Thursday, February 18, 2010

"Blood Diamond Lanes" is Such a Great Title, or: Apparently Pat Martin May or May Not Be the Antichrist

First things first:

Uptown Magazine! Your better price advantage!

Inspired by a particularly ridiculous industry request from this past week, my most recent Uptown column offers -- shall we say -- a modest proposal.

I want to reiterate, if it wasn't immediately clear enough from the article itself, that I have no issue with taxi drivers. The drivers I've encountered, on a one-to-one basis, have been perfectly rational and entirely decent people; many of them are pretty awful at driving, yes, but so are most of the people in this city. (And taxi drivers don't tell you how to do your job, do they? No, that's what I thought.) And certainly I wouldn't want anybody to think that I condone or agree with the attacks on cab drivers, of which there have been... a lot of late. How many are we up to for the year so far? Six? Seven? About one a week, anyway.

No, as is usually the case, my concerns are less with individuals and more with the large institutions that make decisions on their behalf. Everything I've read and seen so far indicate that Unicity and Duffy's -- the companies, not their drivers -- are best described as detestable money-grubbing greedheads whose pigheaded, short-sighted decisions continually hamper the growth and success of our entire city.

Not to put too fine a point on it, of course.

Now, let me run a series of suggestions by you, and you can see what you make of them. Perhaps if we approved more licenses for more companies and had more taxis on the road, the average (and currently considerable) wait time for a taxi in this city would decrease; perhaps if the average wait time went down, overall public opinion of taxis might be more favourable; perhaps if overall public opinion were more favourable, people would mug and rob and hijack the city's taxi drivers less frequently.

Perhaps. But just to give cabbie safety that extra little push along in this particular hypothetical scenario, add a condition to the new licenses (and old ones as well, unless you'd prefer to grandfather the clause): any licensed taxi vehicle must have the full bulletproof screen between the driver and passenger(s), as opposed to the half-screen that vehicles currently and unsuccessfully employ. Since full shields were a suggestion put forward by the taxicab board itself, and the most recent twenty-cent hike in taxi rates was in the name of raising funds for better security, I'm sure everybody could agree to it. And the mandatory purchase of this equipment would discourage less serious startup enterprises, the apocryphal untrustworthy yahoos in unlicensed cabs that we're told would ruin the industry for everybody.

More cabs, faster times, safer drivers, happier customers; a stronger industry all around! Or alternately -- we can keep the same number of cabs that we've had for a decade, but let them clog up the diamond lanes and piss off everybody on the bus, including the socio-economic groups most likely to be taking transit because stolen cars are the only ones they can afford to drive.

(If you're wondering which option is more likely to be implemented, you definitely aren't familiar with Winnipeg or Manitoba.)

So, cabbies, you're alright by me, but you've got to get yourselves better representation before it gets you all killed.

And cyclists, you know I love you -- but learn to read, already, will you? We've been over this before.

Well, I think that covers that topic pretty well. So let's haphazardly shoehorn a second one in here, for good measure! I figure, what the heck, the rest of the city's blogging community seems to have been strangely quiet about this today aside from a tweet or two.

Yes, spittle is flying from the open maws of news outlet website commenters everywhere today, as MP Pat Martin apparently revealed himself as an agent of Satan by criticizing the city's pledge of $2.5 million and free land for a proposed Youth For Christ program supercentre.

People tend to freak out more than usual over religious discussions, you may have noticed. Belief systems are tricky! Some people argued that Youth For Christ specifically includes "[taking] the gospel to the youth of the nation" and "discipling them into the Church" in their Vision and Mission Statements, a strange contrast to the group's claims that their programs are intentions are non-denominational. Others argued that organizations such as Siloam Mission and the Salvation Army seem to be positive influences and okay folks, despite their stated religious affiliations -- and furthermore that the Aboriginal support centres around the proposed facility (at the corner of Main and Higgins, no less) consistently promote spirituality in their programs as well, with little to no complaint from the general public. Some people oppose tax dollars directly funding openly religious programs or organizations, contending that this breeds favouritism and flirts dangerously with mixing church and state; some people like having their tax dollars used to revitalize downtrodden areas and help downtrodden people, also noting that this would not be a rare investment when tax dollars at all levels of government are frequently used to promote programs and organizations of all different faiths.

Then everybody takes turns guessing at Pat Martin's motives, about three hundred different people start complaining about various local political figures, somehow the federal Conservatives get dragged into the argument, and--anyway, the long story short is that a lot of people are up in arms about a whole lot of nothing that is completely out of their control, just like every other major decision made in this city since George Sharpe got voted out half a century ago.

Then there are other facets of the story that, surprisingly, I have yet to see considered. The proposed Youth Centre for Excellence -- yes, that would be the real name -- is intended to consolidate most of the fifteen programs offered across the city by Youth For Christ. Is that a good thing because it represents, albeit as an isolated example, a movement towards reversing our city's sprawl and revitalizing the downtown with initiatives that people might actually appreciate? Or is that a bad thing because it removes what are essentially community services from the neighbourhoods where they're needed most, just as the City has been doing with the community centres it officially recognizes?

Now, your guess is as good as mine as to why Pat Martin spoke up when he did and said what he did; my personal theory is that religions and youth programs are both known to benefit greatly from collecting small coins, and small coins are what Pat Martin hates most of all.


(Alternate gag: the building would dramatically alter the character of the neighbourhood, and Pat Martin has no patience for change.)

But I have my own misgivings about the proposed project, and I will tell you why. The official word from Youth For Christ is that the centre would be non-denominational and intended for people of all faiths and backgrounds, but it seems a reasonable conclusion -- given the stated mandate of the group and the very specific, otherwise 'undesirable' location chosen for the facility -- that the group intends to establish inroads of Christianity into the Aboriginal community. If anybody would like to present a position to the contrary, I'm all ears, but I think it's fair to suggest that no organization with at least thirty-seven years of Winnipeg experience just accidentally chooses the corner of Main & Higgins for their megaproject.

What I am getting at is this: I hold a degree in History, as longtime readers may recall, and historically -- I am trying to phrase this diplomatically, so bear with me a moment -- historically, in this province, well-intentioned large-scale government-supported projects intended to indoctrinate Aboriginal young people into Christianity have not been known for their successes.

Don't get me wrong -- it would be a gross and entirely unfair exaggeration to directly equate this potentially very helpful facility with the horrific outcomes of the Manitoba Residential Schools. But I bring the matter up because it underscores the entirely reasonable distrust that this project may raise in members of the Aboriginal and First Nations communities, and it could lead to some serious divisions and conflicts if not handled extremely carefully. A lot of very bad things happened, to a lot of people, under the auspices of a very specific name -- and I don't know how or if each of these people have related these experiences to their children and grandchildren, but bringing that very specific name back for another round of youth acclimatization may lead to some seriously ugly situations. (We literally just finished apologizing to these people, so these issues aren't exactly resolved overnight.) Hopefully they'll just drop the whole subject if their original, more subtle attempts at evangelism don't pan out -- because the harder they might potentially push to grab the demographic, the more hostility and resentment might emerge in an area of the city that definitely doesn't need more problems.

But! With all of that -- all of that -- said, I really do hope that the whole thing works out for the best; I assume we can all agree, if nothing else, that this will be better use of the real estate than its current incarnation as... nothing. And, hey -- as long as the Christians are imparting life lessons to vulnerable youth through vigorous athletics, they can make sure to teach them that Jesus Didn't Tap! Yes, this all might just work out after all.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your thoughtful remarks on the Pat Martin/Youth for Christ debacle.

It might be deemed politically incorrect, what Martin said, but I applaud him for having the guts to say it.

We do need to question Youth for Christ's motives. As someone who has watched a number of relatives and close friends in the under-25 age range get completely sucked into evangelical churches, I can say with complete certainty that these sorts of organizations know EXACTLY what they're doing when it comes to working with young people.

I agree; something is better than nothing. But even if the new centre is a success, I'm not convinced that this won't come at the cost of smaller, neighbourhood-based centres, which as you mention, have already been significantly downsized.

C. Beresford Tipton said...

+1 for applauding Pat Martin

Be VERY careful when dealing with evangelical organizations. They are not your mother's church basement groups, although they certainly want you to perceive them as that.

Here in Brandon, we've gone a little further down that particular looking glass, courtesy of a mayor so enthralled with evangelical fundamentalist Christianity that he actually had local groups hold prayer meetings in city hall offices.

And we've had controversy from such groups building halfway houses for "youth" who, as it turned out, were up to 29 years old. Needless to say the buildings in question are eyesores that don't exactly make for a pedestrian-friendly neighbourhood (especially at night)

These people have an agenda and the only involvement that agenda has with the public agenda is to siphon off funds from it.

Dan Phelps said...

I've been a cyclist for many years (I've even worked as a bike courier in Toronto) and have never had problems with cab drivers.

Although their movements might seem erratic to occasional passengers, these guys know how to safely and efficiently move through traffic. Many of them come from countries with infinitely more chaotic traffic patterns than we have in Canada. I would sooner share the road with 200 cab drivers, then 20 Winnipeg commuters.

I've biked in a few Canadian cities (Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal) and so far Winnipeg is the worst. Once getting used to their system of traffic flow even Kathmandu, Nepal felt safer!

Many drivers in Winnipeg don't seem to know what a bike is or how to maneuver around them. They're either too aggressive (passing way to closely) or too hesitant. For instance... often when I'm stopped at an intersection waiting for a red light with my bike up against the curb, Winnipeg drivers wishing to make a right hand turn will idle their cars beside me, wait and wait till the light turns green and I cross the intersection before they turn.

One moment they're aggressive honking horns and cutting close and the next minute they're shy and hesitant.

Though as bad as Winnipeg drivers tend to be, the absolute worst people I've come across on the road are tow truck drivers.

Anonymous said...

Dan, I think most peggers know what a bike is. Most peggers know that a bike is a piece of equipment used to engage in an activity that is preformed during summer evenings on paths and trails found around the city.

Most peggers do not see bikes as a viable transportation mode.

With all due respect, you may think its viable , but the reality is automobiles belong on streets and bikers really ought to give right of way to a big hunk of metal that can hurt or kill you, rather than expect them to maneuver around you.

PS: having lived in TO for a decade, most courier bikers I've ran across are kamikaze types who make a decent living zipping in and out of traffic with the skill and dexterity of a F1 driver.

Hinchey's Store said...

Hi C. Beresford Tipton - Thoughtful post, however just wanted to point out that all levels of government view 'youth' as up to age 29. I just turned 30 recently, and was surprised to note that EI looks at you as a youth up to that age - they offer special summer jobs here in MB for 'youth.'

Anyway, just thought that was funny and that you'd like to know that...

Hinchey's Store said...

Oh, and I don't have a problem with the YFC initiative, but to each his own...