I recently read an article in the Winnipeg Free Press by columnist Gordon Sinclair that I feel expressed a decidedly cynical attitude towards the newly established Assiniboine Park Conservancy. I feel Sinclair is uninformed about what is happening at Assiniboine Park and should take an intelligent look at all the facts. First, the Assiniboine Park Conservancy began in 2006 when the City of Winnipeg felt that the park was not being maintained properly and needed investment from outside donors to bring the park the world renowned status it deserves. Since then many changes been made to improve Assiniboine park such as the Qualico Centre, the International Polar Bear Conservation Centre and the plans for a new Conservatory showcasing many plants that grow in different climates.
I think the Assiniboine Park Conservancy has done a great job with Assiniboine Park considering the past neglect from City of Winnipeg budgets and previous park employees. One such instance that I feel brought neglect was the way in which various city departments all shared jurisdictions over different parts of the park. This shared responsibility inevitably led to poor coordination and inefficient practices when regular duties and maintenance were done around the park.
The isolation of Assiniboine Park also led to low supervision and eventually became a hiding place for City of Winnipeg crews while at work. I have on many occasions travelled through the park and seen City of Winnipeg trucks sitting idle with a full crew of people doing nothing for extended periods of time, clearly longer than a normal break.
This isolation turned Assiniboine Park into a near retirement home for city workers who were nearing the end of their career with the City of Winnipeg. City of Winnipeg workers would request a transfer to Assiniboine Park where the oversight was low and the work was considered easy.
The neglect Assiniboine Park has seen in the past brought a need for new investment and hence the creation of the Assiniboine Park Conservancy, which is dedicated to the preservation of the park. With any new organization there needs to be people at the top to give direction, something the City of Winnipeg did not have, and as well as people to go out and raise the money that Assiniboine Park needs for investment.
Sinclair makes the claim that the eight executives making $133,000 each seems like a lot of money. This is true, until you compare what they are paid to what they have raised, in terms of revenue. Under the current Imagine a Place Campaign the Assiniboine Park Conservancy has raised $133 million out of the intended goal of two hundred million. That is very substantial amount, something that couldn’t be accomplished without the hard working executives and staff of the Assiniboine Park Conservancy.
The final statement Sinclair made is that the grass is too long and the weeds are growing through the wood chips. Many parts of Assiniboine Park have been in disrepair long before the Assiniboine Park Conservancy took over, that is, the wood chips are sun bleached and sometimes fully overgrown with weeds. It is foolish to think that after less than a year all the shrub beds in Assiniboine Park would be fixed and as pristine as they should be. As far as the long grass goes I think the Assiniboine Park Conservancy is attempting to do three things: leave naturalized areas to create a prairie feel, give wildlife habitat, and also act as a natural filter to pollutants.
The restoration of Assiniboine Park is certainly needed and thanks to the Assiniboine Park Conservancy this needed change is happening. It is time to give up the old idea of how to run the park and focus on changing to what works and getting rid of what doesn’t.