Manitoba

City communications strategy 'broken', says Coun. Lukes

Weak publicity on a meeting to reveal design plans for the second phase of rapid transit and other issues have prompted St. Vital Councillor Janice Lukes to blast the city's communications strategy.
RAW VIDEO: Winnipeg councillor Janice Lukes blasts the city's communications strategy and said there was not enough publicity for a meeting to reveal design plans for the second phase of rapid transit. 1:09

A Winnipeg councillor blasted the city's communications strategy and said there was not enough publicity for a meeting to reveal design plans for the second phase of rapid transit Tuesday.

Coun. Janice Lukes said there are other issues in communications, too.

"Right now, within the city, there are a lot of improvements that are occurring, but we have a broken communications system," Lukes said.
Coun. Janice Lukes says city communications are "driving me crazy." (Sean Kavanagh/CBC)

The rookie councillor said it's very difficult to get or share information and it's hard to be effective when all she does is try to find and gather information. Lukes spoke Tuesday following the infrastructure and public works meeting she chaired at City Hall.

Lukes' anger was prompted by city communications about an upcoming public information session to unveil details of the second phase of rapid transit to the University of Manitoba. The city placed some advertisements in local weekend papers, but did not issue a press release to media outlets and has no announcement about the meeting on its website. A notice of the session does appear on the Winnipeg Transit website.

Lukes was also perturbed by the recent cancellation of a seminar for councillors on the design decisions for the rapid transit route.

"This is huge. We are spending over a million [dollars] in transit right now getting people in and out of the stadium. It's really important to see how it [transit] connects to the stadium and how it connects to the U of M."

Lukes told reporters both Mayor Brian Bowman and recently appointed city CAO Doug McNeil were aware of the communications problems. She noted the city's communications department had recently come under the responsibility of the CAO.

"This is the job of corporate communications and it's now under the office of Mr. McNeil," Lukes said. "I would suggest we speak with Mr. McNeil in further detail on this because it's his responsibility."

CBC News has requested an interview with city McNeil about Lukes' concerns.

Lukes said she made communications an election issue last fall and promised to improve dialogue with the public about what the city is doing. But she said the situation as it stands now is not satisfactory.

"I admit it's very frustrating and as a new councillor it's driving me crazy."

Lukes added she understands change is in the works and it takes time.

"I think it's growing pains," she said. 

City CAO 'has a plan'

McNeil said he regrets Lukes and the public didn't get more timely information about the design of phase two of rapid transit.

"We could have done better, we could have got the information to her earlier, certainly," he said. "I just arrived here. I think we've got a ways to go to improve the communication."

McNeil told CBC News city staff had planned to brief councilors on the design of phase two of rapid transit in a seminar, but not all the information was ready. He said an "unfortunate chain of events" occurred, delaying that briefing, and that stalled better communications with the public on the information session coming Thursday.

McNeil said he's already begun instituting the first parts of changes to the city's communications strategy, including designating one primary contact person in each department to be responsible to share information with his office.

He also blamed some of the communications shortcomings on a lack of staff, saying the city of Winnipeg is "under-resourced."

"Maybe it would have worked for the administration in the past but it doesn't work today."

McNeil said hiring more communications staff is high on his wish list and that would bring Winnipeg in line with other Canadian cities.

"Definitely more communications officers. I mean, I think we have a half a dozen people that are serving a population of this size. If you look at other western Canadian cities, commensurate with their size of city, they have far more communications people."

A review of the city's communications, both internal and public, should be completed in two-to-three months, McNeil said.

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