It was an event that had all the makings of an auspicious, informative evening.
On October 9, WinnipegREALTORS® and Shaw TV Channel 9 joined forces to put on the 2014 Mayoral Forum, live from the Franco-Manitoban Cultural Centre. With a live audience and a crack panel of inquisitors to ask questions — The Metro News’ Colin Fast, CBC Radio’s Marcy Markusa and Winnipeg Free Press writer Bartley Kives, and a skilled moderator in Global TV’s Peter Chura — the stage was set for a lively evening.
The forum focused on three issues: infrastructure and transit, taxes and integrity at city hall.
During the only televised mayoral forum on their schedule, the various mayoral candidates talked a lot about policies already released over the course of the two-hour-plus event, although there was a smattering of spontaneous barbs between candidates when it came to asking questions of each other, as well as the occasional laugh.
In retrospect, the approach taken by the candidates wasn’t all that surprising given the poll results released only days before the forum was held.
The polls showed that Judy Wasylycia-Leis was well in front at 41 per cent, followed by Brian Bowman at 23 per cent and Gord Steeves at 16 per cent, with all other candidates — Robert-Falcon Ouellette, Paula Havixbeck, David Sanders and Michel
Fillion – trailing far behind the front-runners.
Bowman was the most aggressive during the forum, mounting attacks on Wasylycia-Leis and Steeves, accusing Judy of lacking leadership skills, and Steeves of “having treated members of our indigenous community with such disrespect.”
Steeves replied that he respected and had the respect of the aboriginal community.
Meanwhile, Wasylycia-Leis used her political savvy to deflect the verbal missiles sent her way by her pursuers, especially Bowman, who questioned her municipal government experience.
“If you’re so critical of politicians, why are you running for this job?” she asked. She said she has three decades of political experience to bring to the table if elected mayor.
Wasylsycia-Leis doggedly stuck to her campaign platform: that she’d fix city hall, rebuild the city’s crumbling infrastructure, protect city services and create opportunities. She proposes to increase property taxes by three per cent over four years to fund infrastructure and services.
Steeves expressed concern over the tax burden on low-to-middle income Winnipeggers, so he promised to freeze property taxes if elected.
He also seemed intent on proving he’s a nice guy, and “easy to work with.”
Wasylycia-Leis promised to finish BRT (bus rapid transit), while Steeves said he wouldn’t proceed with its construction due to BRT being “too expensive,” and the money was better spent on other infrastructure projects.
“For goodness sake let’s get this (BRT) done,” said Wasylycia-Leis.
Ouellette reiterated his commitment to shelve the next phase of BRT, and to replace it with light rail after relocating rail yards.
He also said he would implement a land value tax for downtown surface parking lots (it was pointed out that it required provincial approval) to help finance a $250-million core infrastructure fund.
Havixbeck mentioned the alleged scandals at city hall as making it necessary for change, and promised a property tax freeze.
“I’m going to do whatever it takes to restore accountability (at city hall),” said Bowman.
Sanders talked about the city’s budget deficit of $100 million was a “goliath of a problem” that could only be addressed by a five per cent tax increase.
Fillion’s opening comments about air-raid shelters, solicited the remark from Markusa that it “made it difficult to take you seriously.
“Why air-raid shelters?” she asked.
“When you have the bombs going on your head, Marcy, I’ll ask you why,” he replied.
“Judy and I are really great friends,” said Steeves in one of the more playful moments during the forum, “but we don’t agree on a darn thing.”
“If you want more of the same, vote for this guy,” said Wasylycia-Leis, while smiling and gently shaking the shoulder of Steeves, a former city councillor.