favour with Trump during a Conservative government.

It is probably best for all Canadians to prepare for the possible election of Trump as president and everything that goes with it.

Monday, May 27, 2024

Kevin Klein Group Buys Winnipeg Sun

 The announcement that Kevin Klein, former publisher of The Sun, former Councillor and former PC cabinet minister has purchased the Winnipeg Sun, the Portage la Prairie Graphic Leader and the Kenora Miner and News in Ontario. All related print and digital assets, employees and other associated activities of Postmedia Network related to the businesses is included in the sale to the Klein Group and its investors.

It is probably one of the most significant newspaper stories in Canada in a very long while. With this purchase, Winnipeg becomes the only other city in Canada aside from Toronto with at least two locally owned newspapers, owned by two different owners. The Free Press is owned by Bob Silver of Winnipeg and former Winnipegger and Vancouver resident Ron Stern and the The Sun will be owned by Winnipeg resident Kevin Klein. Compare to Toronto where the National Post and Toronto Sun are foreign owned, locally based newspapers, the Globe and Mail is the only remaining newspaper owned by David Thomson and the Toronto Star is owned by the Bitove Family of Toronto.

It simply is unheard of today that two competing newspapers have local ownership. Up until the 1980s Manitoba's local TV media aside from the public broadcaster were locally owned. This was true of radio stations ways back as well but this is true of neither now. In short, it is great news that both newspapers are locally owned by competing groups.

In the mix is Portage la Prairie and Kenora's newspaper which likely means a tighter focus on regional strengths. The National Post will still be a supplier content which should help, For 18 months there has been no agreement between the 37 union members at the Winnipeg Sun. New ownership will be tasked with getting an agreement for stability on that front. There are are agreements with non-unionized staff that will have to be settled but if labour issues are settled, Klein will be tasked with finding a way to make money in the news business.

Kevin Klein as former publisher knows the money side of the business. He has been providing to the content side as a columnist after his political career came to an electoral halt. One of the the things that will be interesting to see is if there is a return of sports reporters travelling with the Jets and the Bombers. The home games have reporters present but the away games have been covered from home base. This is a weakness because exclusives and on the spot coverage are suddenly lacking. 

For the Winnipeg Sun, sports and local stories, particularly crime and court stories are likely things to bring readers in. The paper, which was founded in 1980, started off as a locally owned tabloid publishing a few times a week. It was an act of faith that kept it goes before it got scooped up in 1983 by the larger national Sun chain. It adopted the corporate model of the Sun girl...or boy and the editorial comment on letters. Sports and local news became the focus and Peter Warren would contribute columns. It had its own comics section and TV and movie reviewers. 

In recent years, the Sun has lost some columnists to the Free Press and shrank its newsroom. It still puts out content but it has been in need of TLC from ownership who will both invest and somehow let the journalists pursue news, analysis and opinion. They need to fill the gaps the Free Press leaves open. Crime, city hall could all use a new perspective. It will be a challenge to reach skeptical citizens. And somehow make money on print and digital.

It seems Klein is likely to drop the local journalism initiative. The government money is needed to replace lost ad revenue. Also, the new media group is likely to apply for the digital fund supports coming from Google and the like. But more will be needed to support the business. Government ads of all kinds for announcements used to be helpful. There is no way Canada should be using Facebook when all money goes out of the country. However, the government has used media not based in the country.

Big media companies in Canada have been shutting down newspapers, radio stations and TV stations for years after stripping them down. It has seemed they are more willing to shut them down than sell them. Postmedia has owned The Sun since 2015. The Klein Group purchase The Sun and the other two papers is a welcome change.

I think there will be shockwaves across media in Canada about the purchase and what it might mean for other communities to purchase newspapers, radio stations and the like from large corporations who otherwise would just shut down these companies. I hope for success for The Sun and a healthy competition for readers with the Free Press.

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Will Red Lobster in Winnipeg Close?

The first Red Lobster in Canada opened in 1983 and Winnipeg was quick to open after that. With sister restaurant The Olive Garden right beside it in front of Polo Park, it was a winning formula. Another Olive Garden is by Kildonan Place. I can't recall if Red Lobster had another location in Winnipeg. I do remember that a lot of Red Lobsters ended up going in former Ponderosa locations around Canada.

Red Lobster with their endless shrimp and lobster deals has brought the company to bankruptcy. And they have gone to court to bring the Canadian operations into bankruptcy too. It may not matter if the Canadian operations are profitable or not. It is very likely they will want to liquidate the restaurants here and send the money to creditors in the states. We have seen this happen for Sears, Bed, Bath and Beyond and other retailers.

Red Lobster was a huge success in Canada for nearly a decade but closed some stores in the 1990s when tastes changed somewhat, locations became less desirable and tougher economic times prevailed. Winnipeg had a fairly tough 1990s. However, the Red Lobster location paired with The Olive Garden was a top notch location across from Polo Park. It became a favourite of people coming into the city from all over Manitoba and Northwest Ontario,
The location of A&W, Red Lobster and The Olive Garden stand roughly on the space of The Paddock which was a restaurant with a long history from the horsetrack days until the 1970s of Polo Park Mall. While there were restaurants in the mall, the location right along busy Portage Avenue was tough to beat. Plus all the Bombers and Jets traffic drove right up St. James to their location.

Polo Park, the Arena, the Stadium, the Velodrome all contributed to an outstanding location for years and although only the mall remains, the restaurants across the street still do so well. If Red Lobster closes, it will have everything to do with mismanagements in the U.S. and how their endless shrimp and lobster campaigns ended up being too costly. Other factors hurt them as well but this is being attributed to their downfall.

In the next week, it indeed looks like Red Lobster in Canada goes bankrupt and store closures are inevitable? Does this mean the whole company in Canada closes? It could very well mean that. Many American and international companies shut down their Canadian operations rather than attempt to sell them. Case in point is Sears and Bed, Bath and Beyond where there was no attempt to sell the companies to other operators. They were shut down and money sent to the U.S.

Only a few companies ever seem to sell their operations so they can continue in Canada. Toy R Us and HMV were sold by their owners and continue in Canada under their old names or new ones. Is it possible Red Lobster is sold off and their stores retained in Canada? Or the Canadian division sold off and continuing to run? Yes? But it is just as likely we see the Canadian Red Lobster which number about 30 plus to be shut down almost immediately and liquidated for creditors.

I'm sure many Winnipeggers and those who visit from out of town will be shocked to see the closure. It does invite question of what would go in place of Red Lobster if it is closed. The competition will be stiff. Perhaps a restaurant that presently doesn't have a location in the province. However, it is just as likely a Joeys or Milestone's from Canada end up there. The closure hasn't happened yet. We should find out soon though. 

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Cleo's Polo Park Presents Store Concept for Canada

Cleo's, Ricki's and Bootleggers remain national chains based in Winnipeg with a history going back 85 years. Between the Cleo's and Ricki's stores they have 214 locations coast to coast owned by Parian Logistics which has its head office and warehouse in the old McLeod-Stedman/Truserv/Ace building on McGillivary.
The new concept for Cleo's is a little brighter and Polo Park revealed earlier this month. It is being spread out across the country. Between the three store brands, Parian focuses on women from younger to older. In some cases they have combined Ricki's and Cleo's and others they have put put Ricki's and Bootleggers together. However, Cleo's is the brand they are trying to develop as a standalone store.
In recent months Polo Park has solidified it's hold as premier mall in the province and is currently ranked number 15 in the country. The vacancy rate has been low and when Christmas comes around, they are usually fully leased. Parian with brands like Cleo's wants to be in malls like Polo Park and to be able to show off their new concepts here.

Despite the attractiveness of U.S. brands, companies like Cleo's and Ricki's continue to thrive as they seem to know what Canadian consumer needs are.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Valedictorian Speech Calls for Ceasefire

Doctor Gem Newman seen in the above picture was chosen to be the Valedictorian address for the medical students at the University of Manitoba. In his speech he decries settler colonialism in Canada and around the world and calls for a ceasefire while identifying Israel as targeting hospitals in Gaza.

I have not the entire speech but don't no if he criticized the October 6 attack on Israel by Hamas forces. He only mentions Palestinian deaths which the Hamas health authority has provided. Around 1,200 Israelis were killed by terrorists and 250 were injured in the attack that day.

Free Speech is the hallmark of academic freedom and this goes for the administration as well. Dr. Peter Nickerson, dean of medicine expressed his disappointment in the address. He was uninvited by some university groups to graduation events. In turn, one of the major donors of the university expressed his dismay at the speech. His family name happens to be on the building. Ernest Rady says he is appalled and calls the speech hate speech. The word genocidal has disappointed many.

I previously wrote that campuses in Canada have been fairly quiet in comparison to U.S. universities. There have been encampments at both University of Winnipeg and University of Manitoba but students have, by and large, finished school and only graduation ceremonies are left so it is quiet there. The weather has been cold and rainy much of the time which is not fun in a tent. And probably less motivating when no one is there at the campus. Events are coming in the next several days and it remains to be seen whether some students will try to disrupt activities. 

I'm not entirely sure what Dr. Newman's view of the state of Israel is. Since he uses the work colonial and settler, it feels like he is stating Israel is an illegal state with no status. This is certainly the viewpoint of some of the Palestinian supporters who believe that the solution to all the problems is for Israel to cease as a state and all Jews forced out. The River to Sea chants is a call to push Jews into the sea.

Canada favours a two state solution which is the official policy of the government. Hamas does not favour this and has been fighting other Palestinian groups as well as Israel ever since. They favour a Muslim state and a trans-national one at that. Most of the protestors don't seem to want to bring this to the attention of anyone.

The call for a ceasefire seems to apply only to Israel. Attacks from Hamas seem to be condoned. Many in Israel want to have a ceasefire but we hardly hear about hostage returns or cessation of of violence from Hamas. It is very one sided. We never hear about the rape and violence committed against Israelis or if we do, are told they had it coming.

A Valedictorian speech doesn't have to be a boring thing filled with platitudes but calling out genocide is very much likely to bring the fight out in people. The International Criminal Court is trying to make a case for arrests of Israeli and Hamas leader and it remains very much an open question whether the three judge panel is going to make an equivalency argument. The prosecutor has already said Israel has a right to defend itself.

Benjamin Netanyahu has done a poor job on military intelligence and defence and the Gaza hunt for Hamas has been less helpful at hostage recovery than the short ceasefire and exchange for Palestinians for hostages. The areas that were taken by Israeli Defence Forces have still seen rocket attacks launched. It makes the statement that Hamas can be totally defeated seem less likely. On the home front, some of Netanyahu's coalition is pushing for Jewish settlements to return to Gaza and to get Palestinians to leave. Even the prime minister seems to know this is a security risk and provocation that even many Israelis are just not willing to take.

Given the history of Israel when it comes to this type of breech of security, an Israeli prime minister is usually defeated in the next election. Already, there is evidence that the war cabinet is breaking apart but when an election happens is anyone's guess. Israel is as polarized as other western nations. Netanyahu works best in this highly charged atmosphere but there does seem to be a reckoning coming. What seems unlikely is whether the International Criminal Court is going to be his undoing. The case for self defence will remain and even the prosecutor will have a tough time untangling that one.

The thing about Israel is that it is a democracy and they debate these issues. It isn't a monolithic view. And it certainly isn't one that seeks never-ending war. Israel has made peace with neighbours and exchanged land for security in the past. A two state solution has been discussed and moves have been made to achieve that but Hamas has never agreed to two states. They push for the violent overthrow of Israel and elimination of them as a people in the region. Sadly, some of their supporters also support this.  And not just in Israel but everywhere.

Netanyahu has been unprepared for the defence of Israel and has squandered the goodwill that so many had following the terrorist attack. But it is hard to say to that his government is singularly responsible for genocide. A unilateral ceasefire is probably not going to help Israel's security. And Palestinian supporters are uncritical of the awful governance of Hamas or it's attacks on Israel. 

Meanwhile in Winnipeg, a Valedictorian speech that accuses Israel of deliberately targeting hospitals and genocide probably inspires Hamas to keep fighting. Some students might have taken inspiration from the speech and feel persecuted for their free speech. However, free speech runs both ways so people should not be surprised by counter criticism.

Israel and Gaza need food and health agencies who are able to earn the trust of people in areas of conflict. Taking sides makes it impossible to do the work. A Valedictorian could have made the point that rendering aid for non-combatants is in the good offices of anyone who calls themselves doctor. It doesn't support any side except the vulnerable.

Certainly doctors can be political but their ability to navigate through tough political water often depends on their good work. Red Cross has been able to help get hostages freed because both sides have trusted them to do this work. If Red Cross blamed one side or the other, it would just eliminate one more arbiter of the conflict.

Sometimes people identify with one of the parties and assumes they are the underdog. It is far more complicated than that. The ceasefire calls and blaming Israel don't seem aimed at the ending the conflict and getting hostages returned. I'm sure there will be more speeches made in graduation ceremonies in the next little while and there will be likely just as much countercriticism.

One thing is for certain is that the Israeli people will decide in an election what the future. Many of them are looking for clarity as well as a reduction on hostilities. The big question is whether Gazans get that choice from Hamas as well.