Inner City Diary
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Our Urban Futures are getting hijacked...
November 16, 2003
The chairperson looked me right in the eye and abruptly announced, “This meeting is adjourned!”

She had abused her position as chair to launch a series of personal attacks, allowing no response or defense. I approached her immediately after the meeting and challenged the unfairness of her action. She smirked and said, “I know. I've been treated unfairly in meetings too.”

Incredulous, I questioned her math. “Are you saying two wrongs make a right?” She smiled and said, “Yes.”

The meeting was about providing guidance to government initiatives intended to help the homeless in Winnipeg.

To this point, the meetings were attended by representatives of groups serving the homeless and people going through tough transitions in their lives. It was a tough but fair process. Everyone had opportunity to express their concerns. More groups were participating in meetings, accompanied with fresh balance and perspective.

But Monday's meeting was different. In the financial sector it would have been termed a "hostile takeover." Several leaders of a self-anointed “Urban Futures Group” had taken over the meeting.

In their literature the group boasts, “This is an opportunity to work together, affirm our diversity, build networks and alliances and develop a shared vision of equity that will guide our communities.

“The Steering Committee will ensure that the dignity and worth of all persons be recognized and that equitable rights and opportunities be promoted without discrimination.”

But this smarmy, saccharine prose was betrayed by their conduct at Monday's meeting.

Openness? - I've asked to be informed of their meetings and to receive minutes several times. No response. Many groups in the city have no idea that the Urban Futures Group is lobbying to take control of over 50 million dollars of taxpayer money intended to revitalize Winnipeg. Don't be misled by the prose. It's all about controlling the money.

My hopes for a fair process and open discussion at our meeting faded quickly. As I entered the building, I saw scores of students pulled out of classes at the Aboriginal Centre to attend the meeting.

Don't get me wrong. Involvement is good and the students likely have much to contribute. But this was not involvement in a process. This was a very deliberate and racially organized hijacking of a community process. These students hadn't attended any prior meetings and likely won't return again. They were parachuted into a three-year-old process as part of rigging a single, crucial vote.

In addition, we were informed by the chairperson that we would be allowed only one comment during the meeting. It was selectively enforced. Is that openness?

Recognizing Dignity? - A Metis woman from St. Boniface politely asked a question and voiced a concern. After she had to leave, the chairperson mocked her concern and castigated her for leaving early. No consideration of her reasons. No respect for her concern. Is that recognizing dignity?

Equitable rights? - A long-term advocate for immigrants to Canada asked that the group remember immigrants when planning to establish more transitional housing. He had to leave for another meeting and thanked the chair for giving him opportunity to share his concerns. After his departure, the chair – an aboriginal elder – mocked him for leaving after “putting his s--t on the table.” How's that equitable?

Without discrimination? This group admits that their priority is to restrict funding to groups based on the ethnicity of the service provider, not on the quality, economics or recipients of the service. Their goal is empowerment. Their methodology is segregation. That's discrimination!

The chair condemned faith-based groups actively involved in helping “her” people. Then she attacked me regarding a misunderstanding of one of my Sun columns. I raised my hand to clear up the misunderstanding. She denied me the opportunity to speak and abruptly adjourned the meeting.

Some “Urban Futures Group” fans will object that the entire group should not be judged for the biased comments of one of their leaders. But that doesn't wash. There were at least six other leaders of the Urban Futures Steering Committee in the room. Most near the microphone, some right beside the chairperson. I watched them. Her comments were supported by their smug smirks, blank stares and unapologetic silence.

As long as governments give money to groups that organize by self-pity, guilt trips, segregation, bullying and rigged votes, revitalization will never take root. Government must have courage to stop a process that is patently unfair.

At Monday's community meeting, one group won a vote, but they poisoned the whole community process.

If this is any indication of the nature of "Urban Futures", our urban future looks bleak indeed.
Copyright 2003
Rev. Harry Lehotsky
Rev. Harry Lehotsky is Director of New Life Ministries, a community ministry in the inner-city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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