Tag Archives: Winnipeg

UBER where art thou?

As the UBER debate rages across our country and others, I have a few holiday-time stories that make my opinion clear.

The first was early in the month. I was attending an event that gave out taxi chits at the end of the evening, very responsible, very classy. No fewer than three times on the ride home (it was a 10 minute drive) the driver said that I should just give the chit to him and he’ll take care of filling it out. I never said anything, but intending on filling the thing out myself, thinking it only fair considering it wasn’t my money that was footing the bill.

Once we arrived at my house I started filling out the information with every intention of giving a generous by fair tip. However, as soon as the driver noticed this he started yelling and berating me that I should of given it to him to fill out and that I would never get a cab again in my life if I didn’t. I handed him the chit and walked into my house, but the whole situation was fairly unnecessary and unsettling.

Number two was post-Christmas leaving a Jets game. A friend and I were both going to the St. Boniface-ish area and flagged down the closest taxi. When the driver pulled over he wouldn’t unlock the doors, but rolled down the window. When he asked where we were going and was told “St. Boniface” he responded, “Not far enough,” and drove away. We were able to find another cab, but still that is a pretty terrible way to treat potential customers.

The third incident was later that same night. Leaving a different friend’s place I called another taxi, which arrived on time. The driver than proceeded to drive like a maniac to my place, and when I paid I was told that I couldn’t use credit card and he didn’t have any change. He cemented himself a very nice tip.

There are so many similar stories to these and many far worse, which serve as the reason that so many consumers are hoping and praying for the government to get out of the way of UBER. To be fair I understand that the regulations put on taxis are unfair, but by artificially creating a duopoly in the market, customer service and innovation are dead. Having a system like UBER’s could easily have solved all the above issues:

  1. After the holiday party the UBER rides could be automatically charged to the company’s account, eliminating the need for any paperwork to be filled out.
  2. We would have been assigned an UBER car and left them a lousy review if they refused to pick us up.
  3. The payment being done electronically gets rid of the awkward “My card machine is broken” conversation that is part of so many cab rides. Also, I could leave a bad review for the poor driving.

Who knows if and when ride services will be allowed into Manitoba, but I hope they are by the time any kids of mine can drive (probably still a tall order, if past ‘progress’ in this province has been any indication). On top of everything else, it seems like a great way to earn some money for someone with a car.

A Sober Second Look at Silicon Valley

I, like many other people, have griped about the lack of venture funding in Winnipeg / Manitoba / Canada. Especially compared to the States. For a country with 10% of the population, there isn’t near the same proportion of start-up funding that they have. I can’t believe it’s because there is any difference in quality of people or ideas.

There are some macro reasons and some micro, but we often don’t look at it from the other side. Maybe Silicon Valley is the one out of whack?

I don’t know and it’s up to smarter people than me to debate, but this is a very interesting article that gives a rare perspective of the other side of the dream.

http://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/2014/04/21/the-most-expensive-lottery-ticket-in-the-world/

I don’t think that we should stop working toward a better business environment in Winnipeg, but maybe we should define the goal of what we’re working toward before striking out.

What Could Be Done Better

So like anyone who wrote something that received any higher-than-usual level of attention, I’m going to be riding on the coat-tails of last week’s post.

There were some comments on Facebook, which usually means it’s something that is top of mind for a lot of people. When it comes to winters, weather, driving conditions and government in Winnipeg, top of mind may be the largest understatement ever. Asking for an opinion on those is like shooting apples in a barrel (who would want to shoot fish?).

Being the narcissist that I am, I was thinking about my post over the weekend and got to thinking what could be done to better calm people down. Like it or not, even our mighty municipal government can’t control the weather and unfortunately that means it will likely snow again. And then the streets likely won’t be instantly cleared. And then citizens will get upset. And, more importantly, I’ll be reduced to yelling at my radio on the drive in again.

What it comes down to, as far as I can see, is nothing novel. In fact, I’ve been told this in essentially every job that I’ve held: Be proactive in communications, rather than reactive.

It’s simple. Imagine this scenario…

Mayor Katz calls a press conference. He says that the forecast is calling for extremely cold temperatures and a lot of snow. City crews are going to be out day and night clearing streets, but they can’t be all places at all times, so he and the rest of the City would appreciate citizen’s patience. In the mean-time, keep warm, stay safe and if you need to get somewhere give yourself a little extra time if possible.

How reasonable is all of that? Doesn’t happen, though.

What actually happens, as far as I can tell, City Hall gets the news that there’s going to be lots of snow and cold and then starts praying. Praying that the weather is wrong. That the snow clearing does happen instantly, regardless of what resources they have. That, and this is my favourite one, the people of Winnipeg will be reasonable, patient and forgiving.

Doesn’t happen though. The City instead sits on their hands waiting until Winnipeg has worked itself into a blind rage and then goes on the defensive. It’s plain to see at this point they have already lost.

So be a little more proactive next time. Worst case scenario is that things do work out perfectly and there was a little worrying about nothing. In that case, the City would be seen as the hero. Peoples’ expectations would have been brought down, only to be exceeded. Score one for the mayor’s popularity.

Hardy Winnipeggers

I’m starting to wonder if there is a point where being a “hardy Winnipegger” becomes too extreme? Is there a time where our attitude of being able to handle anything is too much? If there is, I would say that we may have gotten there. And of course, this is a post about the weather.

Not that I’m going to be complaining about the weather. While I haven’t loved it, I can’t say that it’s surprising. Now in my 28th winter in this city, I would have to be stupid if it came as a shock that it gets cold.

My motto has always been if you are able to change something, you don’t have a right to complain. Following that logic, I have the complete ability to move from Winnipeg to a better climate, but I don’t. Therefore I try not to complain too much.

That being said, this past little while has been a pretty extreme. Waking up to either -50 or a foot of snow every day isn’t awesome, but that’s the hand we’ve been dealt. No one’s fault.

It’s actually amazing how well we are able to function as a city in conditions like that. No rolling blackouts, no bans on driving, no forced work stoppages. Tough Winnipeg at its best. There’s also a level of comfort knowing that if I was kidnapped and dropped onto Mars, it would seem outright balmy compared to the last month. Yee haw!

What has me down, though, is the fact that it seems like all major news outlets are looking to place blame. Place blame that the roads aren’t cleared instantly. Place blame for the fact that some airlines have shut down service. Place blame for less-than-perfect sidewalks the day after a huge snow storm. It outright pisses me off.

While I don’t think that this, or any, government is perfect, I want to scream through the radio and TV whenever the person on the other side of it starts talking about how blame needs to be assigned for the conditions outside. While things haven’t been executed to perfection, I want to know what we can reasonably ask for?

If there is a typhoon is the local government blamed for lack of wind-blocking and water clearing? When a volcano erupts do we ask the question why there wasn’t a better lava-diversion program? Of course not. Why? Because those situations are out of the norm, just like the past month.

Between nature not cooperating, equipment not being manufactured to handle the extreme cold and our refusal to stop driving and compensating for the conditions, I’m honestly surprised that things weren’t worse. I seem to be fairly alone in that opinion, though.

I think that I’m alone, in part, because while the weather was extreme it wasn’t sudden.

We’re used to -30 or -40 degrees, so when the temperature dips below that we don’t think about how just a few degrees can have a profound impact on the ability for it to be handled.

We get snow throughout the winter, but we don’t really think about the volume mattering. Nor the timing. Nor the temperature before and following.

So while I’m extremely proud to see the citizens of Winnipeg demanding better, I think that in this case (and in the case of the Jets) our energy is misplaced. We need to realize that sometimes there is nothing more that can be done and while we can tough it out, machines and best lay plans sometimes can’t.

So maybe it IS a good thing that we’re so hardy, because even though there will never likely be a day where you wake up and every street and sidewalk is plowed from the night before, you will be able to live your life anyway.

Sport Manitoba

This one is a little different, seeing as it is a not-for-profit. Nonetheless I think that Sport Manitoba deserves a mention because of the huge role that it played in my life and the lives of a huge number of people.

Basically if you played a sport in the province at any point in your life, you have Sport Manitoba to thank. The simple structure is that every sport played has a Provincial Sport Organization and Sport Manitoba houses and helps all of them.

Being someone who was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to play a number of sports, I have Sport MB to thank for the organization, partial-funding and training that is involved for every team. In addition to focusing on athlete development, there is also attention paid to coaches and officials, as well, because without them there is no organized sport (which is why until there are some refs involved, Ultimate is never getting into the Olympics).

Sport MB doesn’t just organize, either. Based on the belief (that I 100% share) that all kids should have the opportunity to play sports, they support charity KidSport. It gives the opportunity to participate to children who may not have had the chance otherwise.

Besides their work focusing on the on field / ice / court / track / ring / etc. activities, there is also a focus on enhancing other sport services. Sport medicine is important for athletes at all levels and is treated as such. The Sport for Life Centre (145 Pacific) is a state of the art facility which is able to help with a wide array of maladies.

So thank you Sport Manitoba! Not just for the sports that I played, and continue to play, but also for the development of the entire sport community!

Price Industries

Next on my list is Price Industries. I’ve been fortunate enough to had the opportunity to go on a tour of their facilities, and they are quite amazing. But I’ll take a step back before I get ahead of myself.

Price is a worldwide supplier of HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) units. Basically those metal boxes you see on the top of buildings that have fans in them.

Not only is being a world leader impressive enough, but the values that Price practices are almost exactly like any company that I would want to grow. This, of course, is no accident and takes years of careful action. While it may not always be easy, Price is an example of when the correct values are instilled properly into a company great things can happen.

First, Price’s is commitment to innovation is commendable. By investing in projects that may not see any direct cash inflows for many years, if ever, Price does what many companies refuse to do. Not focusing on quarterly profits, but rather the long-term future of the company is, in my mind, the best way to ensure the success.

Being a privately owned company, it is easier to make these decisions. Public companies can often fall victim of focusing on short term gains, rather than worrying about what’z going to be happening 10 years down the line.

What I appreciate most about Price is the fact that they started a Manitoba company and have stayed a Manitoba company. By operating here they bring skilled labour jobs, which is a great thing for our province! While it would likely make more financial sense to move operations to the US (or even next door to Saskatchewan for that matter) by staying here they can keep Manitobans employed with meaningful work.

I’m so sure that it would be less expensive to operate elsewhere thanks to the payroll tax. A company the size of Price has to deal with the Manitoba government taxing them for employing Manitobans. If that isn’t the most backwards thing I’ve ever heard, I don’t know what is.

So thank you to Price for staying in Manitoba and leading by example. in my mind they are exactly what every company should aim to be in their respective industries.

True North Sports & Entertainment

Well, going to start off the month with one that very few people will have any sort of issue with. The local company that brought back our beloved Jets, which now that I’ve mentioned that’s all I’m going to say about the hockey club.

It wouldn’t be much of a post and there are thousands of people who could write it better than me. I’m also a huge fan of True North as a company for more reasons than just them bringing professional hockey back to the city, including what they did leading up and the process they went through in order to reach their goals.

The first thing that I’ve wanted to say, but haven’t had a post to do it before is that how much does every marketing / brand person watching a game salivate every time the crowd shouts “TRUE NORTH!” during the national anthem. I sure don’t remember that happening in Moose games, and while I can’t imagine a situation where when naming the company this possibility came up as a real consideration, it’s still pretty sweet.

Accidental branding perks aside, the lead up to getting the Jets back is what I like most about them. TNSE knew that there would have to be baby steps and waiting, as well as learning from the past Jets owners’s mistakes.

Starting years before the team was a possibility TNSE set the goal of getting professional hockey back and knew that they would need a facility. Enter the MTS Centre. Owning the building that the team would play in was a big lesson that they had learned.

Unfortunately, Winnipeg isn’t anywhere near wherever Field of Dreams is set, because once it was built it would be a while before it would come. So in the mean time the Moose were acquired and run with a great level of professionalism. Using the NHL’s farm system to show they had what it took to operate a pro sports team, like with players they hoped that it showed they had the skills to make it to the big leagues.

Not only that, since the Moose wasn’t enough of a draw to keep the MTS Centre profitable, True North worked to make it the busiest venue in North America. Acts which likely would have been passing Winnipeg over before were now selling out arena shows, and as a music fan I got to be one of the many to reap the benefits. It was of particular satisfaction when friends from other markets travelled into town to see an act they weren’t getting.

By proving that they could run a hockey club and could keep cash flows positive without relying on huge team revenue, True North Sports & Entertainment brought back the NHL in a very “Winnipeg” way: By quietly being better than anyone expected, waiting patiently and positioning themselves as the clear choice for the next opportunity to relocate a team.

Not only all of this, but the TNSE leadership seems to have always seen the best in Winnipeg, the Winnipeg the rest of us want our city to be. For that I salute them the most.

Heritage and Development

Today (or I guess yesterday by the time this is posted) I was at the book launch of Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg at McNally. While I’ve only taken a bit of time to leaf through it, as someone who loves this city I would recommend it. As the authors said (and I’m paraphrasing) the book is a snapshot of what Winnipeg has looked like this past decade, with some interesting commentary.

The launch and book itself has brought up a conflict that I have with my opinion of this city quite often, so now I’m writing about it. I have a bit of an interest in design and architecture and generally like he post-war modernist look of our town, but also have a great appreciation for progress. I like the history our streets possess, but honestly with some of the eye-sore buildings would just be ripped down already.

What’s a city to do, though? Give up on our roots and allow developers to come in and completely “modernize” our city? Or hold on to the crumbling past in the way of vacant buildings and no landlord or tenant have any interest in fixing up or owning any more?

I’m not a city planner, nor do I even have I even been around long enough to have the same nostalgia as others associated with many of the structures that have fallen into such conditions, that if seen out of context a viewer may think that the photo was taken in a ghost town. But I do live here, and like every other person from Winnipeg, have an opinion on an option for moving forward.

I think it’s time for a real audit of our traditional infrastructure to be done. Some third party come in and inspect some of the more prime locations from top to bottom and produce a report that outlines 1) If the building is up to current code / useable and 2) What the cost would be to retrofit it. From there it’s time for decisions to be made.

My biggest issue with those who claim to be trying to preserve our heritage is that there doesn’t seem to be much discrimination in which landmarks they want to keep around. The basic rule is if it’s old, it’s a crime to get rid of it. However, in many cases, the building’s salvation is actually a condemnation. A death sentence that is slow and painful, never to be used again. Owners that don’t live here don’t care and will let the building literally crumble, leading us to where we are now.

In a perfect world all the infrastructure would have been maintained and currently useful. We don’t live in a perfect world, though, and in our attempt to hold on to an already lost past, we are continuing to delay our city’s future. Living in a community is about compromise and the one voice I don’t hear is the one in-between “save it all” and “tear it down”.

I am truly hoping for some inspirational leadership in the coming years, because anything short of that will be a discredit to our citizens. No longer can we be stuck between wanting to grow, while keeping everything the same. It’s time for Winnipeg to make some choices and take action.

The PST Hike

Short and sweet, this post will be. It’s not going to be some huge rant about the PST going up. Honestly, I think consumption based taxes are one of the better forms of tax, especially as compared to income tax. If I want to save my money or invest it in starting a business, there’s nothing quite like being put at a disadvantage because I’ve chosen to live in Winnipeg.

But I digress…

What is worrying me about the PST is as a business owner. Not that I have to charge 1% more, but rather what happens if the courts rule that the government illegally raised the tax rate. Does that mean I have to go back to every client I’ve had since the beginning of summer and issue a 1% rebate?

It’s not like it’s a great sum of money I’ll be giving back and it was never really “mine” to begin with. Still, though, having to go through the process of getting mailing addresses and issuing refunds. Paying for postage and taking the time to write the cheques. It’s all time and money that could be better spent elsewhere.

I can only imagine the huge resource cost that larger businesses are going to have to take on. What about car dealerships and vendors of other large purchases? Where 1% is a significant enough sum for people to care. I don’t envy that.

As a consumer I’m going to go on record and say that if the PST charge was less than $10 for any specific transaction, I don’t really care about the refund. I’m sure it adds up to some meaningful sum, but I feel bad for the businesses that are stuck in the middle here. They don’t have any pull in the decision, but they’re the ones who will have to shoulder the cost. I would prefer they stay in business in Winnipeg.

When Has Winnipeg “Made It”?

There was an article in the WFP this week about how BMO has a new Senior VP position that is being created in the city. Like with all other news of a company choosing to come here, it was told from the perspective of how Winnipeg is really shining on the national/international stage, how we’re growing into ourselves as a city, etc.

Not to be a detractor, because I’m a huge supporter of Winnipeg, but I’m a little sick of stories like this. Not the good news component, but how we take it as some sort of external validation that Winnipeg has “made it” as a city.

What does “making it” even mean? Is it when the Jets came back? When Rob Ford learns where we are on a map? When IKEA decided to open its doors? When Taylor Swift brought her concert to the new stadium? Obviously I’m being facetious, but it doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been people pointing to these examples as the defining point of when the world has finally recognized our rightful place at the “big table” with the other grown up cities.

Bull shit.

We have really “made it” as a city, when we stop giving a crap about what others think about us and stop pointing to every good thing that happens here as the turning point. Right now we are the equivalent of the person who is always telling everyone how great they are. When I see someone like this my first reaction is, “Well, that’s probably not true.” Who needs to run around trying to convince people that they’re awesome? Someone who sucks.

It’s the same with Winnipeg. If we keep looking for signs and trying to promote ourselves by pointing to examples, it is painfully obvious to everyone (ourselves included) that we’re still not at the level we want to be.

Until we can act cool when something good happens to the city, like it’s no big deal and it happens all the time, we haven’t made it. So next time a major retailer opens a store, don’t include it in the Christmas letter to all your out of town family and friends. Let’s not talk about it on the radio, TV and in papers for months before and after. Let’s just be glad there are more options, go to the store when we need and calmly wait for the next one.