CentrePort Canada, Winnipeg's inland port, held their first open house May 13th, 2009. What the event was, and what I expected it to be were completely different.
I went with the impression that it would be a town hall setting where the public could step up to the mic to ask questions to the board or at least a few members of the board. Instead, the event was put on by MMM Group, the firm hired by the Government of Manitoba to develop the Development Plan for the 20,000 acres dedicated to the project. They had staff present to answer questions, or try to answer questions, that would have been best answered by the board members. Poster boards and a slide show were placed throughout the small conference room outlining a very basic idea of what the project entailed. Also on hand was Harlan Mushumanski, Communications Coordinator with Communication Services Manitoba. Now, I must add that I didn't stay till the end of the event, so board members may have been present. However, considering the magnitude of Manitoba's inland port, should they not be there for the whole event?
I first spoke with an employee of MMM Group to get an understanding of their involvement. The gentleman really knew very little about the project as a whole, and when asked about the new website being promoted at the event, told me it was thrown together for the event, but with no intention of further development once their role was completed. This leads nicely into my conversation with Harlan.
In talking with Harlan I pointed out the fact that the bodies involved, from government to the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, have really done nothing to collaborate all the information on CentrePort Canada to one central website for public review. I added that the government had already spent over $220 million dollars on the project, and with that comes questions from the taxpayers. For a Communications Coordinator he didn't seem to feel that this was a real issue considering what an early stage they are at in the port's development. Is it just me, or are Winnipeggers not seeking information on what the economic and social impacts will be on them as taxpayers? Maybe not... but that may be because most people still really have no idea the inland port is happening.
I've taken the time to ask a number of friends and Winnipeg business associates what they think of the project. To my concern, a number hadn't heard of the project and others thought it was just the airport extension. In fact, one of my colleagues was talking with the Union leader for Air Canada, and they didn't even know about the project at all.
Being a Winnipegger, I know how difficult people in this city accept change, and how angry they get about where their tax dollars are being used. Couple that with those concerned about the environment and green initiatives in the city, and Winnipeg's inland port becomes a very touchy subject. The board and other bodies involved need to recognize this, and should be flooding the internet with the positives this project will bring to our city and province. As one friend said when asked about the inland port, "what's in it for me?"
The Open House once again proves my point that Winnipeg needs to start accepting the role the internet plays in how people develop their opinions. They are seriously missing an opportunity to build the public's confidence in CentrePort Canada by not respecting that people, globally, are looking for information on this now. People believe what they read.
The most interesting conversation I had at the event was with a farmer from Rosser who's land is part of the 20,000 acres being developed. He has great concerns on the lost dollars he will experience if the government tries to aggressively acquire his land, and whether he will be paid a fair price. I asked him what the government has done to educate him on the project, and whether they have opened negotiations for his parcel of land. All he's received to date is an invitation to an open house that had no one there that could properly handle his concerns. How many others share these same concerns for their future well-being that aren't being heard? What resources are being put in place to help these people learn more? The internet is where they look, but as of today, only one Winnipeg private business is addressing these concerns, doing what they can to provide the information to those affected. At least someone understands that people need information, I just thought that this would come best from CenterPort Canada Inc. themselves.