Right in the centre - Boldness needed


By Ken Waddell

The Neepawa Banner

I think the biggest missing link in Manitoba is boldness. I don’t mean reckless actions, not at all, I mean bold, innovative action that will lift business and governments out of the miry clay. It seems that we have an abundance of caution and fear in Manitoba. It’s stifling.

Back in 2014, I wrote a column about municipal financing. I pointed out that the Town of Neepawa had been sitting on about $2 million in unused borrowing capacity. Had it been used 20 years ago, it could have purchased $2 million worth of infrastructure at 1994 prices and been paid off by 2004. Had it been done again, the town would have had another $2 million in improvements purchased at 2004 prices and paid off by 2014. It didn’t happen so we now have $4 million, at least, in infrastructure deficit that we have to contemplate paying for at 2017 prices. We, the people, the councils, the administrators missed the boat and missed it big time. 

Just drive down our streets and ask yourself if we need to improve our infrastructure. Many times I have suggested that we stop sending out our work crews with their little sand box shovels and sand box pails to fill in holes in the street. You know what I mean, the little shovelfuls of cold mix dropped into a rough hole in the street and tamped down. It lasts about three days but it’s cheap I guess. Why aren’t we encouraging businesses to have a paving plant here? Why doesn’t the town have a pavement grinder to square off the holes and patch the streets properly? They are available. Those machines have been here on demonstration. Why doesn’t the town use concrete to repair streets? Other places do. God knows we have concrete producers here.

I chaired a meeting of the Neepawa Yellowhead Centre last week, subbing for our chairman. The board considered (again) numerous improvements to the arena. Ironically, some of them were improvements that were approved in 1995 but never done. Why not? Not sure, but it would have been way cheaper then. Like the town, the YHC has a pre-approved $500,000 line of credit that they have never used. It’s been there for 20 years. Yes, it has to be paid back but if you make improvements, hopefully the number of activities in a town or a facility will grow so you can have more income.

I come from a long line of improvers. My grandfather came to Canada to get a better job. He raised four sons. My dad bought an 80 acre farm in 1933. That was probably the worst time ever to buy a farm, but it was better than starving in the city. They struggled and grew their business. After he served in WWII, he bought another farm for $4,000. He farmed for 40 years and sold it for good money for the day. He passed away and his three sons got a bit of money. We invested ours in an acreage, an auction business and a newspaper. It wasn’t much, a pittance by today’s standards, but we kept working and investing and expanding.

If a town, a business or a province sits back and waits for opportunity, they will miss a lot of opportunities. One has to keep looking for ways to improve things. Some towns are better at it than others. Right now, in Neepawa, all the growth is coming from private industry and that’s a very good thing. However, if our town council got their butts in gear we could grow more. The CN property was bought in 2012-13. A plan was adopted in late 2013. It’s now almost four years later and there it sits, growing weeds like it has always done. No sales, no roads, no water, no sewer lines in it. All the while, we need commercial and residential building lots. 

I am sure there is more to the story, but like any town, we have “some” councillors and “some staff” and some citizens who don’t see any need to change. In fact, some are opposed to any change. What they don’t realize is that with or without change, there are still two factors at work. One is a rotting or downfall of infrastructure and services and the other is missed opportunities. Both hamper a community’s growth.

Yes, Neepawa, and all our communities are very nice places to live. But, we need progress and to get that, we need to make changes, seize opportunities and move forward. The rural Manitoba landscape is littered with the remnants of communities that didn’t change. For some communities, it is too late, but for most, the only thing holding us back is fear of change.