A few predictions for the coming year in this colder-than-Mars city of Winnipeg …
There will be less excitement in the Manitoba political arena this year than last. Last year brought a new leader to one of the three major political parties when the refreshingly youthful Rana Bokhari took hold of the Liberal reins. Meanwhile the Green Party’s refreshingly youthful leader James Beddome stepped aside and was replaced with baby boomer Alain Landry. The biggest story, however, was the PST increase and all the related drama. We will see nothing like that this year.
Premier Greg Selinger has committed to no “major” tax increases in 2014. We can believe him this time. After the debilitating drop in popularity following last year’s tax increase, we will only see smaller increases this year — higher fees, bracket creep, that kind of thing. Maybe an increase in business taxes.
So we won’t see a big tax increase, but there will be one other commitment broken: that to balance the budget. The language from the government has been trending in this direction for the past year: We will balance the budget by 2016. We will probably balance the budget. We will do our best to balance the budget but not if it requires foolish or short sighted cuts. Now that the notion that a balanced budget may be foolish or reckless has been tabled, it’s a small step to say that we won’t balance the budget because it will require reckless cuts to spending.
That step will come this year as it becomes increasing apparent that a balanced budget by 2016 is not going to happen. This will probably happen in April as the next budget is unveiled, giving the government a year and a half to drive home its message that fiscal responsibility is irresponsible.
Civic politics will more than make up for the lack of excitement in provincial politics. This is of course an election year, and this election promises far more drama than the snooze-fest four years ago. For starters, city hall has turned into an A&E reality TV show with name calling, scandals, people getting fired (sometimes without explanation), strange real estate transactions, etc. The mayor looks vulnerable and the dingos have emerged from the bushes to take a bite. As of Jan. 1 there were six or so potential challengers for the mayor’s job. Some will drop out, others may emerge, and it’s bound to be a testy affair.
I personally believe that Gordon Sinclair’s big crystal balls may be on to something. Sam Katz will indeed run again. The more challengers there are in the ring the better his odds of winning because as an incumbent mayor he will automatically draw a significant vote. It’s the “devil you know” effect. Most of the other guys will split the larger “anyone but Katz” vote leaving the door open for Sam.
My prediction is that the door will not open quite wide enough, and that Judy Wasylycia-Leis will be our new mayor by the end of the year. Judy is not like those other contestants. She has that significant NDP support without the tarnish of the PST increase that her former provincial colleagues have to deal with. Moreover she can actually claim to be fiscally prudent, given that the current mayor has increased property taxes more than she said she would in the last campaign. It’s a winning combination for our future mayor, JWL.
I am sorry, I am not as optimistic as John Dobbin. The recent improved play of the Winnipeg Jets and their 3 game win streak (as of this writing) give us encouragement, but they are too far back and won’t quite be able to fight their way above the line. Missing the playoffs will mean the end of Coach Noel’s job. He’s had three years to get us into the playoffs, and if he can’t do it this year then he’s done. Hey, I don’t make the rules, that’s just hockey.
The Blue Bombers won’t fare much better. The addition of the Ottawa
Rod Red Blacks will equalize the competitiveness of the league somewhat, but the Blue still have much rebuilding to do. My big crystal ball calls for 6 wins in 2014, which will not be enough to make the playoffs in the 5 team West Division.
We know that H&M is coming to town in 2014, but who else is coming? Winnipeg’s self worth is measured largely by what retail outlets we are able to attract, so this is a very important question.
The easy one first: Zara is going to announce they’re coming to Winnipeg. Where? Maybe in the Seasons Of Tuxedo development or the Polo Park area, but maybe in St.Vital Mall if Sears announces they’re closing that store.
Will Sears close the St.Vital store? The flagship Polo Park location is safe, but the troubled retailer will cut back by closing their Garden City store at least, and possibly one more: either Kildonan Place or St.Vital. The St.Vital location may make more sense in terms of location and cost. One location is the west half of Winnipeg and one in the east probably makes sense for Sears. Although … Sears may be bought out by another retailer complicating matters further.
Here’s where I go a little farther out on the limb: HBC will announce the closure of the historic downtown store. This massive blow to downtown Winnipeg will be quickly soothed when Simons announces they will move in and take over part of the building. According to a local forum member, the Quebec chain Simons is actively looking for Space in the Winnipeg market. They may find it downtown. I have to admit I have more confidence in the first part of this prediction than the second. After all, what retail outlet in its right mind would open up in a cavernous building in downtown Winnipeg where another established business has failed? Also, Simons only just recently opened its first location outside of Quebec (in Edmonton). Why would it pick Winnipeg as its next target over Calgary, Vancouver, Toronto or Ottawa? Still … this is my prediction.