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ANALYSIS: Economic report showcases frustration between Manitoba municipalities’ lack of co-operation

An aerial view of the Winnipeg skyline by the Red River on June 15, 2013 in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

It’s easy to understand Shelly Hart’s frustration.  The Mayor of East St. Paul inherited a long-festering dispute between the thriving bedroom community and the City of Winnipeg.

It’s all over a road that remains barricaded, linking the two communities.

The City closed Gateway and Raleigh Street in 2015 largely over fears a proposed 37-acre Walmart big-box development in East St. Paul would increase traffic in the northeast part of the city.

READ MORE: Winnipeg, surrounding municipalities losing billions due to non-cooperation: Report

The dispute ended up at the province’s Municipal Board and ultimately in court with the Manitoba Court of Appeal finding the Municipal Board needs to make a decision on whether the road can close.  We are still waiting.

Thankfully a road linking the two was constructed as part of the new $250-million Perimeter – Highway 59 redevelopment.  But the new road which runs beneath the Perimeter has never opened. It remains barricaded.

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“It’s exceedingly frustrating,” Hart says.

“We want to work with Winnipeg to open the road and there’s nothing but roadblocks.”

The developer proposing the Walmart has long withdrawn the plan and Hart, a former senior member of the Winnipeg Police Service, wants to get the road open for at least emergency vehicles and eventually to traffic.  “We have highway 59 to the east and Henderson to the west, this extension is needed.”

But this dispute is much bigger that East. St. Paul versus the City of Winnipeg.

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It is a metaphor for the fractured relationship between our city and many of the surrounding municipalities that make up the capital region.  As identified by consultant Robert Murray of Dentons LLP, the lack of collaboration and fragmented planning processes over water, land and in this case, a road, is “hindering the region’s ability to pursue economic opportunities vital to the region’s growth.”

Mayor Brian Bowman, tear down that barricade!

There has been a self-righteousness from successive Winnipeg administrations about the 17 surrounding communities that make up the region.  Murray’s report documents the challenges and opportunities in agriculture, transportation and manufacturing as we grow the region to one million people in the next 15 years.

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Other cities have done it, Murray writes: “Toronto, Montreal, Quebec, Edmonton and most recently Vancouver … For the Winnipeg Metro Region these is a unique opportunity for successful collaboration.”

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What does that mean?  Let me give you a life and death example.

The RM of MacDonald to the south and west of Winnipeg is exploding in growth along McGillivray Boulevard. It needs a fire hall to service the area.

Bridgewater in Winnipeg’s southwest needs a fire station, too, for the 50,000 residents there.

Murray’s report is the latest of several other reports that identified the need for governments in the region to work together on shared services, land use, water, sewer and transportation planning.

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My former University of Manitoba Professor, Paul Thomas, completed a 226-page report in October 2003 that should have been fully implemented by the former Doer government.

The former Premier declared victory by extending mosquito larviciding zones outside Winnipeg and failing to generate the will to implement a solution.

Premier Brian Pallister, at a luncheon with all the key Mayors, Councillors and Reeves Thursday, says there is a need for collaboration, not confrontation.  Agreed.

But if barricades don’t start to fall, he said, the Premier will tear them down himself by legislating changes.

Richard Cloutier is co-host of The News on CJOB from 2 p.m. – 6 p.m.

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