The race is on

High stakes civic election could change the direction of Winnipeg

Promotional posters adorn the window of mayoral candidate Judy Wasylycia-Leis’s campaign office as the race heats up. Cindy Titus

With the October municipal election fast approaching and candidates announcing warring visions for the future of Winnipeg, the slow-moving civic campaign has finally begun to pick up some speed.

“(The stakes are) simply that businesses are being attracted to the city, a lot of that has to do with the current mayor and city council,” mayor Sam Katz said. “If I’m not re-elected, we’ll lose that.”

The stakes are indeed higher than in any other recent municipal election as the race between Sam Katz and veteran NDP politician Judy Wasylycia-Leis has tightened to within 10 points and four wards are sitting without incumbent city councillors.

As a result, there may be an ideological shift on council, possibly a new mayor and certainly four new city councillors by the end of Oct. 27, the day of the municipal vote.

For many involved with the tight race, the difference between the two main mayoral candidates is like standing at a crossroads.

“Judy (Wasylycia-Leis) wants Winnipeg in the past, (Sam) Katz wants to bring us into the future,” said Paul Meyerson, 25, a University of Winnipeg business administration student and creator of the Re-elect Sam Katz for Mayor Facebook group.

On one hand, Katz has been friendly to private business and supported the use of public-private partnerships (P3s) as a tool for effective city service delivery. Most recently, city council inked a deal with Veolia Canada to design, build and partially operate portions of the city’s sewage treatment.

He has publicly expressed his desire to use provincial and federal money earmarked for the Southwest rapid transit corridor on over 11 road and bridge projects. He would rather apply to P3 Canada for funding to build a rapid transit network that would incorporate both light rapid transit, in the form of street cars, and bus rapid transit.

Katz is staunchly opposed to partisanship on city council, as he made clear in his January 2010 State of the City address. To tackle crime and improve safety in the city, he supports further investments in the Winnipeg Police Service’s street crime unit, the Downtown BIZ Outreach program and a police helicopter.

“I believe Sam Katz’s values are the values of the people of Winnipeg,” Meyerson said.

On the other hand, Judy Wasylycia-Leis supports strictly public services over public-private partnerships and would give preference to local industries, like New Flyer buses, when awarding city contracts.

She is also firmly in favour of completing phase 2 of the Southwest Rapid Transit Corridor, which has received $195 million of provincial and federal cash, as a bus route rather than going against provincial wishes to divert money into other infrastructure projects.

Wasylycia-Leis’s crime initiatives include setting up a police tip line in every city neighbourhood and training city workers to report crime. Although she has not spelled out what exactly she will change, Wasylycia-Leis has vowed to improve municipal accountability and transparency.

“If you vote for Katz, we lose community centre funding, rapid transit, downtown development and real crime prevention measures,” said Andrew Podolecki, 18, an avid Wasylycia-Leis supporter.

Although the campaign is largely focused around two candidates, there are four others running for the top job and an ideological shift on council itself could alter even what the mayor promises to accomplish.

“We need a council that will change our sprawling, car-dependent city with urban decay at the centre,” said Lynne Fernandez, research associate at the Manitoba office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Published in Volume 65, Number 1 of The Uniter (September 2, 2010)

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