The Better Voter Series: Accountability lost: Winnipeg 2004 – 2010

Katz’s reign as mayor rife with irresponsibility

Three pillars of accountable government are transparency, integrity and honesty. With the upcoming civic election getting closer, we should examine the last six years of city politics since Sam Katz was elected as mayor and see what kind of a government we’ve had.

Amongst other things, a transparent municipal government should be responsible for properly informing its citizens about any business deals it makes.

In May, our city council signed a 30-year contract with Veolia Canada to manage Winnipeg’s upcoming sewage management upgrades. City councillors and the public were not given details as to how much money this will save the city (if any), which parts of the publicly owned waste and water utility will be operated by Veolia, or even how much money this will eventually cost the city.

To put this decision in context, Winnipeg activist and friend Rudi Peters compared the Veolia contract to a personal mortgage. “Would any sensible person sign a 30 year mortgage without reading the fine print?” That doesn’t sound like transparency to me.

Any civic government that claims to have integrity should put the interests of its citizens ahead of the business interests of its mayor. Sam Katz is the owner of the Winnipeg Goldeyes baseball team and their stadium uses a parking lot managed by Riverside Park Management, a company formed by none other than Sam Katz.

In late 2008, the city’s executive policy committee, all of whom were appointed by Katz, voted to relieve the Riverside Park Management of a whopping $233,000 in outstanding taxes.

Would an accountable government misuse its power so blatantly? Isn’t exploitation of political office the very definition of government corruption? That’s anything but integrity.

An accountable mayor should be honest and open with the public about his (or, hopefully, after Oct. 27, her) political affiliations.

One of Katz’s favourite lines is that he’s never been a card-carrying member of a political party. He somehow thinks that this fact makes him appear objective, non-partisan and accountable.

The facts say something different.

Katz’s first campaign manager (and de facto chief of staff) was Hugh McFadyen, current leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba. His second chief of staff was Ryan Craig, a previous communications director for former Ontario Premier, and Progressive Conservative, Mike Harris. His third chief of staff was Sherwood Armbruster, political staffer for former Manitoban PC Premier Gary Filmon. Are you noticing a trend here?

Katz likes to exploit the fact that his main opponent in the mayoral race, Judy Wasylycia-Leis, is a former NDP member of parliament.

This is true, but it hasn’t stopped Sharon Carstairs (former leader of the Liberal Party of Manitoba) from becoming Judy’s co-campaign chair. It also hasn’t stopped Elizabeth May and the Green Party of Canada from endorsing her.

The only political party whose members aren’t indirectly endorsing Wasylycia-Leis is the so-called PC Party.

I suspect it has something to do with that party supporting Katz’s campaign. Claiming non-partisanship seems to be much less than honest.

Civic accountability doesn’t exist if the municipal government does not properly inform its citizens. It doesn’t exist if the government makes unfair tax deals with firms that were founded by the mayor. And it certainly doesn’t exist if the mayor publically denies his political affiliations.

Gregory Furmaniuk is a first-year student at the University of Winnipeg and library worker involved in progressive politics at the municipal level.

Published in Volume 65, Number 4 of The Uniter (September 23, 2010)

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