The weeks and months leading up to Winnipeg’s 2010 civic election have been nothing short of a three-ring media circus. High drama, contentious issues, diametrically opposed mayorial candidates locked in a dead heat, scandals: Winnipeg lacks not for schmaltzy political showmanship. The downside of constant pre-election melodrama is that media attention is focused on reactionary and emotional events and players as they go off. Histrionics and turmoil sell papers and bring viewers to the television set.
Take the ongoing brouhaha in the ward of River Heights – Fort Garry: It involves ill-engineered traffic calming measures , a deceased predecessor, and a vitriol soaked letter sent out by an alleged grass-roots resident’s group to usurp the incumbent. This gong show has garnered more cameras, ink, airwaves and snorts of indignation and disgust than any other ward, topic or person involved in the 2010 race. Sadly, the spotlight on the soap opera that continues to unfold in this affluent area of Winnipeg has detracted from less entertaining issues in other wards, such as extreme poverty, sky-rocketing crime, ethnic clashing and crumbling infrastructure.
In my wanderings around the internet, via heated discussions with other Winnipeggers, and intake of the local news, I found there was a decided lack of media interest in the Point Douglas ward. Point Douglas is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city, and is steeped in important Winnipeg history. Point Douglas currently is home has the most ethnically and economically diverse population in all of Canada. From unimaginable poverty in inner city areas to middle class McMansions in the suburbs, Point Douglas is about a bi-polar a geographical area as one could conceive. Problems that plague parts of Point Douglas (drugs, prostitution, crime, transience, property abandonment) are irrelevant in others where the priorities shift to rapid transit needs, community centre funding, taxation. Representing this socioeconomic Molotov Cocktail fairly (and effectively) requires super-human effort. This election, three individuals are vying for the challenge: Mike Pagtakhan (incumbant); challengers Herman Holla and Dean Koshelanyk.
I had the good fortune of having the opportunity to catch up with Dean Koshelanyk, who is looking to usurp Pagtakhan this week. Koshelanyk agreed to let me fire some questions at him, and share the conversation with Politics Respun readers.
TE: Dean, thanks for taking the time to let me pick your brain about the Point Douglas ward, it’s specific issues, your stance on them, and some general Winnipeg politics. I realize you are a very busy man, so I will keep this as brief as possible. For those who are unfamiliar with the Point Douglas ward boundaries, what neighborhoods are a part of this assignment?
DK: Interesting question!
- South Point Douglas
- The Exchange
- China Town
- West Alexander
- Robertson /Sinclair Park
- Northwood Park
- Tyndall Park
- Garden Grove
- Meadows West
- Frank Whyte
- Inkster Industrial Park
One of the bigger issues with identifying the area is that many areas go by many different names.
TE: What sets this ward apart from other wards in Winnipeg?
DK: Point Douglas contains some of the oldest areas of the city, and extends to the far north, far west, then on to the very edge of the city in one of the newer and rapidly growing areas of Meadows West. We have the most soup kitchens and homeless shelters, we have City Hall, we have college campuses, we have Manitoba’s premier hospital. Then we have manufacturing, trucking, some of the most beautiful churches, a casino. Heck we have everything! You name it, our ward probably has it. There is no more ethnically diverse civic ward in Canada, and it’s possible there is no more economically diverse ward as well. We are one of the primary areas in Winnipeg that recent immigrants from other countries are highly concentrated in, as well as people who have recently arrived in the city from other areas in Manitoba. (TE’s note: There is a very large aboriginal population in this area, living off of the reserve.) No other Winnipeg ward contains so many distinct people, jobs, housing (ages and styles). The crime ranges from the violent crimes in one area, to major amounts of car theft to minor petty crimes such as graffiti in another area. Again, when it comes to crime, no other local ward has the many different types and levels such as we do.
TE: What are the most pressing issues that need to be addressed in Point Douglas by their representative to City Hall?
DK: 1) Crime. We need to get cops on the streets, now. We need to get people interacting with the cops so that the officers can start to be trusted more and so that they in turn start to trust and respect our residents more.
2) Traffic Flow. Our residents vary greatly in the methods they chose to move around our city. Many of us take the bus, many drive, most do a combination of the two. No matter what, we find it difficult getting to other areas of the city directly, especially by bus during off peak hours. Little consideration or planning seems to be evident in construction project planning. My son’s school actually recommends that the kids be dropped off more then two blocks away from the school because of the massive traffic problems caused right now by construction near by.
TE: Tell me a little bit about yourself, Dean.
DK: I’m 38 years old, and have married for 15 years, to my “sorta okay wife, Dennae.” This is an inside joke, she will love it, honest… I hope! We have 4 kids, ages 17,12,12,3. They are all boys, much to my wife’s dismay. I am currently an “Automation Specialist – Test Software”, which means I write computer programs that test the programs our other developers write. I can think like a developer, and test like a QA. That sounds way better if you have the “float like a butterfly sting like a bee” comment in you head at the time! Educationally, I have a Computer Programmer Analyst Technologist Diploma(Honours) from Keewatin Community College. When I graduated I received the Lt . Governors Silver medal for my excellent GPA, my volunteer work on student council, and my constant willingness to help my fellow students. Over the course of my career, I have been a rock picker, farmer, road construction labourer, tree faller, tree planter, pine cone picker, lumber mill worker, short order cook, cashier, adult education teacher, call centre employee and probably more that I no longer remember! I have coached soccer, baseball, ice hockey, ball hockey and track and field and I am certified in all.
TE: Tell me about some of the community activities you’ve been involved with both in Pt. Douglas in in Winnipeg. I’ve seen you in the news paper at various times for other projects you have been a part of.
DK: Well…all that coaching and sporting activities I mentioned prior, as well as mini-soccer convenor for local community centre, hockey convenor for local community centre, mini-soccer director for all of NW Winnipeg. I’ve also been the President of the local community centre, which involved being all the other tasks which we had no volunteers for. Recently, I organized at 1400 person skating chain Guinness World Record Attempt. I was also a part of the GCWCC (General Council of Winnipeg Community Centres) Plan 2025 committee, which charted the growth and expansion from Winnipeg community centres to the year 2025. This process was very detailed, and even went in to the expected growth patterns of population througout the city. A number of the ideas that two of our mayoral contenders used this election were created during this process, and came out of the NW area which I was part of. Most notably, Judy’s (Wasylycia-Leis) plan to pay for shared positions for accounts and coordinators that would be shared between 3 centres, and Sam’s plan to bundle the community centre grant. Beyond that, that but my esteemed opposition, Mike Pagtakhan, has decided to use the growth of community centres as his main platform. Pretty much all of those were concurrent, or close enough to concurrent to make me wonder if I somehow had a time machine.
TE: I feel like a lazy slacker just reading that! What is your primary motivation for involvement in civic politics?
DK: Dealing with crime, street repair, community centre up-keep etc. should be things that are dealt with on a day-to-day basis, not just every four years when an election comes around. Rarely in our elections, and especially in this election, do you see anyone talking about new and exciting ideas. This concerns me. People should get a chance to see the great city we can once again become. New ideas are needed and I have some.
TE: Point Douglas seems to be a recent victim of poorly thought-out gerrymandering. When the new boundaries were created, a hodge-podge of wildly divergent socio-economic, cultural and political forces were drawn together. This Ward has the highest concentration of new Canadians in Winnipeg, a large number of working class and middle class families/home owners, and a sizeable low income/transient/unemployed and Aboriginal population. The needs of these groups are so vastly different, and all are important. How would you able to effectively and fairly represent them in City Hall?
DK: By simply being involved in and around our ward on a daily basis, speaking with and dealing with residents from all walks of life. Unlike many people I don’t shy away from anyone based on their looks or state of dress.
TE: The mandate of PoliticsRespun.org is to “Despin the political, and to respin it for social, political, and environmental justice.” You have a reputation for being a straight shooter who doesn’t pander or mince words. How will you lend you voice for everyone who lives and works in Point Douglas?
DK: People know that when they talk to me, they will get the truth, no matter how difficult that truth is to swallow. When I commit to bringing their issues forward, or when I tell them their issues are total bunk, they will know full-well where they stand. Unlike some people, I will not ignore anyone. One thing that a local provincial MLA (who will be running for federal office by time this article gets out) does is every single Thursday evening, is sit at a local restaurant, and invites constituents to come to speak to him about whatever it is that they want, in a comfortable, non-confrontational manner. I will strive to provide the same level of accessibility. Given our extremely diverse ward, if need be, I will schedule translators to be involved.
TE: The media has been caught up in the more sensational aspects of the 2010 mayorial race, the political cesspool in River Heights, and focusing on the colorful past of some of the candidates that are running for council. Point Douglas has been largely neglected this race, which is highly unfortunate because it stands to lose a lot of potential voters through a lack of awareness and apathy. How will you provide these people with information and resources that will allow them to become more involved and aware?
DK: Many great ideas for communicating with residents have been brought forward during this election. We need to capitalize on some of these ideas. Online streaming of meetings, robocalls to get information out there, virtual town halls and even Facebook and Twitter. While they many not have been perfectly executed, they give a very good idea of the potential we have for communicating with our residents. Imagine how many more people would “attend” an active transportation meeting if they could do it in the comfort of their own home! These new methods, coupled with traditional newsletters, partnered with our local community centres will encourage and engage residents in a more meaningful manner. Once people realize how much of an impact they can have on something as simple as a local street repair project, they will be greatly encouraged to take part in the political direction of our city as well.
TE: City council should be more than cutting ribbons and ceremonial shovel holding. What kind of access will members of your ward have to you once you’re elected?
DK: Not only will my office door always be open, but I will try to have at least one night per week where I am at a local place where residents can just drop by. I will also be setting up a Facebook site where residents can directly voice their concerns. Twitter or some other “instant access” page may be set up as well. I will continue to be involved in coaching sports and will always be available to our residents.
TE: PoliticsRespun.org is read by people from all over Canada, many of whom may not be intimate with Manitoba or Winnipeg. In a nutshell, what is the current political climate like here?
DK: Crazy bordering on not making sense? *laughs*
TE: Thank you for confirming my suspicions! I have been trying to suss out rhyme or reason since moving here in September, and thought I was getting soft in the head.
DK: Winnipeg has many areas that have a NDP councilor, a Conservative MLA, and Liberal MP or some other very odd combination of the three. We also have some die hard NDP, Liberal and Conservative areas that ALWAYS vote one way, regardless of issues, or who is running.We have Liberals that have NDP campaign workers! Much like my ward being the biggest mixed bag, our city ends up being such a mixed bag politically often it hinders the moving forward of major projects.
TE: If anyone wants to get a hold of you, or show their support, how can they contact you?
DK: I can be contacted in any of the following ways:
Phone: 204- 269-3071
TE: Dean, thanks for taking some time away from the home-stretch in your door-knocking and campaigning to bring me up to speed on Point Douglas, your platform, and some of the quirks of Winnipeg’s political stew. Best of luck to you on Wednesday.