Municipal elected officials are a rare breed. They toil long hours at their paying jobs before heading off to council meetings or community events, often several nights each week. As the level of politician closest to the people, they live and work in the communities they are elected to represent, meaning there is no respite from elected life. Whether shopping for groceries, watching a ball game, or having dinner in a local restaurant, the municipal official is never truly considered off-limits by those who put him or her in that position.
It is the rarest of these individuals who thrives in this atmosphere and makes life-long friends wherever he goes; and who loves municipal politics so much he not only proudly served over 25 years on both sides of the desk, but represented – on two separate occasions – his district at the provincial level.
That person, of course, was George Harbottle.
Manitoba’s municipal community was saddened to hear of George’s passing on February 5, 2012 at the age of 72. Having only retired from politics in 2010, he kept in frequent touch with his municipal friends and remained an active member of his community. Having once said his reason for getting involved in politics was “the desire to make a difference wherever and whenever”, his decision to step down suggested he felt he had accomplished just that. At the time, George said “I feel the municipality is a better place than it was 12 years ago and now it’s time to move on.”
He began his career as the Village of Powerview’s administrator from 1963 to 1968, a job he returned to between 1983 and 1988. George went on to serve as Mayor of Powerview between 1968 and 1971. Later, he became the Reeve of the RM of Alexander, a post he held until 2010.
George also served on many committees over the years, including Director of the North East Agassiz Watershed Management Association, Chair of the Winnipeg River Planning District and Director with the Association des Municipalities Bilingues du Manitoba. He was also the recipient of a commemorative medal for community service from the Government of Canada.
Somewhere in all his municipal and volunteer experience George operated, managed and owned various local businesses, bringing them all success attained with his passion and enthusiasm for doing his best. An insurance broker for 45 years, George also worked as a controller for a major transportation firm and was a magistrate for Manitoba Justice.
George often referred to the AMM as ‘the envy of Canada’ and served two stints on the AMM Board as Eastern Rural Director – the first from 2003-2004 and again from 2007 until 2010.
In typical “George” fashion, he met his cancer diagnosis with a fighting spirit and a positive attitude. While accepting his AMM Honourary Life Award during the 13th Annual Convention in November, 2011, Harbottle recognized provincial cancer care organizations in both Winnipeg and Pinawa, saying “It is to their credit that I stand before you tonight”. But that was George – always giving credit where credit is due, and recognizing the positive impact others made upon his life. Rightfully, the person most often recognized was his loving wife Suzanne, whom he never failed to acknowledge in speeches or introductions.
Over 1,200 AMM delegates acknowledged George’s contribution to municipal politics that evening, and all too soon we find ourselves acknowledging him again. “As the Eastern Rural Director for the Association of Manitoba Municipalities on two separate occasions, George’s passion for municipal politics was evident in everything he did,” said President Doug Dobrowolski upon hearing of George’s passing. “George was a true champion for the underdog and it was extremely important to him that everyone was treated fairly. George became an AMM Honourary Life Member recently, and I can’t think of a more deserving recipient. He was also a true friend to everyone in our association and his voice and opinions are greatly missed around our board table.”
George is survived by his wife of 10 yrs. Suzanne, his daughter Bridgette (Richard) Lavoie, his son Vincent (Ilze) Harbottle, his grandchildren, Mark and David Lavoie and Vincent and Danielle Harbottle and his stepchildren, Samuel (Elrika) Nolte, Sandra (Gabrie) Van Eden, Rehann (Alida) Nolte, Hildegard (Rudi) Niemand and 10 grandchildren.
The following op-ed was written by President Doug Dobrowolski and was submitted to the Winnipeg Free Press on January 27, 2012. It was printed in the January 28, 2012 issue with slight modifications. I has also been distributed to all rural Manitoba print media.
Many Manitobans have an opinion about public infrastructure, with good reason: they start their days using municipal streets, roads, and sidewalks to get to work or school, and end them by visiting community centres to access recreation and leisure opportunities. Much of this infrastructure is in poor condition, yet according to The Economist, Canadian municipalities “lack both money and powers” to address growing infrastructure needs. This leading international publication highlighted the fact that municipalities in Canada “get only eight cents out of every tax dollar”, with the majority of municipal revenue coming from property taxes. With municipal budgets being squeezed tighter each year, some municipalities, like the City of Brandon, are looking at implementing significant tax increases this year just to keep up.
The Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM) conducted a poll recently to find out what Manitobans think the priorities of the new provincial government should be over the next four years. When asked which of five areas should benefit if the provincial government were to dedicate additional revenues from the P.S.T. to a specific purpose, 44 per cent of respondents indicated they would dedicate these funds to community infrastructure improvement—well ahead of the numbers recorded in favour of health care (27 per cent) and education (11 per cent).
Respondents were further asked if they would support a one-cent Municipal Sales Tax on the condition that these funds would be used only for infrastructure renewal projects. 64 per cent of Manitobans supported this idea—an increase of 10 per cent from 2008, when the same question was asked in a similar poll.
What these numbers really illustrate is that people understand the connection between infrastructure funding and a healthy, prosperous community. They also show that citizens understand the increasing demands they are putting on their local governments. Today, Manitobans naturally and rightfully demand not only essential services like snow clearing and garbage collection, but infrastructure like multi-use recreation facilities. These amenities are important for health, quality of life and sense of community.
Often, facilities that contribute to our health and wellness—and thus reduce health care costs —must take a back seat to the infrastructure we don’t see, like crumbling water and sewer lines. A recent Forbes article refers to infrastructure as “every system under and above ground that allows us to enjoy this thing we call modern civilization. Without well-functioning infrastructure, we’d have nothing even approaching a first world existence.” However, new infrastructure is impossible to achieve when the existing infrastructure is anything but well-functioning. In fact, it is breaking down as fast as it can be repaired.
In Gimli, for example, the sewer and water systems were built in 1957, and are now costing taxpayers $100,000 a year just to be patched up. Mayor Lynn Greenberg is quick to note Gimli has been fortunate to receive federal and provincial funding for both new and aging infrastructure in the past, but there remains a considerable laundry list of needs in the area.
“Waterline replacement will be a $10M job, sewer line renewal is an $833,000 job, a regional water system will total $34 million, and we still owe almost $8 million on our sewage treatment facility that will mature in 2032,” stated Greenberg. “Where are we going to get the money for all this?”
Other municipalities have pressing issues as well.
“Our RM is 640 square miles and we have many citizens without access to rural water,” says Reeve Kam Blight of the RM of Portage la Prairie. “Without access to safe drinking water, quality of life goes downhill.”
I heard these examples and dozens more last summer while on a tour of Manitoba communities as part of the AMM’s Putting Communities First campaign. They illustrate why the AMM has been calling for a greater portion of revenue from the government to be dedicated solely to municipal infrastructure. This money would generate millions of dollars per year to be shared directly with Manitoba’s 197 municipalities. There is no doubt revenue over and above existing levels would be a positive step forward in addressing Manitoba’s estimated $11 billion infrastructure deficit, as councils would be able to address the specific infrastructure needs of their communities.
Premier Greg Selinger, whose party pledged millions of dollars to health care during last fall’s provincial election campaign, told delegates at the AMM Annual Convention in November that he would not consider a Municipal Sales Tax. Yet as Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz asked just days before the election:
“What’s the point of investing more money into health care if ambulances can’t navigate our roads?”
More and more Manitobans show that they are in favour of dedicated funding to solve infrastructure priorities. Greater funding in this area would generate much-needed economic spin-offs, as well. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities says for every $1 invested in local infrastructure, federal, provincial and territorial governments receive a combined 35 cents, mainly through new income and sales tax.
In other words, infrastructure spending is not a drain—it is an investment that will help communities. And according to the AMM’s poll, 9 out of 10 Manitobans agree that our communities need help.
The AMM is involved with an exciting opportunity upcoming in October, 2012. We have signed on as an Affiliate Partner of Centrallia, a highly successful global business forum.
Centrallia will bring together more than 600 business leaders from more than 40 world economic regions to Winnipeg from October 10-12. Called “North America’s global business matchmaking forum”, Centrallia attracts hundreds of business decision-makers from around the world and strategically matches them in a series of one-on-one meetings. By connecting small to medium sized companies with others to find common opportunity, Manitoba businesses can promote their products and services internationally, while international businesses can seek expansion into Manitoba.
Joe Masi, AMM Executive Director, says “this presents an enormous opportunity for municipalities interested in pursuing economic growth in your region. This event is not only ground-breaking, but is an extremely efficient way to make important connections that can move your municipality forward. The possibilities are endless.”
Participants will have access to international trade experts, take part in up to 14 pre-qualified meetings based on selection criteria you supply (which is why the event is sometimes called “speed-dating for business”), enjoy numerous additional networking opportunities outside of the regular meeting schedule, and hear a keynote address by bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell, whose books include Blink, The Tipping Point, and Outliers: The Story of Success.
Take it from Eileen Clarke, AMM Vice-President, Mayor of the Town of Gladstone and business owner: “These types of events are so huge for the province,” she says.
Register early to ensure your place at the event, as registration is limited. More information can be found at Centrallia’s official website at www.centrallia.com.
Local business leaders, including Bruce Arnason, Gerry Hammond, Dave Hammond and Judy Arnason - take part in a discussion about infrastructure in Gimli.
Stop number two of the AMM President’s Tour of Manitoba – part of the Putting Communities First Campaign – was the Interlake community of Gimli, nestled on the shores of Lake Winnipeg. Not surprisingly, the health of the Lake was top of mind for the group which was largely comprised of local business owners.
“Every municipality should focus on water and drainage because it all ends up in Lake Winnipeg,” said Roy Eyjolfson, representing Evergreen Basic Needs. “You’ve got a guy living in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, and what goes down his sink and flushes down his toilet ends up in Lake Winnipeg.” MLA for Gimli, Peter Bjornson, agreed. “There is no particular sector responsible for the health of the Lake. All Manitobans are responsible for the health of the Lake,” he said. Former councillor Bill Barlow applauded both the NDP and the PCs for coming together to pass the Save Lake Winnipeg Act – “demonstrating a very strong commitment by both parties to deal with the Lake Winnipeg story” – it has resulted in limited success, according to some, like local developer Bruce Arnason. “The problem is the repeated damage to roads and waterfront property due to flooding. What seems to be missing are solutions to the problem.”
Another hot topic for the Interlake group was economic development and its partner, affordable housing. Michael Lazer, General Manager of the Lakeview Inn noted “I’d love to hook up with programs through Red River Community College to train people to move here to work in the industry, but I have no place to put them,” he said. Local realtor Judy Arnason agreed, adding “We need affordable housing…our population is probably the oldest in Manitoba,” she estimated.
Recreation facilities are also sorely needed in the area, according to a group called the Eastern Interlake Multiplex Steering Committee. The group’s representative, Eric Stefanson, focussed on the need for community wellness. “I think it is imperative for the province and the federal government to take a good look at recreation. Health care costs are going up and up, but what are we doing to help municipalities fund these projects? We need them to attract people to the area and build a healthy community.”
Mayor of Gimli, Lynn Greenberg was quick to note Gimli has enjoyed success regardless of what political party is in office. “We have been fortunate. We’ve received $3.5 million from the Municipal Rural Infrastructure Fund, $6.5 million from the Manitoba Water Services Board…we’ve had cooperation in the past, but we need cooperation in the future to keep going,” cautioned the Mayor before presenting a considerable laundry list of needs in the area. “Waterline replacement will be a $10M job, sewer line renewal is an $833,000 job, a regional water system will total $34 million, and we still owe almost $8 million on our sewage treatment facility that will mature in 2032,” stated Greenberg. “Where are we going to get the money for all this?”
Gimli Public Works staff show Mayor Lynn Greenberg, President Doug Dobrowolski, Urban Vice-President Eileen Clarke and Executive Director Joe Masi a sewerline replacement they are working on.
The community’s Aspen Park subdivision alone, which the group toured in a “field trip” immediately following the meeting, requires an additional $500 thousand investment in sewer line renewal. “Our sewer and water systems were built in 1957, and are costing us $100,000 per year just for patching and repairing,” explained Greenberg. (In fact, the Public Works staff on the site talked about a day where they responded to eight water line breaks!)
According to Bjornson, “I think clearly we (the NDP government) have been putting communities first through partnerships, and partnerships are key.” Bjornson also cited the current government’s reduction of property taxes on education as freeing up space on the tax bill for some municipalities to dedicate to infrastructure. However, municipalities are still unable to raise sufficient dollars with only one source of revenue, and the division of funds should be more equitable according to Greenberg. “Funding formulas for infrastructure have always been shared equally on a one-third basis. I’d like to see the formula change to something more like 45% federal, 37% provincial, and 18% municipal.”
MLA for Lakeside, Ralph Eichler, (who was accompanied by PC candidate for Gimli, Jeff Wharton) acknowledged the infrastructure deficit facing communities and the need to work with municipalities but would not commit to new funding until “we have a look at the books”. However, he complimented the AMM on the Putting Communities First initiative. “I think the Putting Communities First program is a great program…which I believe will set the pace for the October 4 election.”
So do we.
The AMM kicked off a President’s Tour of Manitoba yesterday in Dauphin, representing yet another spoke in the AMM’s “Putting Communities First” wheel. The initiative, launched in June as a precursor to October’s provincial election, has so far resulted in well over 100 Manitoba municipalities passing resolutions of council calling on all parties to commit a portion of the provincial sales tax collected by the provincial government to municipal infrastructure.
The purpose of the President’s Tour is to bring the campaign – along with the AMM’s President, Doug Dobrowolski – to various communities across the province to hear first-hand some of the most pressing infrastructure issues in those communities. The guests – municipal officials, community leaders, and of course, candidates in the upcoming election – all had something to say and various ideas as to what the major issues are.
Facilitated by CJOB radio’s News Director, Richard Cloutier (who took full advantage of the opportunity to head out to Dauphin early in the day to bring his live show – Richard
President Doug Dobrowolski with Richard Cloutier, News Director for CJOB
Cloutier Reports – to the area even before the meeting began), the group was asked to “focus like a laser on this issue”. And they certainly did. Some cited worry about the future: “My concerns are for the future generations and the money they will need to sustain our infrastructure,” (Lyle Stokotelny, Superintendent of Operations, City of Dauphin) while others referred to the past: “My grandfather built roads that were adequate; my Dad upgraded them; and now my council is upgrading them again.” (Reeve Dennis Forbes, RM of Dauphin)
Still others alluded to the need for bricks and mortar infrastructure before beautification projects: “You can improve the community by putting things above ground – like flowers and parks – but if what you have below the ground is crumbling, it’s no use.” (Bill Hart, Dauphin Neighbourhood Renewal)
Not surprisingly in the Parkland area of the province, cellular service and high speed internet were on top of the list of concerns. “I was talking to a large producer yesterday who said he was ready to throw his cell phone in the header of his combine. We need cell service as much – or more – as anyone else,” said Ron Hushirchuk, former councillor, RM of Dauphin. Others were more tongue in cheek – “You can turn your computer on, perform your search and go and have supper. That’s what we call ‘high speed’ in the Village of Winnipegosis” joked Larry Pascal. But there is no doubt connectivity is a huge issue right across rural Manitoba, one that MLA for the Dauphin and Minister of Agriculture, Stan Struthers, readily admitted. “We want every Manitoban to have access” he said, while acknowledging the level of service provided is spotty at best.
Stu Briese, MLA for Ste. Rose, and Stan Struthers, MLA for Dauphin and Minister of Agriculture
Other questions resulted in verbal sparring between Struthers and Stu Briese, Progressive Conservative MLA for Ste. Rose, who accompanied the candidate for Dauphin, Lloyd McKinney to the meeting. When asked if the PCs would commit to a PST rebate for municipalities, Briese cited a private members bill he put forward in 2009 and noted leader Hugh McFadyen recently expressed interest in the idea of a rebate. Struthers – openly admitting his government has not committed to a rebate – shot back with that the PCs wanted the government to cut the budget, and stressed it is impossible to cut a budget and provide a rebate at the same time.
One thing everyone agreed on is the need for all three orders of government to work together. “We’re going to have a provincial government that’s going to be faced with a huge bill when it comes to infrastructure,” said Struthers, “and we can’t do it alone. When three levels of government get together to do a job, we see good things happen. Everybody has to be at the table.”
Dauphin Mayor Eric Irwin was even more succinct: “We need to turn to the senior levels of government because they get 92% of the money.”
While many other comments about the state of local infrastructure were heard, it wasn’t all negative. Cloutier asked for examples of positive infrastructure, and Mayor Irwin was quick to point out the Parkland Recreation Complex (where the meeting was held) as a perfect example. The facility has enabled the community to host large events like the Royal Bank Cup, generating millions in revenue and promoting tourism. “We have to have facilities like this in order to attract people, especially young families, to live here.”
The meeting took place at the Parkland Rec Complex - cited by Mayor Eric Irwin as an example of good community infrastructure.
Both parties represented – the PC’s and the NDP – acknowledged the infrastructure deficit exists as does the need to find ways to address it. Neither was open to raising taxes, however, and Dauphin CAO Brad Collett agreed. “Let’s say you raise the taxes. Well now you have money to fix your infrastructure, but no one who wants to pay high taxes. People start leaving your community…it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
While the result of October’s election is anything but a self-fulfilling prophecy, Richard Cloutier opened the meeting by promising “what you say here will be asked of those who want to be premier of this province. Trust me on that.” After describing his experience travelling to Dauphin – “My impression is this part of the country is indeed God’s country, but you are taking your life in your hand driving on some of these roads” – there is no doubt he will be true to his word.
Next stop – Gimli.
A crew tops up the main 18th Street dike protecting Brandon from the rising Assiniboine River. Photo credit: John Woods, Canadian Press
How things have changed. A few weeks ago, the Red River was predicted to crest in Winnipeg sometime during the first week in May and then, hopefully, Manitobans would see thefloodwaters we have battled all spring begin to recede. However, an unexpected winter storm at the end of April combined with significant rainfall have made the situation much more dire than any of the predictions to date.
Compounding the problems in flood-affected communities is an entirely preventable complication – curious onlookers. At best, they are a nuisance, getting in the way of flood-fighting efforts and slowing progress down for workers and volunteers. At worst, they pose a threat to themselves and to those who have to rescue them from the rushing waters should they get into trouble.
Local news stories illustrate how bad the situation has become. Back at the end of March, in “Note to flood gawkers: please stay at home”, the Winnipeg Free Press interviewed a Lockport resident who pleaded with Sunday drivers and ice-jam gawkers to stay home unless they were there to help in the flood fighting efforts. “It’s very frustrating trying to get from point A to point B,” the resident said, adding all the sightseers out for a drive and a look at the ice jams on the Red were jamming up flood-relief efforts.
Fast-forward to May 9, and the problem has reached much greater proportions. In the National Post article “Q&A: Record flooding in Brandon, Manitoba”, the City Clerk and director of emergency public information, Con Arvisais, said residents were treating the flood like a Saturday night at the movies. “People were walking on the dikes themselves just to see the high water levels. We’re talking grown-ups, we’re talking kids. Very, very scary. We also have problems with people in cars going up and down our main thoroughfares close to the river. It’s just pandemonium as far as traffic,” explained Arvisais.
The problem is so big the contractor whose heavy equipment is working to build up dikes asked the City to do something about it because it wasn’t safe for them to even operate their equipment. So, the City invoked a local state of emergency to deal with the “flood tourists”. “People are just stopping, getting out of their vehicle, walking to the side, taking pictures. It’s just insane,” said Arvisais. “So with the emergency powers our police are able to get these folks to move along. We’re telling people just simply: stay away.”
While the City can actually fine people up to $50,000, Arvisais stressed the ability to deliver the message quickly and forcefully is key. “It’s the ability now to approach the people and say, “Hey we’ve got to ask you to leave here. We’re not arresting people.”
Although it is human nature for people want to see that which is drastic and unprecedented, the time for gawking is over. Most internet news sites have webcams to view the flooding without hampering the efforts of the many, many people who are working to keep property – and people – safe. And while there is no shortage of pictures and videos to view safely online, if one is curious, perhaps the best way to see the flood fight firsthand is to join it. Call your municipal office and ask where your help is needed.
Welcome to the new Association of Manitoba Municipalities Blog.
The word “blog’ comes from the term “web log.’ A blog is actually a web page or site that’s a combination between an online journal and an open forum. The difference between a blog and a website is basically this: a blog invites feedback.
This blog represents a new way to communicate with our members and others. In just a few years, blogs have become very popular – in fact, according to some sources, there are over 60 million blogs.
Why is the AMM adding another blog to the “blogosphere”? There are a few reasons:
- To share stories, articles, ideas and news with our members, and beyond.
- To add a new and exciting communication tool to our toolbox.
- To allow our members to add their two cents to our comments and ideas.
- To open the lines of communication on a daily basis.
In most cases, our blog entries will be short and might include photos or links. Sometimes they will be longer, sometimes they will be about policy issues and other times about AMM events and other “happenings”, and they will be posted by various AMM staff. We promise to post frequently, focus on a variety of relevant topics, and encourage open discussion.
A blog is informal and direct. It is collaborative, it is fresh, it costs nothing to maintain, and it is part of a mainstream social media movement that – like it or not – is here to stay.
The Association of Manitoba Municipalities identifies and addresses the needs and concerns of its members in order to achieve strong and effective municipal government.