By Geoff Kirbyson
Brian Bowman was in seven different cross-hairs at the WinnipegREALTORS® all-candidates mayoral forum on Oct. 4th at the Franco-Manitoban Cultural Centre.
The incumbent had to fend off attacks from the seven competitors vying for his job on development impact fees, transparency at City Hall, the growing meth crisis and increasing fears over safety.
Bowman was quick to tout his record, particularly when it came to road renewal and bus rapid transit, and pledged to dedicate all of the revenue from property tax increases — limited to a maximum of 2.33 per cent — to those initiatives.
“I said about a year ago that in this campaign many people would be focused on me. I’m going to focus on Winnipeggers, thats how we build a better Winnipeg,” he said.
The candidates were grilled by moderator Brad Oswald, perspectives editor at the Winnipeg Free Press, on a number of real estate topics, including how they would ensure that the single biggest investment by most citizens would continue to increase in value.
Top challenger Jenny Motkaluk said the best way to do that is to improve public safety.
“Homes in safe neighbourhoods are worth more than homes in crime-heavy neighbourhoods, so let’s make all of our neighbourhoods safer and more valuable,” she said.
Bowman said buying a home is not only a financial investment but a vote of confidence in your community.
“Winnipeg is growing, from (a population) of 698,000 in 2013 to 750,000 and growing every day (in 2018). With that comes the responsibility of the municipal government to keep home ownership affordable while also investing in the infrastructure needed to support that growth,” he said.
“We have dedicated taxes (now). The reason why we’re finally repairing our roads after 14 years of property tax cuts and freezes is because there’s an open, transparent, predictable and dedicated tax of two per cent for roads.”
Motkaluk said Winnipeggers need some relief from “excessive” fees and pledged to review and reform the “chronic increases” in property taxes, impact fees, frontage levies, sewer and water charges and building permits.
“I simply don’t believe these increases should be put on auto pilot every year. I think smart reform can bring that practice to a halt,” she said.
Tim Diack, a long-time member of the Winnipeg Police Service, said he wants to make Winnipeg the safest city in Canada, a title that will push home prices up.
“Curb appeal is the biggest thing when you’re selling your home. That requires that the curb not be cracked, the street not filled with pot holes and the trees to be trimmed. But no matter how pretty the house is and no matter how high the curb appeal, we have neighbourhoods that have decayed, we have people who live in fear and we have people who can’t let their children play outside,” he said.
According to a Probe Research poll released late the same day as the all-candidates forum, Bowman enjoys a two-to-one lead over Motkaluk. The poll, which was commissioned by the Free Press and CTV Winnipeg, found Bowman had the support of 61 per cent of decided voters, more than double the 28 per cent who favoured Motkaluk.
The other six candidates garnered a combined 11 per cent of voter support. The survey of 653 Winnipeg adults, conducted between Sept. 19 and 28, has a margin of error of 3.8 per cent.
Doug Wilson, the former mayor of Morden, said the impact fees during his tenure in the city of 8,000 from 2006 to 2010 — they were called development fees — worked well but he thinks the situation can be improved in Winnipeg.
“We can build with the developers working hand-in-hand with the city, not in the adversarial way that’s currently being done,” he said.
Ed Ackerman is the only candidate who is currently homeless. He is a property owner but his situation has been the subject of a court battle for the past 10 years. He said each part of town has different development requirements based on the age of the infrastructure and buildings.
“If each councillor deals with their own ward, the mayor can help each councillor divide up the pie. That’s it, it’s about pie,” he said.
Other candidates participating in the forum were Umar Hayat, Don Woodstock and Venkat Machiraju.