By: Peter Denton

There was an old joke about a real estate agent showing a house to potential buyers. Every few minutes, he would run to a window and shout outside: “Green side up!”

After this had gone on for 20 minutes, the nervous couple finally asked why he was doing this.

He looked embarrassed and said his cousin was outside laying sod!

I remembered this joke as I listened to all sides offering their chorus of election promises about what lies ahead for Manitoba under their party’s leadership. Amid the plans and pronouncements, the practical urgency of grappling with issues relating to climate change, fighting environmental degradation or taking steps toward sustainable future are all missing.

We are watching the different parties earnestly laying sod, but upside down. They reflect a set of inverted priorities, offered under the assumption that unless you promise the moon, voters will choose someone else.

“Green side up!” should be the shout that greets all would-be politicians at every whistle stop they make before April 19.

An example? What about the fiction of a split between Winnipeg and Manitoba? When the overwhelming majority of the province lives in Winnipeg or the areas immediately around it, the city can’t pretend to exist in splendid isolation from government priorities and direction.

For instance, that idea of an inner ring road starting with connecting the Chief Peguis Trail with Inkster… long overdue, apparently, but it is part of a 50-year-old plan for the city. 50 years? Seriously? I think things have changed since 1966.

And Mayor Brian Bowman’s response? Hey, if you and the feds will pay for it, knock yourselves out!

It’s an expensive way to address truck traffic through the city — and with all the stoplights, not helpful for truckers. Consider the extra greenhouse gas emissions — far more are produced at lower speeds than at higher ones, so every time a vehicle stops or idles, there are more emission than caused by cruising at highway speeds.

Want cheaper answers? Post truck routes differently so trucks can’t go through neighbourhoods en route to somewhere else — and make more routes primarily truck routes with fewer stoplights. Make better use of that supposed transport hub to the west and find ways of taking highway tractor-trailers off city streets? Time the traffic lights better?

As for shrugging off the cost, Mayor Bowman, we all still pay the bills — it just depends who digs into our pockets.

It’s nice to know the province has money to burn on this initiative. What about finding provincial and federal money to do something that actually makes a difference for sustainable transportation? Relocating those rail lines before another 50 years pass? Developing a real rapid transit system that works for everyone?

And if the province is serious about reducing those GHGs in Manitoba — 60 per cent of which are due to transportation — why not help the city make transit a free ride?

Green side up — find more creative ways to fix the problems in system design that otherwise will just continue to make things worse.

It’s not about spending more money. It’s about spending it in smarter ways.

It’s also about decision-making processes. City council plays ward politics, setting out goodies for each councillor to gain their support for someone else’s. That’s why there is no citywide vision.

So we have the money to just wave through an underpass here, rubber stamp a bridge there, beautify some boulevard somewhere else, but we need major public agitation to fund composting because it would raise taxes on people who can’t afford it.

None of these decisions deal with the reality we will soon be living — and they all cost money that could be spent somewhere else.

The province could have a lot of leverage on what happens in Winnipeg — and vice versa. But that would mean setting aside the fiction of two solitudes.

In our foreign aid these days, there is an emphasis on the “whole of government” framework, where all of the players co-ordinate what they are doing before spending the money. It would be nice to see that happen more consistently at home in Manitoba.

So, check out the eco-literacy of the candidates in your riding. Make sure they don’t need to be schooled in the realities of climate change, the need for mitigation, the problems of adapting to what is coming down the road. See how open they are to hearing other voices and figuring out — together — the best way to address the problems around sustainability in all its dimensions.

We need to elect people (of whatever party) who don’t have their priorities upside down — people who don’t constantly have to be reminded how to lay sod.

If your cousin can’t figure out how to do the job himself, get someone else!

Peter Denton chairs the policy committee of the Green Action Centre.

This article was originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press on April 13, 2016.