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Portage and Main, heating modernization, tree-planting among priorities for mayoral candidates Monday

A sign marks the corner of Portage Avenue and Main Street in Winnipeg. Shane Gibson/Global News

Rana Bokhari says if she’s elected mayor, Winnipeg’s most iconic intersection will finally open back up.

“The barriers are already coming down,” Bokhari said Monday about the famous intersection of Portage Avenue and Main Street. “According to engineering reports, the barriers are in the way of major repairs needed to the underground concourse.

“Once they are down, they will not go back up.”

Bokhari said the lack of pedestrian access at Portage and Main is a human rights issue, as it impacts Winnipeggers with disabilities, and the only benefit to keeping the barriers up is a minor one for drivers only.

“There was only one major argument (against) bringing down the barriers, and that was a 33-second traffic slow-down,” she said.

“Placing people in vehicles above all other types of commuters should not be the reason we keep the intersection closed. People should be able to travel through our famous intersection whether they walk, bus, bike or drive.”

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Portage and Main has long been a contentious issue in Winnipeg, with current Mayor Brian Bowman holding a 2018 plebiscite on opening the intersection to pedestrian crossings.

While Bowman — who had previously campaigned on opening up Portage and Main — said at the time he was disappointed in the results of the vote, which saw a decisive ‘no’ victory, he said he would respect the results and keep the intersection open solely to vehicle traffic.

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Candidate Shaun Loney announced Monday that, if elected, he intends to modernize the city’s water and waste department by switching 40,000 homes and businesses from natural gas to electric heat pumps by 2030.

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Loney, who said he switched to a geothermal heat pump in his own home more than a decade ago, said the shift will help Winnipeggers save on energy bills and reduce emissions.

“City hall has been acting on the wrong assumption that switching to heat pumps is a financial burden. The opposite is true. We just need some vision and new financing tools to reduce or eliminate upfront costs like we already do with water and natural gas service,” he said.

Loney said he would rename Winnipeg Water and Waste to “Winnipeg Water, Waste and Heat,” and install underground loops for geothermal heat pumps, charging a monthly fee to access the loop.

“A modest monthly fee will be applied to recover installation costs over time. This will feel very similar to how Manitoba Hydro’s Centra Gas subsidiary handles the cost of natural gas service right now,” he said.

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Mayoral hopeful Jenny Motkaluk is calling for the reversal of a “dangerous decline” in the trees that form Winnipeg’s urban forest.

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She announced Monday that, if elected mayor, she aims to have two trees planted for each one the city has lost in recent years, until an estimated backlog of 14,500 missing trees has been eliminated.

“Our tree-lined streets and avenues, our magnificent parks and boulevards, those are an essential characteristic of Winnipeg,” Motkaluk said.

“Nice homes make nice neighbourhoods and nice neighbourhoods deserve plenty of nice strong healthy trees. I am committed to averting this catastrophe, preserving our urban forest and maintaining our quality of life.”

Motkaluk said that would involve planting around 11,000 trees per year, on top of upgrades to tree pruning practices, as well as including tree protection provisions when it comes to city-issued construction permits.

Winnipeggers go to the polls Oct. 26.

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