Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A spat of historic proportions

Council sparring overshadows city's history-making vote for Speaker

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The vote for Devi Sharma as the first woman Speaker of Winnipeg city council was supposed to be unanimous.

But three councillors who voted "No" Wednesday are being accused of playing cheap politics and tarnishing a historic moment.

Coun. John Orlikow said Sharma's election was "whipped" by Mayor Sam Katz, who Orlikow said pressured members of his executive policy committee and others to vote for the inexperienced councillor from Old Kildonan rather than council veteran Dan Vandal.

"What I am against is (Katz) whipping people to vote in a certain way," Orlikow (River Heights-Fort Garry) said, adding that was how the city hired Katz's friend Phil Sheegl as chief administrative officer.

However, two members of EPC -- Grant Nordman and Mike Pagtakhan -- said they didn't need Katz to tell them how to vote, adding Sharma won the vote because she worked for it.

'What I am against is (Katz) whipping people to vote in a certain way' -- Coun. John Orlikow

"No one told me how to vote," Pagtakhan (Point Douglas) said.

"She's the future (at city hall)," Nordman (St. Charles) said. "Devi went out and made sure she had the votes. It wasn't even close."

Recent protocol among councillors is the vote for Speaker is held during a private meeting with all supporting the winner at the public reorganizational meeting.

A source said Sharma lobbied heavily for the position and she easily defeated Vandal during the vote held Monday.

"I wanted the job because I believe I can do it," Sharma said. "I talked to all the councillors."

Orlikow said based solely on qualifications, Vandal was the better candidate, adding he's a council veteran, experienced as a chairman, familiar with the rules of council, bilingual and won't be running again.

Orlikow said Sharma is a nice person but lacks experience. He said she's never chaired a committee and has only been on council for three years.

"Which is the better candidate to be Speaker, nothing personal, just who do I think is better?" Orlikow said. "To me, the obvious choice (was Vandal).

"That choice wasn't made because (Katz) said to his members 'you will vote for,' Sharma. "They're all going, 'yes sir, yes sir,' and that's how we got into this position."

Orlikow was joined by Couns. Jenny Gerbasi and Ross Eadie in voting against an omnibus motion that appointed Sharma Speaker, Thomas Steen deputy Speaker and filled out membership on standing committees and boards and agencies.

Coun. Grant Nordman (St. Charles) said Orlikow's comments tarnished Sharma's special moment.

"Orlikow has put her in an uncomfortable position without giving her a chance," Nordman said.

Nordman said he believes Vandal lost the vote because he's preparing to run as a Liberal in the next federal election in St. Boniface, adding at least two-thirds (11 of 16 individuals) of council voted for Sharma.

"Nothing against (Vandal), but he's the past -- he's got one foot in Winnipeg and one foot in Ottawa," Nordman said. "We're looking to the future."

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 7, 2013 B1

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