With long time Councillor Dan Vandal moving on to bigger and better things, the race to represent St. Boniface at Winnipeg city hall is wide open. Though four people are running, one — Matt Allard — is the clear favourite. Who are the other three, and what are their ideas? I decided to interview a couple of them to find out.
Introducing Paul Najda, candidate for council in St. Boniface:
Around This Town: Thank you for meeting with me here at the McDonald’s on Goulet.
Paul Najda: No problem. My pleasure.
ATT: What made you decide to run for council?
PN: About 4-5 years ago council made stupid decisions. The one the really got to me was hiring an outfit from Vancouver to bring over a couple of falcons to go after seagulls at Brady Landfill. I couldn’t believe that they would actually spend over $150,000 for them to do that over, not just a summer I guess, but spring, summer, and into the fall. It was a sheer waste of money because at that time there were some problems with shelters for women. Spend the money on something useful rather than harassing wildlife that is only doing what nature intended them to do, in other words eat up garbage that humans leave behind. So they’re doing us a favour – they’re cutting down on greenhouse gasses. So, pure waste of money.
When I heard about that I even phoned the local councillor Dan Vandal. Of course you never get to talk to him, you talk to the assistant, and I asked the assistant “What’s going on? Is this some kind of April’s Fools joke by city council, that they actually consider that as an actuality? It’s ridiculous. What a sheer waste of money, and they’re doing it to this day. So, they must have spent a good half million dollars, if nothing else to go to road construction, so that was probably the most offensive thing that …
ATT: That was the trigger
PN: Ya, and then after that it was just one thing after another: giving themselves a $40,000 raise in their ward allowance? Absolutely preposterous. $4000 would have been more than adequate. 14 would have been ridiculous. $40,000? For each councillor including the mayor? Absolute waste of money again. So that got me riled up again.
ATT: OK. Thank you.
PN: That came on the heals … when my wife and I go to Selkirk, which we do a few times a year, and out of serendipity or fate, picked up a Selkrik paper and right on the front page, the councillors and the mayor are taking a 5% cut in pay, after these guys in Winnipeg give themselves a $40,000 raise. So I whipped off a letter to the editor but it obviously didn’t do very much, so that’s why I say in my thing [pointing to his pamphlet], if I’m elected, the first thing I’m going to do is take a cut in my pay. I’m going to put my money where my mouth is.
Judy Wasylycia-Leis, not even mayor and she’s raising our taxes a minimum 2%. Have a look at the books first! See where the money’s spent. Cut back on the $40,000 allowance for one thing. I believe it costs the city $800,000 to do all that, given themselves this raise. $800,000 already. How many miles of road can you build with that?
ATT: So you think it’s possible to fix our infrastructure without raising taxes?
PN: Definitely! Last week I believe, Selinger comes on TV and he’s bragging about all this infrastructure stuff that he’s doing, building bridges, building new highways and so on throughout the province, and he claims that it’s all due to that extra 1% that they tacked on to the provincial sales tax. Well my idea is, that’s great that you’re doing that, but most of that tax comes from Winnipeg. There are not quite 1 million people here, but over 700,000 for sure, and most of the sales tax comes from Winnipeg. Why don’t we get a share of that pie? He’s doing that so it makes him look good, he wants to get elected next time around, he’s going to say ‘look at all the roads and all the bridges we built’, at our expense of course. So, why don’t we get at least half of that so that we can put money towards that and we don’t have to raise taxes in that case.
ATT: Where do you stand on rapid transit? Do we complete phase 2 BRT as it’s currently planned? Do we rethink it? Do we scrap it entirely?
PN: The maddening thing about that — we could have had that 50-60 years ago. We could have had that in the 60s, never mind in 2014.
ATT: So what do we do at this point?
PN: We are an overgrown cow town. We might as well drive cattle down Portage and Main to the stock yards that we used to have over here, like in the old western movies. That’s what Winnipeg is. We’re so far behind the times it’s ridiculous. Look at the …
ATT: So we build rapid transit?
PN: To do it properly would be almost an impossibility. To get good rapid transit, you don’t want it to go where regular traffic goes. That defeats the purpose. Like right now it goes from the University of Winnipeg, through downtown, whether it’s rush hour or 2:00 in the morning. They go through there, then over here [pointing around behind him] to this dedicated roadway. That’s how it should be all the way – dedicated roadway. Then it becomes rapid transit. Not part this and part that. A better solution might be … right now if you want to continue it, you have to clear out all kinds of buildings, buy up all kinds of properties, expropriation or whatever, and get dedicated lanes for that. And I understand that even this new roadway that they’re building is starting to fall apart. It’s not even three year’s old for heaven’s sake.
ATT: Oh, is it?
PN: What kind of construction are we doing? So … the new one — the addition that they want to do to the University of Manitoba from Jubilee – is going to run across some empty land almost, they’re called wetlands or marshlands or whatever, and why do they do it? Because they’re hoping that future development is going to pop up and they’ll be making use of that. In the mean time what do you do for all the regular people that want it right now? Students or elderly people, or anyone else that wants to take that route? And to go down Pembina Highway would be ridiculous, again in the flow of regular traffic, defeats the purpose. Sure you can make them diamond lanes and this and that, but that doesn’t make it any more rapid I don’t think.
PN: And when I said we could have this done in the 50s or 60s, that was when Stephen Juba was mayor and he wanted a monorail. Of course that was defeated because we don’t have a monorial, but that could have been built at probably a fraction the cost of this stupid bus thing.
ATT: Many new subdivisions are being developed or planned, including, here in St.Boniface, Sage Creek, Precinct K and Dawson Trail. Do you think that the pace of this growth is sustainable, or do we need to put a lid on new development?
PN: I suspect the reason why all this development has been done, and into the future, is because Sam Katz had all these ties with land developers. So, he’s doing them a favour, not us or anybody else.
ATT: So do you think this growth will stop or slow down now that he’s out of office?
PN: They’re always pushing for growth. Growth in this, growth in that. It probably won’t stop, because the land developers already bought the land, the plans are in the works. I’m not sure what kind of approvals they’ve got, but it’s kind of ridiculous. I can see the day when you can’t tell where Selkirk ends and Winnipeg ends because the two will be so close together they will intertwine.
ATT: Do you think we should focus more on encouraging infill development? Build up instead of out?
PN: Well, you could probably build up… but um … their main idea is to do that downtown, and get more people living downtown, but we don’t have any schools downtown to support. You could probably do that for older people, retired people who can afford a condo or an apartment there, but for those that have kids, are you going to bus them? Right now there’s only one school that I can think of that’s downtown and that’s the one on Isabel or Balmoral.
ATT: Alright, what do you think of the current Community Committee process at city hall. Do you think it’s working or does it need to be fixed?
PN: We don’t know much about that group so I can’t make any comment.
ATT: OK, that’s fair.
So I hear that you and your wife enjoy drag racing. Are there any other interesting hobbies that you guys are involved with?
PN: Well, we’re big fans of NHRA drag racing, but as a close relative we enjoy NASCAR racing as well.
ATT: Do you go to Winnipeg Speedway and watch the races there?
PN: No. We used to do that in our younger times, but not anymore. What I really hated is, their races are in the middle of the week, and when I work, it used to be Tuesday night, and by the time I got back home it’s almost midnight, and I’ve got to get up really early and I work in Selkirk and I have to drive 25 minutes to Selkirk. So we kind of got away from there.
And the other thing I didn’t like is, everything there is dirt. Obviously dirt track racing, but the parking lot is dirt, so if it rained and you park there, for at least 5 miles you’re throwing up mud and the people behind you didn’t really appreciate that.
Myself, if I was the owner of that, I would probably tie it in with Morris and have it out at the stampede grounds there. That would be ideal.
ATT: Some people feel that Provencher Boulevard could be another Corydon-like area. Is there anything you can do to increase the vitality of Provencher and attract more shops and stores?
PN: No. Basically it’s just the first couple blocks from Taché going east. I think it’s two blocks. After that, what have you got? You’ve got Provencher Park, and then it’s residential, and after that, once you get past Des Meurons, what have you got? Ah .. you’ve got that building, that’s called … it’s got a few businesses ..
ATT: The Nicolette …
PN: There you go, except that’s about a block away. Ya. So, I don’t see it at anytime being anything like Corydon which has several blocks like that, dedicated restaurants, specialty shops, and whatever.
Gail (Paul’s wife): I don’t know if I would want it to be.
PN: I know that want to keep the character but it’s too short of a distance to do that. And you can’t even go on Taché in both directions because again there’s a park, a bunch of highways coming up, and a hospital and stuff like that, and then you get into Norwood which probably doesn’t count as Old St. Boniface anymore.
ATT: Photo radar: good, bad, or in-between?
PN: Well, are you talking about red light cameras too or just photo radar?
PN: Both… Myself, it looks like they’re both here to stay. I think the city has realized they can make some money out of it and I guess the province too because a lot of this falls under the highway traffic act, so it’s a good source of income for them. I don’t know what share the city gets out of that.
It could be made more fair, there’s no doubt about it. The vehicle is parked way off to the side and they’re shooting at a ridiculous angle to catch the speeders, I don’t think they’re really giving the drivers a fair chance, because if you know about vectors, you have a right angle … um, the speed going this way is not the same as going this way [drawing vectors on the table with his finger], but that’s what they’re doing – they’re getting the speed this way as opposed to doing it in a straight line.
ATT: Dan Vandal opposed parking meters on residential streets near the St. Boniface hospital. Do you agree with that? Will you continue to oppose that?
PN: They’ve obviously done it around the Health Sciences Centre and, in the city’s grab for cash, I can see them wanting to do that in St. Boniface. Myself, I would be against it. They’ve already got the parking meters on Taché, and even the parking lots around the hospital have parking meters right in the lot itself. As long as the traffic enforcement people are there on a regular basis, so if you limit the time to 2 hours in that area, with the kind of enforcement that’s going on, that’s more than adequate. You don’t need any more.
ATT: Alright. Openness and transparency have been a big theme in this election. Are there a couple of concrete things that you can do to …
PN: [shaking head] I don’t like those terms, because whether it’s Obama running for president, which he’s not doing any more, but when he was, or the new mayor of New York City, or the new mayor of LA, or what’s happening over here, everybody is using that word. It’s just a catch phrase like saying “at the end of the day”. I don’t care if it’s the end of the day. I don’t care about your transparency and efficiencies. I’ll put it simply. I’ll simply say “let’s cut the crap at city hall!” That’s something that everybody will understand. There’s too much crap going on there. Let’s cut that out.
ATT: Alright …
PN: But what really irks me is that across the city, I believe $800,000 a year to … for the release of information that press wants, private citizens want, whoever wants … why should the city be paying for that? They got the staff there of all kinds of managers, articles staff … that should be part of their job. Do that. Somebody wants information? Get one of the secretaries, go there, pick up the information, photocopy it, give it to the guy. Why should it cost extra money for that? That’s another $800,000 per year the city could save, so don’t tell me you have to raise taxes. Look for all the crap that’s going on in the city and you’ll be getting more than enough to make up for a 2% tax increase and more.
ATT: have any of the mayoral candidates made an impression on you? Is there anyone you like in particular for mayor?
PN: Well, they all seem to have some funny agendas. It’s more about who I don’t like than who I do like. So it gonna be the lesser of, what do we have, seven candidates? It’s gonna be the lesser of seven evils that I think my wife and I will be voting for.
And definitely not for someone who blindly is going to say I’m going to raise taxes right off the bat. If Judy is such a staunch NDP supporter, why doesn’t she get Greg Selinger to get us a share of that 1% like I mentioned earlier … 1% extra of the sales tax, and let us do something with the roads, instead of automatically raising taxes by 2%.
Gord Steeves kind of has the right idea. Let’s put a halt on this $6-7 hundred million next phase of the rapid transit. Let’s do something more immediate that’s going to help a lot more people in the city in general, rather than just those going to the university and back to Jubilee or downtown.
And, something else I might add: Brian Bowman recently came out — with that $40,000 raise that the council gave themselves? — Brian Bowman recently came out and said “I’m going to restrict how they spend that money. They can’t do it on this or that or whatever, because there was quite the kerfuffle about some councillor spending money on flowers, out of that allowance, some spent it on cookies out of that allowance.
ATT: So you’re anti-cookie?
NP: Depends on who it’s going to, but I’m not going to spend tax payers’ money on that. So he’s saying I’m going to put a restriction on that, but as I said earlier, I’m going to go one step further. Instead of putting restrictions on what you can spend it on, how about reducing the whole amount, because right now it’s $150,000 per year that people spend on ridiculous things like that. That’s another thing where, let’s cut the crap. $40,000 raise a year? That’s crap. Spending on cookies and flowers? That’s crap!
You’ve got me going!
ATT: No, that’s good. Passion is good.
PN: This could lead to bashed heads if I’m at city hall and there’s stuff like this going on. [jokingly … I think] Don’t get me really riled up.
ATT: No, I won’t. I’m going to stop asking questions.
Any final thoughts for the St. Boniface voters?
NP: Well the main thing is, we’ve got two candidates that you hardly know about. One of them is supposed to be in the real estate business. Top real estate agent in Winnipeg. What we don’t need is another real estate person in the city. We’ve had too much of that with Shindico and other people having ties to Sam Katz. We’ve had more than enough of that to last us to the end of the century.
The other guy, I hardly know anything about him. So, Allard is the only one. But, I think I mentioned it earlier, but maybe not exactly, but he’s too interested in Old St. Boniface. He doesn’t even care about Norwood, which is right across the border from Old St. Boniface. You see, he’s from the board of St. Boniface Biz, he’s related to the residents of Old St. Boniface, he’s got ties to the Francophone Business Association, actually he’s got ties to Festival Du Voyageur. So that’s where is area of concentration is. As far as everything else goes, what happens as far as Windsor Park goes or Royal Oaks, he couldn’t care less. Or, any other part outside of this.
Now lately he’s been doing something about it because he’s got wind that I’m saying ‘don’t just concentrate on this, but let’s get the other people of St. Boniface involved as well’, so he’s starting to go there. But like I said earlier, he didn’t go as far as Southdale, to go to 2 senior’s residences there. There must be a few hundred people there. He doesn’t care about them. You’ve got to vote for somebody who’s looking out for all St. Boniface voters. All 41,000 of them, and the other residences too.
ATT: Well thank you very much Paul. I really appreciate you and your wife joining me here at McDonald’s for this interview, and good luck with your campaign.
PN: Thank you.