Mayoral forum on downtown issues

A front-page article in last week’s WREN highlighted coverage of the Shaw TV/WinnipegREALTORS® All Candidates Mayoral Forum.  One difference in this live forum from others is the fact that all four mayoral candidates were present. 
While you can debate the merit of having two candidates, Rav Gill and Brad Gross, who are not in contention at this point, participate in a televised event with so much at stake,  the reality is they did meet all the requirements of having their names on the ballot box on October 27. Both mayoral candidates offered up some interesting points as well as posed candidate-to-candidate questions that would resonate with a number of voters. 
Democracy is well served with different perspectives at play. What really made the fast-paced forum, moderated by Shaw’s Kim Babij, interesting was the full engagement throughout the evening with the three media panelists. Mayoral candidate Sam Katz took more of the media’s attention during the initial and follow-up round of questions, but that goes with the territory of being the incumbent of six years in the mayor’s chair.
From an organizational point of view, WinnipegREALTORS® and Shaw TV were both pleased with the probing and direct questions posed by the media panel of Bartley Kives, Tom Brodbeck and Julie Bell. Their questions certainly elicited some good responses which served the forum’s objective of informing the public about what the candidates stand for and their intentions if elected. 
To no one’s surprise, lead mayoral challenger Judy Wasylycia-Leis was determined to go after Katz on issues of transparency and a call for the release of details on the Veolia deal.  On the other hand, Katz was able to counter that the deal being negotiated with Veolia on helping the city handle long-term sewage and water treatment upgrades is in the taxpayer’s best interest in terms of the cost savings to be realized.
To Shaw’s credit, it was decided to re-run the forum at 9 p.m. the same evening due to some signal issues at the beginning of the forum scheduled for 7 p.m. In addition, rebroadcasts of the forum will be held on Shaw Channel 9 on Friday, October 15 at 6 p.m., Tuesday, October 19 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, October 24 at 9 p.m.
WinnipegREALTORS® also recently sponsored a  forum on downtown issues held at the new Manitoba Hydro Tower on Portage Avenue that was presented by the Downtown Winnipeg Biz, Exchange District Biz and the Institute of Urban Studies at the University of Winnipeg. CJOB’s Richard Cloutier and the Winnipeg Free Press’ Dan Lett moderated this event that featured frontrunner mayoral candidates  Sam Katz and Judy Wasylycia-Leis. 
What was helpful to those who attended the event was a handout with the responses to a number of important questions posed to them in advance by the organizers. 
For example, “Will you provide the lead downtown agencies with tools such as tax incremental financing to create proper private-sector-driven development?”
The 10 questions and replies can be found at the website and then click on the Mayoral Forum link. 
The article below by downtown advocate Stefano Grande contains his opinions on the forum, as well as what he thinks still needs to be done to move our downtown forward.
Downtown needs to be a priority
This municipal election the Downtown BIZ and our partners are making the downtown a priority by ensuring that our mayoral candidates understand the challenges facing the downtown and continue to be committed to its full renewal.
For this reason, the BIZ and our partner the WinnipegREALTORS® hosted a downtown forum moderated by Dan Lett from the Free Press and Richard Cloutier from CJOB.  With over 250 people in attendance,  mayoral candidates Sam Katz and Judy Wasylycia-Leis responded to a series of questions that were posed around the core areas of importance: safety, parking, retail development, homelessness, panhandling, housing development, rapid transit, and public infrastructure,just to name a few.   
While there were no resounding downtown commitments — there never are at these types of events — we did hear a common theme of more policing, the need to address homeless, and plans to start eliminating surface parking lots by engaging the private sector through the creation of mixed-use development.
What made the event interesting was that the moderators allowed those in attendance to ask their own question along the lines of the common themes.
You would think that after decades of talking about significant action about renewal and revitalization, these core areas would be well on their way in being addressed.  
But the reality is that, despite several positive steps forward, more work is required because, similar to fixing an older grandeur home, it takes time and patience.  
Often, the pace of change is dictated by market forces, resources and most importantly informed leadership. What makes it difficult is that these three factors are always in flux. Keeping the downtown front and centre of all our politicians is a priority and mandatory.
Our downtown is important because it is the battery which drives the economic engine of our province, generating significant employment, property, payroll, education and other goods and sales taxes. These contributions enhance the quality of life of Manitobans as well as Canadians.  
Our downtown is the pulse of the entire city by which tourists, investors and Winnipeggers judge the economic health of our province, as well as the manner in which we witness and celebrate our unique architecture, culture and history.  
What other neighbourhood is shared by the entire province?  With millions of annual visitors, shopping, working, living and just playing, our downtown belongs to everyone. As a result, we need to be good stewards.
The municipal election will be a test of Winnipeggers to determine who is the right agent of change and leader who best understands where our city and downtown is headed, and who will best champion this vision at all levels of government, because it does take the three levels of government to succeed. The pace at which our downtown continues to evolve and revitalize will depend on it. 
(Stefano Grande is the executive-director of the Downtown Winnipeg Business Improvement Zone, or Downtown BIZ.)