Four for mayor

I’m not sure Mayor Sam Katz wants his endorsement, but that is exactly what Ron Pollack provided, which resulted in fits of laughter from the 100 people attending the mayoralty forum held on October 12 at the Hotel Fort Garry.

By far the most comical of the four mayoralty candidates, Pollock actually gave his endorsement many times over to Katz at the forum hosted by the Winnipeg Real Estate Board/Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by the Manitoba Heavy Construction Association. Meanwhile, he dismissed candidates Marianne Cerilli and Kaj Hasselriis as being too far to the left for his liking.

Pollock, a paralegal, told Cerilli she was a radical left-wing feminist and Hasselriis that he was cast in the same mould as former Mayor Glen Murray, which was presumably meant as a slur. Actually, he said both Cerilli and Hasselriis were “wannabe Glen Murrays.”

“If Marianne Cerilli, an extreme left-wing feminist, is elected mayor, I would have to leave town,” said Pollock. “I would go to Alberta.

“I’m just saying the things the mayor is too polite to say, because he’s a gentleman, but I tell you, he thinks this stuff,” Pollock added to more laughter.

Pollock admitted to being far right on the political spectrum, adding that Katz shared some of his conservative inclinations but was a tad too liberal in comparison to himself. In fact Pollock, when making this point, begged the audience to cast a few of the “spare” conservative votes his way that would normally be reserved for Katz.

Pollock’s forays into the realm of  comedy added a little spice to an otherwise mundane forum. Actually, the forum provided few insights to judge the merits of the four candidates seeking to become Winnipeg’s highest elected official. The absence of any truly significant issues and the inability of the three candidates opposing Katz to articulate a new vision for the city has hampered this election campaign

Law-and-order, fiscal prudence, business tax cuts, private-public partnerships in city services and continuing on the path he was taking before the election, including his ability to wrestle funds for infrastructure from Ottawa and the province, was the mantra of Katz.

Cerilli talked about taxing big-box retailers and preventing urban sprawl. The downtown is where to invest rather than suburbs, she insisted. Cerilli said big-box retailers aren’t paying their fair share of taxes and the extra money collected from them is what will fund investment downtown.

Hasselriis mentioned the urgent need for rapid transit and more bicycle paths as well as putting a levy on lots purchased in new subdivisions to provide more money for the city’s coffers to fund these initiatives. He also favours slashing the business tax.

Both Cerilli and Hasselriis can be said to be the “green” candidates of the mayoralty race. Hasselriis actually has a 24-point plan to make Winnipeg Canada’s “greenest city.”

Pollock cited the need to create a trust fund to bring back NHL hockey to Winnipeg and build a new stadium for the Blue Bombers. He wants to fund sports in the city, but on the other hand he’s dismissive of the arts crowd. “I would choose bus riders any day over the arts crowd, who are the liberal limousine types ... I’d be Katz-plus, plus the NHL, plus the Bomber stadium.”

Hasselriis, a former CBC journalist, was arguably the most articulate of the speakers but his inexperience at the political game was cited by Cerilli as a detriment. She claimed to be the best option to oust Katz since she has 13 years of experience in politics as an NDP MLA.

The best exchange was between Hasselriis and Katz. Towards the end of the forum, the relatively youthful Hasselriis asked Katz to elaborate on a question of how he would bring jobs to Winnipeg and keep youth from fleeing the city for points beyond the province’s borders, such as Alberta.

“You didn’t answer my question!” exclaimed Hasselriis. “What specific jobs?”

At this point Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce president and moderator of the forum, Dave Angus, piped in that the remarks were at an end.

“Oh, he has 23 seconds left.” Hasselriis countered, though too late to get a more indepth answer from Katz.

Angus, who kept a tight rein on the time allotted to each candidate, had to periodically interrupt Cerilli, who proved to have a problem with managing her time when answering questions from the media panel. In the era of the sound bite, she simply hasn’t grasped the concept and tends to use complete sentences within lengthy paragraphs. Cerilli’s campaign managers should tell her that proper English has little to do with politics today. Sadly, it’s more important to get a sassy and often trite 10-second comment — the sound bite pursued by radio and TV — on the six o’clock news. 

Meanwhile, Pollock seemed to have mastered this artform, but more in the manner of a class clown. He didn’t actually answer many of the questions posed by the media panel, but his remarks, even when way off topic, gave the audience a useful wake-up call when eyelids started to droop. 

The reality is that Katz remains far ahead of his challengers. He has a popularity rating of 69 per cent among Winnipeg voters and that’s a lead that’s virtually insurmountable.

But let’s give the three challengers credit — they came aboard knowing that it’s almost impossible to unseat an incumbent mayor. In fact, it hasn’t been done since 1956 when populist Stephen Juba beat out incumbent George Sharpe, which has been classified by some as the greatest political upset in Winnipeg’s history.

The power of incumbency has proven time and time again to be the trump card of mayors since the days of Bill Norrie, Susan Thompson and even Glen Murray, who wasn’t ousted from office but chose to pursue a seat in the 2004 federal election, though unsuccessfully.

Cerilli, Hasselriis and Pollock accepted that the odds were heavily stacked against them and yet have willingly given their valuable time and efforts to ensure voters are provided with options. Good for them. Win or lose on October 25, they deserve a hearty round of applause for taking up the challenge.