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Katz declares war on NDP

Wide-ranging speech promises all-out fight in fall civic election

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AT times maudlin, at times combative and at one point on the verge of tears, Mayor Sam Katz delivered a State of the City speech on Tuesday that was unlike any other he’s ever made.

In a 45-minute address at the Winnipeg Conven­tion Centre, the mayor made few policy announce­ments, but launched a series of attacks against a variety of targets, including the Selinger govern­ment, Manitoba school boards, the provincial NDP and the Winnipeg Citizens’ Coalition.

Death threats and taxes

Highlights from Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz's 2010 State of the City speech, delivered Tuesday at the Winnipeg Convention Centre:

New promises

Property taxes: As expected, Katz pledged to extend Winnipeg's tax freeze for a 13th year.

Business taxes: Katz promised to prevent more Winnipeg businesses from having to pay busi­ness taxes in 2010. In 2009, one-third of Winnipeg businesses -- the smallest on the rolls -- were exempted.

On the attack

Growth revenue and waste water: Katz blasted the Selinger government for not giving the city a fair share of tax revenues and for insisting the city remove dissolved nitrogen from its waste water.

Education taxes: The mayor said spending by some provincial school boards is "out of control."

The 2010 civic election: Katz vowed to stop Mani­toba's New Democratic Party and the centre-left Winnipeg Citizens' Coalition from "taking control of council" in October.

On the defensive

A victim of the press? Katz lambasted the Win­nipeg Sun for a headline on a 2006 story about his divorce proceedings.

A victim of the system? The mayor also recounted how hard it was to get former mayor Susan Thomp­son's administration to approve his plans to build a new baseball stadium in the 1990s.

A victim of racism? In a scrum with reporters after the speech, Katz recalled a 2008 incident in which a protester at city hall used a placard to compare the mayor to Hitler. He also said police investigated a threat to his life posted on Facebook in 2009.

Tugging at heartstrings

Parental inspiration: Toward the end of his speech, Katz recalled how his parents, who survived the Holocaust, showed him he can overcome any obstacle.

Divine inspiration? Katz also suggested he decided to run for office in 2004 after a group of ministers met with him at his Winnipeg Goldeyes office and told him they would pray for him.

-- Kives

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The mayor also opened up to the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce audience with emotional anecdotes about his 2006 divorce, his Holocaust­survivor parents and a city hall protester who compared him to Adolf Hitler in 2008.

Most of the personal material came during the final minutes of his speech. After recounting ac­complishments of his administration, Katz wan­dered away from the podium and began to muse about the trials and tribulations of being an elect­ed official.

"When you run for office, there are certain things you don’t expect," Katz said before re­counting a 2006 Winnipeg Sun story about his di­vorce. "I never expected one day I’d open up the newspaper to see a headline that read, ‘ Sam and Baillie fighting over kiddie Katz.’ " The mayor said he did not expect to be the tar­get of opposition on purely ideological grounds and suggested the NDP government is in cahoots with his left-wing council opponents.

"It’s funny how, as mayor, you’re accused of having friends who own businesses and invest in our city. But if you hold membership in a political party, it’s OK to make deals with your friends, all under the guise of party politics."

The mayor went on to repeat his intention to pre­vent the NDP and the Winnipeg Citizens’ Coalition from taking control of city council when Winni­peggers go to the polls this fall. The coalition is trying to ensure NDP and left-leaning Liberal council candidates don’t run against each other in the civic election.

Earlier in the speech, Katz attacked the Selinger provincial government for failing to provide Win­nipeg with a fair share of the tax revenue gener­ated by the city and for insisting the city remove dissolved nitrogen as part of its ongoing $1.8-bil­lion waste-water upgrade. The city and province have been embroiled in a dispute over the scien­tific and financial wisdom of nitrogen removal since 2008.

Katz also said spending by some provincial school boards is "out of control," but refused to name the boards in question. He repeated the view, held by almost every member of council, that the city should not have to collect education taxes on behalf of the province.

As expected, Katz pledged to freeze property taxes in Winnipeg for the 13th straight year and also promised to remove the burden of paying business taxes from another tier of companies.

But his fiery and idiosyncratic speech was met with shrugs by some members of the audience — and surprise by the Selinger government.

"As a politician watching another politician de­livering a speech, part of it was conciliatory, part of it was combative and some of it didn’t have much to do with anything. I guess that’s as com­plimentary as I can get," said Local Government Minister Ron Lemieux, who’s responsible for rela­tions between the city and province.

Lemieux said he has a good relationship with Katz, but it’s clear they need to sit down and dis­cuss some of the issues dividing the two levels of government.

He rejected the notion his party is attempting to assume control of city council, noting members of political parties have always got involved in muni­cipal politics.

"I’m not sure where his speech was going on this big (NDP) takeover. To me, it was political rhetoric," Lemieux said.

Fort Rouge Coun. Jenny Gerbasi, an NDP-affili­ated member of council, went further and accused Katz of hypocrisy.

"If you look at the 2006 election, it was Sam Katz’s party — who all happened to be Conserva­tives — who got four new councillors in by active participation from that group," she said. "I don’t think it’s a conspiracy. I think it’s just people get­ting involved in politics, and all parties have a right to do it."

Gerbasi said she didn’t think it was wise for the mayor to hammer the province while the city is asking for cash for a police helicopter, among other funding requests.

Katz insisted he was not being combative and said he and Premier Greg Selinger have a good re­lationship. He said he wants the public to know the city’s side of issues such as the nitrogen-removal dispute.

Fireworks resume today

The State of the City speech is over, but you can expect more fireworks from city hall when councillors assemble as a whole for the first time this year.

This morning, Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt plans to make a pair of motions inspired by two of Mayor Sam Katz's most prized initiatives: the purchase of a police helicopter and the longtime freeze on the pool of property tax revenue collected by the city.

Annoyed by the absence of police cruisers in suburban neighbourhoods on weekend nights, Wyatt will vote against the purchase of a police helicopter, which he believes is a frivolous move.

He's authored a motion to demand both the city and provincial governments hire more police recruits, who can be used to lighten the workload of police officers even before the cadets graduate.

Wyatt will also present a motion to raise property taxes two per cent in 2010, which would generate approximately $8.5 million.

The councillor wants all the revenue to be spent on road improvements. In the unlikely event his motion succeeds, it will be directed to the operating budget process.

-- Kives

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 27, 2010 A3

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