If you've ever happened upon a brawl — the kind where two siblings are hauling away at each other, screaming, crying and drawing blood — you may know how to intervene quickly.
There's the "What happened here?!" and "Who is bleeding?" and the "GET OFF YOUR BROTHER!" as you pull someone away by the scruff of their neck.
Much like a dog fight, within minutes, everyone is separated, whimpering or protesting, and licking their wounds. That's the moment to figure out what the fight was about and if it mattered. In many cases, toys can be returned to their rightful owners. Things are patched up with a grudging apology, a cookie and a hug.
I'm no CEO or MBA, but the prolonged tiff between Mayor Brian Bowman, Mark Chipman of True North, and CentreVenture reminded me of brothers involved in a run-of-the-mill disagreement. Get rid of the city, the corporations and the media attention, and we have a "he said x" and "he said y" kind of fuss that I see happening between my twin sons in my living room.
What's the first difference?
There's a lot of money wrapped up in this piece of land on Carlton Street and its potential development.
There's True North's $400-million proposal of a hotel, office and residential complex, potentially called True North Square, originally projected for completion in 2017. The city needs a hotel to generate revenue for the Convention Centre expansion. True North already has a lot invested in this as well.
This investment, this amount of cash, sounds completely alien to most of us. If you're an average Manitoban, you're more accustomed to debating whether or not to cook at home or have take-out and whether that will affect the household's weekly budget in a dire way. Yet, the principles are the same.
How much money are you earning? For us, that's our household income. I couldn't predict what the projected income will be for this potential development, but I am going to guess it would cover a lot of take-out meals and other household splurges.
What's the cost-benefit analysis of this deal? Again, I can't guess the details, but if True North pitched a $400-million project, they probably already took into account the potential financial downsides to the deal.
How much effort is it to build downtown? How much is it worth to work with the city and CentreVenture? Is the profit margin worth it? How will the city benefit from this investment? What about True North? CentreVentre?
The second difference between those preschoolers in my living room and this situation?
These are adult businesspeople with considerable assets dealing with city officials with similarly big concerns. Educated adults are able to talk things out, recognize mistakes and move forward to promote the needs of both municipalities and private interests.
We don't hear about these details a lot of the time, but our current mayor came into office with a new plan for transparency in city dealings.
There's something to be said for transparency … and sometimes, we need to say things two or three times so that others will hear. If Mayor Bowman's team had information about this deal but didn't reference it properly, Bowman might have gotten upset.
He might have needed a reminder about what was going on from True North or CentreVenture. That's ok: if the business interests have nothing to hide, they can be transparent about their deal when the media comes calling. They can accept the failings of normal human beings (Pobody's Nerfect) and respond with patience.
Or — and I don't recommend this one — they can make faces like certain preschoolers I know and announce, "I won't tell you where I hid that. It's a SECRET, mommy." In the context of Winnipeg city affairs, this might be how we came to have some seriously shady deals take place, such as a fire hall built on land the city didn't own.
What's the most important difference between the average kids' spat and this situation?
Most of the players in this deal stand to earn a lot of money. Developers don't put together a $400 million proposal for their health — they expect to earn a great deal. Their businesses will grow, their investments will flourish and their reputations will improve.
While Mark Chipman and True North may feel that they are doing the city a favor here, there will also be a substantial financial benefit. Even if this development is challenging and there are risks involved, True North wouldn't propose this deal unless they expected to earn a bundle from it.
The mayor and city government are obligated to carry the citizens' trust forward, to create good business arrangements that benefit our city. There is a renewed push for transparency which can only be good for Winnipeggers. Local media helps to amplify these efforts towards transparency, even if it occasionally makes for public drama where there isn't any.
This is, again, just a guess, but both the city and True North will likely be able to afford a lot of extras from these deals. Everyone gains by focusing on words like investment, profit, mature dialogue and transparency.
The only downside is this public loss of face when the sailing isn't smooth. It's time to step back, wipe some noses, tuck in our shirts, and work together.
Let's share some milk and cookies now and see how we can avoid future spats, boys. It doesn't make anyone look good.
Joanne Seiff is the author of two books and the mom of twin preschoolers. She writes, designs and teaches in Winnipeg.