More allegations of fear mongering have taken over Winnipeg's mayoral race, as incumbent Sam Katz has accused the City of Winnipeg's largest union of trying to scare seniors into voting for challenger Judy Wasylycia-Leis.
At a mayoral forum organized by the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, Katz claimed the Canadian Union of Public Employees is phoning up retired city workers and telling them they'll lose their pensions if they don't vote for Wasylycia-Leis.
"Do you think it's totally unfair, telling people they will lose their pension?" Katz asked on the podium at the Polo Park Canad Inns hotel.
"If that isn't putting immense fear into seniors, I don't know what is," he later told reporters.
A surprised Wasylycia-Leis described the allegation as bizarre. "He's grasping. He's desperate. There's no truth to this. It's a complete fabrication and misinformation," she told reporters after the forum.
Katz based his allegation on a conversation he had Wednesday morning with the widow of a deceased parks and recreation employee.
On Oct. 9, the 72-year-old woman received a call from a CUPE volunteer who suggested her late husband's pension was in jeopardy if Katz remains mayor, the widow's son, Chris Halliday, said in an interview.
"She was told the pension would be affected negatively. Not completely cut off, but reduced," Halliday said. "Why is CUPE doing this? Why would they be calling a 72-year-old woman?"
Halliday said he and his mother, who has asked not be named, are voting for Katz on Oct. 27. CUPE volunteers are indeed calling retirees during the election, but are only urging them to protect union jobs, CUPE Manitoba spokesman Liam Martin said. The union is asking retirees to note which members of council voted in favour of contracting out garbage collection, creating the Assiniboine Park Conservancy and signing a sewage-treatment consulting contract with Veolia Canada, Martin said.
"It's part of an effort to educate our members," he said. "There's no mention of Sam. There's no mention of Judy. There's no mention of any school trustees."
Pensions are mentioned in a script CUPE volunteers are supposed to use. One line reads as follows: "Getting supportive candidates elected to city council and school boards is the first step in protecting our pension plan and public services."
Katz's allegation comes days after his own campaign sent voice messages to tens of thousands of Winnipeg homes, suggesting people on fixed incomes could lose their homes if Wasylycia-Leis is elected and fulfils her promise to raise property taxes.
Katz insisted his own message was legitimate but accused CUPE of spreading lies. He also accused CUPE of bringing in campaign volunteers from Ontario and B.C. -- but provided no evidence to back up that claim.
"We don't have any private detectives working for us," he said.
Katz nonetheless chided CUPE national president Paul Moist of trying to affect what happens in Winnipeg from Ottawa. "At least he lives here once in a while," Katz said of Moist.
In an interview last week, Moist -- a longtime Wolseley resident -- said he regrets the way Katz gets personal instead of dealing with criticism. Moist insisted CUPE is not supporting Wasylycia-Leis. Manitoba CUPE staffer Martin, however, has volunteered for her campaign, while Ottawa CUPE staffer Nicole Campbell is on leave so she can work as Wasylycia-Leis's campaign manager.
Wasylycia-Leis suggested Katz is just trying to regain the ground he lost sending his automated voice messages, which have upset some voters. "It's bizarre he has to reduce this serious campaign to that level of dialogue. He doesn't want to face up to the issues of the day," she said.
An unscientific poll of audience members at Wednesday's mayoral forum suggests Katz easily outperformed Wasylycia-Leis.