Candidates trade barbs during mayoral forum

Before the WinnipegREALTORS®
/Shaw TV  Mayoral Forum got underway, candidate Judy Wasylycia-Leis told the WREN she had pulled even with incumbent Sam Katz in a recent poll because of her courage to announce a campaign plank that included a promise to raise city property taxes by two per cent each year for four years. 
Wasylycia-Leis said the tax increase, which would raise $36 million over the four-year period, was an indication of the “direct approach” and “transparency” she would bring to city hall if elected.
“It would help to reverse years of neglect,” she said during the forum.
South St. Vital homeowner Yvette Roberts, who attended last Wednesday evening’s forum at the Centre Culturel Franco-Manitoban, said she was going to vote for Wasylycia-Leis because she gives “straight answers” to city problems. Among the “straight answers” was the promise to raise taxes, which is needed to at least maintain existing services, according to Roberts.
But, others in the audience strongly disagreed, saying the two-per-cent property tax increase was a severe blow to Wasylycia-Leis’s election prospects and a gift to incumbent Sam Katz.
During the intermission at the forum, Mynarski ward city council hopeful, David Polsky, said he is seeing more and more Katz signs spring up along the campaign trail due to the challenger’s promise, and when knocking on doors in the ward, residents are expressing anger at the proposed tax increase.
Shirley Timm-Rudolph, a former city councillor and candidate for trustee in River East-Transcona, said it was foolish for Wasylycia-Leis to announce a tax increase, as Winnipeggers already feel they are overtaxed.
During the debate televised live by Shaw, Katz said his solution to revenue problems facing the city was to ask the Manitoba government to provide a bigger share of the provincial sales tax pie.  
Katz said the city was only getting seven cents on every dollar in PST residents pay to the province. If the city received just one per cent of the PST, it would have an extra $230 million in its coffers, he explained. Katz called property taxes “regressive taxes.”
Rav Gill said  it was the worst time possible for a tax increase. “People can’t afford it,” he  commented, adding he would reduce the city’s business tax.
Brad Gross said he would reduce the business tax by 15 per cent for every job created by small business, as well as keep seniors in their homes longer by reducing their share of the city’s property taxes by 20 per cent.
The forum was more sedate than an earlier CJOB radio debate between Katz and Wasylycia-Leis, which can be attributed to it being moderated by Shaw’s Kim Babij, who allowed all four candidates an opportunity to address the issues. But the occasional sharp barb was exchanged between the front-runners, as well as challenges from the media panel — Winnipeg Free Press’ Bartley Kives, CBC’s Julie Bell, and Tom Brodbeck from the Winnipeg Sun — to “answer the question.”
Wasylycia-Leis continually brought up the city’s contract with Veolia Canada, which calls for the company to potentially design, build and manage the upgrades to the city’s two sewage treatment plants. She accused Katz of refusing to release the contract’s details to the public, saying that it was an indication of a “culture of secrecy” at city hall.
She promised to end the “hidden agenda, and closed-door meetings” at city hall. “I will collaborate with the people to build consensus,” she promised.
Katz then challenged Wasylycia-Leis to come clean on why she, as a Winnipeg North NDP MP, hasn’t released details of her expenses while in the House of Commons, implying the mayoral candidate has something to hide. He also mentioned that while as the minister responsible, Wasylycia-Leis sat on freedom of information legislation for two years after it had been passed by the former Howard Pawley NDP government in 1985. The legislation was enacted by Conservative Premier Gary Filmon’s government in 1988.
Reminiscent of Liberal Leader John Turner’s and Conservative Brian Mulroney’s televised debate during the 1984 federal election, Wasylycia-Leis took the role of Mulroney, echoing his famous charge to Turner, “You had an option, sir,” by telling Katz, “You had a choice, sir,” to release the details of the $660-million upgrades to the treatment plants.
Katz replied that the details of the contract have not been finalized, and the upgrades were mandated by the province. Katz said he is still negotiating with the province to half the cost of the upgrades by asking the Selinger government to eliminate the requirement to remove nitrogen from city sewage. Katz claimed scientific evidence does not support the need to remove nitrogen from sewage.
Other barbs were traded between the two candidates on the merits of different forms of rapid transit. Wasylycia-Leis accused Katz of a “flip-flop” by not completing the second phase of bus rapid transit (BRT) from the downtown to the University of Manitoba, and proposing to instead change the corridor to a light rail  transit (LRT). The challenger said she would order the completion of the BRT corridor if elected
Katz said he had an agreement with former Premier Gary Doer, before he left for Washington as Canadian Ambassador, to approach Ottawa for the necessary funding. Katz said  he is still discussing the proposal with the new premier, claiming that LRT is the wave of the future and already exists in other progressive Canadian cities such as Montréal, Toronto, Vancouver and Edmonton.
Rebroadcasts of the forum will be shown on Shaw  Channel 9 on October 15 at 6 p.m., October 19 at 8 p.m. and October 24 at 9 p.m.