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.
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.