Incumbent Mayor Sam Katz used the first televised debate of the 2010 civic election campaign to accuse challenger Judy Wasylycia-Leis of being hypocritical about government transparency.
Since late August, Wasylycia-Leis has been demanding the mayor release more details about the city’s wastewater-management contract with Veolia Canada, claiming the 30-year deal is indicative of a culture of secrecy at city hall.
Katz has responded by demanding the former Winnipeg North MP release details of her expenses when she served in Ottawa – and Wasylycia-Leis has dismissed that move as a deflection.
But tonight, Katz attacked his opponent’s record on government transparency when she served as a member of Howard Pawley’s Manitoba NDP government during the 1980s.
During an all-candidates’ debate at the Franco-Manitoban Cultural Centre, televised by Shaw Cable, Katz lambasted Wasylycia-Leis for "sitting on" Manitoba’s freedom-of-information legislation for more than two years after the Pawley government passed it in 1985.
That legislation was enacted by Gary Filmon’s Progressive Conservative government in 1988. Ombudsman Manitoba attributes the delay to records-management upgrades.
Wasylycia-Leis dismissed the criticism and altered a phrase made famous by former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to fire back at Katz for refusing to share more details of the Veolia contract.
"You had a choice, my friend," said Wasylycia-Leis, aping Mulroney’s famous "you had an option, sir" zinger from the 1984 federal-election debate with former Liberal leader John Turner.
Katz maintains the city has not finished writing the Veolia contract, which calls for the environmental consulting firm to design, build and possibly manage $661 million worth of upgrades to two city sewage-treatment plants.
Some city officials are concerned about the scope of the deal and say it may include hundreds of millions more in contracts. Katz suggested last night he was not aware of that.
The incumbent mayor also accused Wasylycia-Leis of being hypocritical about her "buy local" policy, claiming that his opponent has spent most of her advertising money on a Vancouver-based agency.
The agency in question, Now Communications, has a Winnipeg office as well as other branches in Toronto, Regina and Halifax.
The debate was also the first to feature Winnipeg’s other two mayoral candidates: real-estate agents Rav Gill and Brad Gross.
Gill promised to eliminate and redevelop the CPR Winnipeg Yards. Gross criticized Katz for selling off the revenue-generating Winnipeg Square Parkade.
The debate was organized by Winnipeg Realtors. Shaw Cable intends to rebroadcast the 85-minute event.