Interview: Ryan Davies – Candidate for St. Boniface

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.

I met Ryan Davies at a Starbucks to ask him a few questions. For more detail on his ideas and policies, go to his blog rdforstb.blogspot.ca

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Around This Town: What made you decide to run initially?

Ryan Davies: I have a degree in Political Studies. Politics has always been something that interested me. It’s something I wanted to do. I toyed with it four years ago and kind of went “okay, you’re 30 years old, you’re not really that overly involved” – I had been working more in the private sector than really following municipal to the level I wanted to, to feel comfortable. So I really spent that last four years working at places like The Metro. It was great to be able to be in the newsroom and seeing stories break and kind of get up on things. On a Friday that was quiet, go down to the EPC and listen with Bernice (Pontanilla) when she was doing her thing and whatnot.

When it started getting closer and closer, I spent the summer putting my ducks in a row and deciding if I could do it. I wanted to quit my job to be able to do this full time, so when I knew I could do that, when I knew I had some volunteers, I knew I was financially stable, that I would be OK to carry out the campaign, and quite honestly when I started looking around and there was A) no other candidates and B) I couldn’t find anything on the lead candidate that was running platform-wise, other than his history of who he had run for in the past, I kind of wanted to push that a little bit and say “we need more ideas here. We need an open and honest debate about the future of St. Boniface in Winnipeg.” So I threw my hat in.

ATT: You have stated on your web site that the current Bus Rapid Transit plan is not viable, and you have other ideas. Can you briefly explain what you have in mind?

RD: Immediately what I want to do is I want to call for a halt to BRT. I just think that it’s a project that was maybe a rushed project from the last council as a legacy project that they wanted to leave a stamp on the city to say “here’s what we left behind”, similar to Duffy’s Ditch way, way back when, or other different infrastructure projects to say that’s what this council is responsible for.

What I would want to do is eventually look at the viability of an LRT system, so Light Rail Transit, in that it’s something that you’re not displacing people or businesses, it’s something where you can use our existing rail network in addition to other systems that are in play, to sort of bring that together at a cheaper alternative. But most importantly for the immediate future I think what needs to be done is more frequency, more coverage and expand it out.

ATT: More frequency of regular buses …

RD: Exactly, making more stops more often and servicing more areas, like out in Sage Creek and things like that where it’s tough. I ran into someone when I was campaigning who took a bus from Burrows. They had to get off in Island Lakes and walk to Sage Creek because that was the fastest way of getting there.

It’s okay at this time of year, but when it’s -30 out and there’s snow and sidewalks are not being cleared at the fastest rate possible, is that really a viable option for people for transportation around the city? I don’t think so. And we have St. Boniface Industrial Park and a lot of other areas too that are not properly serviced. A lot of these places run 24 hours around the clock, the workers there are not people who are on the buses at peak prime hours, but they’re having trouble getting out there. You see it on Twitter all the time. People losing their minds: “Thanks a lot Winnipeg Transit. You’re not on time, now I’m late for work” or whatever it is.

ATT: So the LRT is more a distant future type of concept …

RD: I think so. I mean it’s something that I would want to really analyze and give a fair shake to, but I think it’s not something that you want to jump into day 1 and go “BRT’s out. LRT’s in. Let’s start spending money.” It’s something that we need to take a look at, but for the time being we need to address both bus transit – how we’re going to do it better – and active transportation so we can move people around the city in a better way.

ATT: So suppose we do go ahead with BRT to the U of M, should it follow the “dogleg” route and go that way or go straight down the CN Letellier line? Do you have an opinion on that?

RD: Well, if it had to be done, it’s the route that displaces the least amount of people and businesses, that creates the least amount of havoc, and that, I guess, makes the most sense financially and construction-wise to get it done. Also that we can get done the quickest. It’s hard for me to trumpet this one over that one because I’m pretty opposed to either way of doing it.

ATT: There are a lot of new subdivisions that are being built or planned around Winnipeg, including Sage Creek, Precinct K and Dawson Trail (Precinct J) here in St.Boniface. Do you think this pace of growth is sustainable, or do we need to put the brakes on the rate at which our city is growing geographically?

RD: I think there needs to eventually be some sort of stop-point here, and infill as opposed to continually look on the edges and push out. I mean, the biggest problem that the city is facing is an infrastructure deficit on a surface level, and to open new neighbourhoods that are creating more infrastructure expenditures just doesn’t make any sense at this point.

I mean, I know a lot of it is the Province is approving these areas for development and the city is going “Ya, OK, we’re in on this too” and trying to push it out, but Winnipeg doesn’t have a lot of the geographic challenges like a Calgary does with valleys and things like that, or other cities where we need to worry about how we’re breaking it up. There’s lots of infill areas that we can use. There’s lots of areas now that we have that can build up and out a little bit more, before we just keep on pushing and pushing and pushing into these areas.

It scares me the amount of infrastructure it’s going to cost to continue to expand out here. Then you’re looking at things, again, like bus service, and police coverage, and fire and paramedics, and all that stuff. I cringe at the thought of how it’s going. I look at what just happened to my dad [Ryan’s father was hospitalized recently with a serious and unexpected medical issue] and I say, well if you need an ambulance and you’re out in Sage Creek and you need to be rushed to a hospital, how far are we? That’s a long trek to get somewhere at this point for health care, which means eventually we’re going to start looking at another hospital that’s got to be built out in that area.

ATT: A number of years ago they built a roundabout in Southdale and it seems to be working very well in terms of helping traffic flow better. Do you think that more four-way stops should be replaced with roundabouts in Winnipeg?

RD: When it makes sense, I like the major routes doing it. I think how they’ve done it in some of the areas like River Heights and the Osborne-Corydon area, I have some friends who live out in that area and the roundabout is a little tiny tight one and no one really knows who got in first or where, I think it actually creates more backlog when two cars end up in there at the same time. That’s a great round about (referring to Southdale). It’s a larger area that more cars can properly flow through. That and the ones out in the north end off of Leila and that area, those are all great and I totally support that. Anything to keep the traffic moving and flowing a little bit better I think is a great idea. I think in the winter too it’s a lot better than four way stops when you start getting black ice and things like that in the intersection. It becomes a safety issue.

ATT: Some people feel that Provencher Blvd could be the next Corydon. Is there anything that you think the city can do to increase the vitality of Provencher and attract more shops, or should we even bother trying?

RD: I think that’s a great idea. I think one of the biggest things that they need to do is also partner with the Exchange and use the Esplanade Riel as a kind of segue between the two parts of the city. That’s a tourist attraction and a beautiful eye piece on its own. The exchange district, it has potential to be busier, but I’ve noticed lately that it’s kind of gotten quieter in there – the bar scene and the restaurants have kind of been lesser than they were 8-10 years ago, but I think that sort of a partnership needs to be made to push the whole area.

Another thing is, I know the owners of Step’n Out, the new restaurant there on Provencher, the Japanese couple who owns that one, and I’ve been talking with them about what it’s like in the area and how to draw traffic and whatnot. That’s a big thing for them, I mean that’s why they wanted to get into that area, because the saw the potential for the future, they saw what it could become on Provencher. I think there could be a little bit more there. I mean, you look at Corydon and it’s packed, right? It’s really busy. It’s basically niche shops, cool restaurants, gelato places, you know? Like there’s a theme to it.

Provencher is a little bit more broken up when you go down there. There’s some restaurants, there’s a book store that closes at 6:00, and then there’s a real estate office and that sort of thing. I think if we want to make it that, we need to draw more of an entertainment side to that and really push that for new businesses to come in there and showcase that for anybody looking to start a trendy new spot.

ATT: I read on your website that you don’t oppose photo radar per se, but you think it can be improved. How so?

RD: Like I said on my site, the biggest thing is we need to end the “trap” version of it. There’s a few things that I think we need to do: Consistent speed zones is one. I hate already this school zone at 30 in some places, 50 in some places, and 60 on St. Mary’s. Meanwhile St. Mary’s is the busiest place and can be the most dangerous for a kid to get hit, because people are on autopilot flying home from work at 60, which means usually 70 going through there.

A school zone’s a school zone. Safety is safety. Make them all 30. Like I said on my blog I drove through one, it cost me 8 seconds of my commute. I don’t think that 8 seconds of my time is really worth a child’s life or safety.

Also, proper speed limit signage … and I propose in there (his blog) that photo radar would have to be within 500 metres of the last speed limit sign. Just because you go down different roads, as I said, you know, Main Street goes from 60 to 50 to 60 to 50 to 60 by the time it’s under the underpass. People honestly could come off another street and not realize, is it 50 here or is it 60 here or did I miss something? So if you have a clear sign and if the photo radar is after that sign, people have been fairly warned and they know what the speed limit is, and it gives consistency.

The other thing is there needs to be better calibration of the units and a place where people can go online to see that the units have been properly tested and calibrated. We need to show that, OK look, we went through here, we tested it, it’s right, so if you went through there and it was wrong, that was you not that. I think photo radar is important for safety but it can’t be a cash grab.

ATT: Can I ask how many photo radar tickets you’ve received?

RD: Two. You open that envelope and you feel like you want to blame anybody but yourself, but I was speeding so .. Yup, I have received two myself.

ATT: Dan Vandal has opposed parking meters on residential streets near St B Hospital. Do you agree with that? Will you oppose that as well?

RD: Well this is a great issue for me because I’m on Louis Riel Street, which is 3 blocks from the hospital. On the weekends I cannot get anybody to park on my street because it’s all completely taken up because it’s 1 hour parking Monday to Friday only, and anybody who works at the hospital parks there all day, so any visitors that we get on the weekend for a BBQ or whatever, they’re parking blocks away and walking back and forth.

I don’t know if I’m opposed to that idea. I think there needs to be proper balance between what’s allowed for residents in the area and not. I don’t see why it couldn’t be almost like the downtown situation where you have a residential parking pass and if you live on that street you can park there as much as you need to. If not it’s 2 hour or 4 hour parking, or whatever it is, to create spaces and whatnot. Around the hospital I don’t see why a 4 hour parking meter would be a bad thing. There probably needs a little bit more study on that, to make sure it’s viable and whatnot, but for somebody like me who just spent days at Victoria hospital parking at 8 to 10 to 12 to 24 dollars a day, depending on where I was parked, sitting there all day and all night, it adds up. So I understand the frustration from residents on one end, and I understand on the other end how expensive it can be to park in those paid lots. I think there could be an intermediate solution.

RD1

ATT: So … openness and transparency has been a big theme this election, and everyone agrees that we need more of that. Are there specific, tangible things that you can do to accomplish that?

RD: Well, we’ve got a wonderful thing these days that they call “the internet”, which I’m sure you’re familiar with and I’m familiar with, and why we don’t have access to information on there is beyond me. It baffles me how little we know. And actually the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, I don’t know if you saw the results of their survey, one of their questions was, for the mayoral and council candidates, was: do you stand for a freedom of information full sharing, and actually four of the mayoral candidates said “nope”, they don’t. They don’t want to have all the information out there. To me that raises red flags everywhere. I don’t think that anything that we have is a state secret. I don’t think that anything that the city does threatens national security, or, you know, anything like that. I don’t understand why we can’t have a simple Hansard style, on the web site, ‘here’s who introduced a motion, here’s who voted for and against the motion, this is when it was introduced.’ Totally searchable database so that we can keep track of that sort of thing.

Tendering process: same deal. We have it online right now. It’s so not detailed. It’s just here’s who it was and here’s the dollar amount, and that’s it. It doesn’t explain why they got it. Sometimes it’s the highest, sometimes it’s the lowest. Why are we not sharing what the tender actually includes and why they were selected. It doesn’t need to be a novel. It can be just a little tiny thing, but at least have some openness for the people that are giving you their money in good faith to choose the best tenders and to vote on things, so that we have accountability and transparency.

ATT: What do you think of the current mayoral candidates? Are there any that you support, or are there any that have made an impression on you?

RD: You know, there’s been a few (ideas) from each of them. I mean, overall, I guess if I were to lean to one right now – and I still haven’t 100% decided who I’m voting for, which is a little bit scary 16 days out that I would fall under the undecided voter category. I’ve never really been in this one before. I’m usually pretty decisive. – Brian Bowman at least showing the transparency issue, he’s thinking outside the box. I don’t agree with all of his ideas that are coming up. Municipal Sales Tax is one. I have a big thing on that on my website, more coming out today, that not only is it something that’s not legal to collect – you would have to collect it through the province – it just creates more of that provincial shell game over tax money, but he’s one that at least I’m kind of leaning towards.

Robert Falcon Ouellette, again with the Light Rail Transit, again that’s something that I side towards and I think it’s a great idea, but then you look at Bowman and BRT and that’s something that he’s heavily supporting, so it’s hard for me to throw all of my eggs in that and go “Ya great, that’s the guy I’m leaning towards.”

So at this point I’ve found something I like from Steeves, I’ve found something I like from Bowman, I’ve found something I like from Falcon Ouellette, and I just can’t decide who I’m going to throw my support behind at this point.

ATT: Would you support a property tax increase to help fix Winnipeg’s infrastructure?

RD: My first battle again would be ‘stop BRT.’ I think that would save a lot of money that we could put into infrastructure. I don’t want to see a huge property tax increase. I don’t want to see any property tax increase. Anybody who pays property tax doesn’t want to see that. But, we need to do some cleaning up of the whole revenue system first. We need to put the fact that education money is collected back on the province, not on the city, and it’s all lumped into one property tax cheque. At the very least it needs to be divided so we can see kind of what’s going on. Again, more transparency.

And, I want to see less on the luxury project side and more on the infrastructure side right now to really improve the basic foundation of our city. We’ve got really nice places to drive to and our roads are crumbling to get there. The stadium is beautiful, the human rights museum is beautiful. There’s a lot of great features in the city, but you can’t get there because everything is falling apart or you have terrible bus service to get there. It doesn’t make any sense.

So I think that it’s almost inevitable that it’s going to end up happening, that there’s going to be property tax increases at some point. I don’t know if it’s going to be this year or when it’s going to happen, but you know, we froze it for 10 years and yes the city revenue actually went up 41% over that period from 2003 to 2010, but expenditures went up more than that. The cost of inflation is actually lower than the cost of construction inflation, so we can’t keep up just by saying let’s just do inflation because construction inflation is 4 ½ – 5%. So, we’re always going to be fighting behind until we figure out a way to properly collect tax revenues. The right way of doing it, and it’s just for the city, and then see how much we have and reassess from there. I think it’s going to end up being an increase so … unfortunate, but in order to keep up and take care of these crumbling roads we’re going to have to sacrifice — or expect less from the municipal government, so … one or the other.

ATT: Are there any final thoughts that you want to share with St. Boniface voters?

RD: The biggest thing is, I hope that everybody gets out to vote on October 22nd. I think democracy is extremely important and selecting public servants who want to serve the public and not serve their best interests or the best interests of special interest groups or anything like that is really important.

And just do your research. I mean, I’m not expecting everyone’s going to agree with me. I appreciate that people don’t. I think that what makes St. Boniface, Winnipeg, Canada, great. Being able to live here and voice our opinions that way. But just do your research and see what everyone else has, not just for ideas but how they’re going to accomplish those ideas.

I think everyone has got great ideas in this campaign, but goals without an actual plan are just wishes and dreams, and I think this city is past the wishes and dreams part. I think we’re into the: ‘we need a plan and we need tangible ideas with a system to get things accomplished.’

ATT: Okay. Good. Thank you very much.

RD: Thank you.

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