Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Despite unfortunate robo-call, Katz hasn't betrayed city on property taxes

  • Print

As Sheila Copps taught Canadians in the '90s, you can't trust politicians to say what they mean during election campaigns.

Almost 20 years ago, when the federal Liberals were on the cusp of retaking control of Parliament from the Progressive Conservatives, Copps famously promised to resign if the Jean Chrétien government did not abolish the goods and services tax instituted under Brian Mulroney.

Once elected, of course, the Liberals were reluctant to eliminate the GST, a very lucrative source of revenue. Copps, however, spent three years refusing to resign until the Reform party shamed her into stepping down.

As anyone old enough to recall the Chrétien years will recall, Copps reclaimed her Hamilton East seat in a byelection called only after polling data suggested she wouldn't be able to lose it.

Her reputation never quite recovered from the episode. And a similar fate may very well befall Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz for a campaign tactic he employed 16 months ago.

In the 2010 mayoral race, during the brief window when it appeared challenger Judy Wasylycia-Leis was gaining ground on Katz, his campaign rolled out an extremely effective robocall that tied Wasylycia-Leis' promise to raise property taxes to the prospect of impoverished Winnipeggers losing their homes.

At the time, Katz was already on the record warning Winnipeggers the city's then-13-year-old property-tax freeze was bound to come to an end. As early as 2007, in fact, Katz said this city would have no choice but to raise property taxes if it did not gain access to a greater share of growth revenues, such as one point of the provincial sales tax.

But since elections are about winning and not engaging the public in a reasoned debate about fiscal policy, the Katz robocall went ahead, insisting the current mayor would seek avenues other than raising property taxes to balance the city's operating budget.

The following spring, Katz kept the letter of his word by using a frontage-levy hike to help balance the 2011 operating budget. That is certainly another avenue -- and one the city had not employed for an entire decade beforehand.

The inevitable property-tax hike didn't arrive until this week, when Katz correctly noted he has been unable to convince the Selinger government to give the city access to growth revenues -- just like former mayor Glen Murray was unable to convince the Doer government to do the same.

At no point did Sam Katz ever promise to maintain Winnipeg's property-tax freeze indefinitely. Over the years, all this mayor ever promised was to delay a hike as long as possible.

And he kept that vow in recent years, even when that meant signing off on dubious if not outright foolish budget measures.

In the name of avoiding a tax increase, Katz gambled and partly failed in a bid to settle a tax-collection dispute with Manitoba Hydro. He gouged water-and-sewer ratepayers by transferring a dividend over to the operating budget. And he hamstrung the upper echelons of the public service by eliminating almost a third of the city's middle-management positions. The latter move was the most ironic, given this mayor's penchant for criticizing the consultants the city is now increasingly forced to use.

Katz really did do everything in his power to avoid a property-tax hike. Heck, he even held onto the freeze when it made little financial sense. Winnipeggers may not realize it, but this city can actually raise property taxes at the rate of inflation in perpetuity and still boast the lowest municipal tax burden among any major Canadian city, save perhaps Surrey, B.C.

But most voters do not care. Many see the 3.5 per cent property-tax hike announced this week as some form of betrayal. Rightly or wrongly, they believe Katz led them to believe property taxes would never rise.

Again, Katz did no such thing. But he did commit an entirely different political sin: He told voters what they wanted to hear and utterly failed to engage them in a reasoned debate about fiscal policy. As the cliché dictates, he must now lie in the rhetorical bed he made in 2010.

To be fair, the Wasylycia-Leis's promise to raise taxes was equally vapid, as her increase could have only maintained services, not improved them. Real improvements to services require more than inflationary revenue hikes. Katz is correct when he states Winnipeg's revenue and infrastructure problems are much more immense.

But now that the tax-hike bogeyman is out of the way, our mayor can do what he wishes with fiscal policy. In what amounts to an excellent political opportunity, Sam Katz may use his final two years in office to choose whatever direction he likes, without any fear of being boxed in by previous commitments.

If he succeeds, he has a chance of being remembered as the three-term mayor who finally figured it all out by the end. If he fails, he can take solace in the fact Sheila Copps went on to enjoy a career outside of politics.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 4, 2012 A1


Updated on Monday, March 5, 2012 at 10:54 AM CST: adds audio of robocall, adds fact box

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Total Body Tune-Up: Farmer's Carry

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Challenges of Life- Goose Goslings jump over railway tracks to catch up to their parents at the Canadian Pacific Railway terminalon Keewatin St in Winnipeg Thursday morning. The young goslings seem to normally hatch in the truck yard a few weeks before others in town- Standup photo- ( Day 4 of Bryksa’s 30 day goose project) - Apr 30, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • Marc Gallant / Winnipeg Free Press.  Local/Weather Standup- Catching rays. Prairie Dog stretches out at Fort Whyte Centre. Fort Whyte has a Prairie Dog enclosure with aprox. 20 dogs young and old. 060607.

View More Gallery Photos

About Bartley Kives

Bartley Kives wants you to know his last name rhymes with Beavis, as in Beavis and Butthead. He aspires to match the wit, grace and intelligence of the 1990s cartoon series.

Bartley joined the Free Press in 1998 as a music critic. He spent the ensuing 7.5 years interviewing the likes of Neil Young and David Bowie and trying to stay out of trouble at the Winnipeg Folk Festival before deciding it was far more exciting to sit through zoning-variance appeals at city hall.

In 2006, Bartley followed Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz from the music business into civic politics. He spent seven years covering city hall from a windowless basement office.

He is now reporter-at-large for the Free Press and also writes an outdoor-recreation column called Offroad for the Outdoors page.

A canoeist, backpacker and food geek, Bartley is fond of conventional and wilderness travel. He is the author of A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada’s Undiscovered Province, the only comprehensive travel guidebook for Manitoba – and a Canadian bestseller, to boot. He is also co-author of Stuck In The Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg, a collaboration with photographer Bryan Scott and the winner of the 2014 Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award.

Bartley’s work has also appeared on CBC Radio and Citytv as well as in publications such as The Guardian, explore magazine and National Geographic Traveler. He sits on the board of PEN Canada, which promotes freedom of expression.

Born in Winnipeg, he has an arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and a master’s degree in journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University. He is the proud owner of a blender.

On Twitter: @bkives


Do you agree with the sale of the Canadian Wheat Board to foreign companies?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google