Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Katz's scandals are less scandalous

Our mayor is better off than Harper or Ford

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By any stretch of the imagination, the past 18 months have been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad time for Mayor Sam Katz.

In the spring of 2012, Winnipeg's once-all-powerful mayor was forced to watch helplessly as his long-held dream of spending $7 million in public funds on a private water park died thanks to a suddenly rebellious city council.

In the fall of that year, he tried -- and failed -- to contain the damage from a fire-paramedic-station construction scandal that spawned two separate external audits.

That same fall, Katz appeared embarrassed by public reports of his decision to buy an Arizona shell company from city chief administrative officer Phil Sheegl, swap it back several weeks later and also acquire an Arizona home from the sister-in-law of a prominent Winnipeg developer.

Last April, he suffered the indignity of hearing a Manitoba judge declare he exhibited "bad political and ethical behaviour" even as she cleared him of violating conflict-of-interest rules.

In October, he was forced to allow his friend and confidante Sheegl to resign from his position days before the release of an audit that deemed Sheegl responsible for the fire-paramedic station scandal.

And on the first day of November, Katz was forced to eat words he uttered only two years ago, when he assured residents of this city they will not pay another penny for an over-budget police headquarters.

"Any cost overruns now are the responsibility of those who are building it, not you or me or any other taxpayer," Katz said in 2011, when the city negotiated a "guaranteed maximum price" that was neither guaranteed, nor maximum.

City taxpayers will foot the bill for another $17 million of spending on the police headquarters. A project that started as a $19-million facelift for a 49-year-old police building is now a $211-million behemoth involving the acquisition and renovation of a 58-year-old former federal warehouse.

There are calls in some circles for Katz to resign. Two left-of-centre councillors have made this call, though that opinion isn't shared by others on council. One of my colleagues at another media outlet has issued this opinion in a column. And there's no doubt some Winnipeggers feel the same way.

But if you're Mayor Sam Katz, why would you resign?

Sure, you've lost control of council to the point where it isn't clear whether anyone wants to fill two empty seats on the powerful executive policy committee.

Yes, your credibility has taken a hit by claiming one week you have no idea why Sheegl resigned and insisting the next it had nothing to do with the police headquarters cost overruns.

Obviously, it isn't any fun being Mayor Sam Katz right now. But if you're Katz, you can look to the east and breathe a sigh of relief.

In Ottawa, no less a political giant than Prime Minister Stephen Harper is struggling terribly beneath the weight of a Senate expenses scandal. If Sen. Mike Duffy is telling the truth about the payments from former PMO chief of staff Nigel Wright, then Harper has lied to Canadians.

Now that would be a reason to resign.

In Toronto, the apparently irredeemable Mayor Rob Ford has been captured by police surveillance in the company of a reputed drug dealer, urinating in public and discarding empty liquor bottles.

And oh yeah, the police are in possession of a videotape that allegedly shows Ford smoking crack.

Hanging out with drug dealers and lying about it for months is one heck of a reason for a mayor to resign.

Katz may be criticized harshly, fairly and repeatedly for some of the decisions he's made as Winnipeg's mayor. But the bar is set too low in Canada right now to motivate him to go.

This mayor does not smoke crack. He doesn't even consume alcohol. Katz has also been careful to avoid answering questions rather than lie to reporters. He has not been led from his office in handcuffs like some of his counterparts in Quebec.

Does this make him the greatest mayor ever?

Of course not.

But as much as his critics don't want to hear it, simply making a series of dubious decisions does not compel the guy to hand over the chain of office.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 2, 2013 A5

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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 appears every second Wednesday on Citytv’s Breakfast Television. His work has also appeared on CBC Radio and in publications such as The Guardian, explore magazine and National Geographic Traveler.

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
Email: bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

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