While Mayor Sam Katz continues to pledge light rail transit to the city of Winnipeg if re-elected, entrant Judy Wasylycia-Leis promises to complete Phase Two of the rapid transit corridor within her first term as mayor if elected.
“I will not allow this ridiculous spectacle of having a half finished corridor, sitting there, with the possibility that it might be converted to a [light rail transit], which will cost us another half billion dollars, and take who knows how long,” said Wasylycia-Leis.
Katz pointed out that it was himself who got Phase One of the rapid transit corridor off the ground, and stated he was committed to building a light rail transit system within the next five years if re-elected.
“The opportunity is there. If we don’t seize it, it’s really foolish,” said Katz.
The mayor explained that he wants to work with the federal government to put a light rail system in place, and believes it will move the city into the future.
When asked to comment on accusations that he is not fully committed to completing Phase Two all the way to the University of Manitoba, Katz told the Manitoban, “It’s unfortunate that there are those people who have no idea what they’re talking about.”
Wasylycia-Leis said she would like to see the rapid transit system completed as it was designed, and not continue to switch gears between bus rapid transit and light rail transit.
“We don’t need to do that. We can practice sustainability right now,” said Wasylycia-Leis.
The two candidates squared off in the first of seven forums and debates scheduled before the Oct. 27 vote.
On the issue of crime and safety reduction, arguably the most significant issue in the civic election, Katz highlighted his initiatives during his six years as mayor, such as achieving a 74 per cent drop in auto theft, launching the city’s first tactical unit and acquiring a police helicopter.
Katz said that he wants to apply the same strategies used to reduce auto theft to reducing gang related crime in the city, including dedicating 20 more officers to the Winnipeg Police Service gang unit launched in January, allowing the police to monitor gang members more consistently.
“We will be giving people trapped in gang neighbourhoods a sense of renewed confidence that gangs will be brought to justice,” said Katz.
Wasylycia-Leis pointed out that Winnipeg is known across Canada for being the violent crime capital, and criticized Katz for not developing a comprehensive strategy to deal with crime in the city.
“We are not at all going in the right direction. All the statistics show that we are going in the wrong direction,” said Wasylycia-Leis.
She suggested formalizing relationships with mayors of larger cities across Canada who have managed to reduce their crime rates despite having many of the same social problems as Winnipeg, and developing solid policies on crime reduction.
The candidates also squared off on improving infrastructure after being asked if they would be willing to raise property taxes to combat a growing deficit.
Wasylycia-Leis announced on Friday, Sept. 17 that if elected, she plans to raise property taxes by two per cent, meaning the average Winnipeg family would pay an extra $27 more per year.
The additional money would go towards improving parks, pothole repair and to the police.
Katz did not confirm what his stance was on raising property taxes, stating that a committee directed by Chris Lorenc is currently exploring infrastructure solutions.
“From my point of view, I’m not talking about a property tax increase. I believe you have to get innovative and look at alternatives, and that’s what we’re going to do,” said Katz.
The candidates face off again on Wednesday, Oct. 6 during the CJOB mayoral forum, and at the Winnipeg Realtors debate at the Franco-Manitoban Cultural Centre at 7 p.m., which all candidates have been invited to.
Ed Ackerman, Rav Gill, Brad Gross, Avery Petrowski and Nancy Thomas are also registered to run for mayor, as well as Ron Dyck, who registered this Saturday.