Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Now he's re-elected, Katz should get a plan

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There was no upset, but this election campaign pushed Sam Katz, the one-and-a-half-term incumbent mayor, into a posture and work ethic we have not seen from him since he took office in 2004.

Former NDP MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis could not make history by unseating Katz, but she revealed the fact that this is a city divided about what Katz has done for them, and what he may do in the future. Looking ahead to what he himself has suggested may be his last term as mayor, Katz has his work cut out for him.

Despite assertions that he is the mayor of infrastructure and public safety, both have continued to suffer during his six years in office. The infrastructure deficit -- the total amount of work needed on our roads, bridges and sewers for which there is no funding -- continues to grow. City facilities like arenas and community centres are falling apart at the seams. And despite having weathered the recession better than almost any other province in the country, social dysfunction and crime in Manitoba continue to rage. It's a win, but the problems facing this city constitute solid proof that Katz's main planks -- hiring more cops and snuggling up to the Winnipeg Police Association -- are not a panacea for reducing crime.

Katz needs more money for city services and infrastructure, but has offered no real plan about where he's going to find it. Katz hammered Wasylycia-Leis during the campaign for pledging to raise property taxes, but the odds are it will be impossible for Katz to avoid doing that himself.

For the past six years, Katz has trumpeted the property tax freeze while demanding the other levels of government give him more money. This "do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do" posture has seriously impaired his credibility with the province. Even in Ottawa, where there is fundamental support in the ruling Conservative government for lower taxes, constant demands for more money from a mayor who won't do his part get tired.

What Katz either does not understand, or deliberately ignores, is that modest property tax increases will serve him well when he negotiates with the other levels of government. For much of the last decade, big-city mayors in this country have demanded new sources of revenue. In particular, they want a dedicated point from existing provincial and federal sales taxes to fund infrastructure. However, it's hardly effective lobbying to freeze your taxes while pushing the senior levels of government to share or increase theirs.

Katz will also need to sort out the rapid transit mess he has created. With new, added funding from other levels of government unlikely, it may be that Katz has to admit he cannot afford the upgrade to light rail. Few disagree that rail would be better; it is more efficient and draws more riders. But the provincial and federal governments are cash-strapped and if Katz insists that it must be light rail, and only light rail, then he may well be forced to steal money from other infrastructure priorities to make it happen. And that's not good for Winnipeg's flagging infrastructure.

Finally, Winnipeg deserves a mayor who respects due process a bit more. Katz has often said during this campaign that "council is supreme" in its authority. He is right, but the irony of course is that he has consistently treated council as little more than a rubber stamp. Katz and his senior staff have been repeatedly ill-prepared, uninformed and, ultimately, laggardly in managing their agenda. The city would be a better place if Katz were to make sure public consultation and analysis were applied before unleashing initiatives on an unsuspecting city and council.

A few fresh faces on council may be able to help push the mayor in that direction. For much of the last six years, city council has been little more than a speed bump for the mayor and his often unintelligible agenda. Those who sought the mayor's approval (and a seat on executive policy committee) supported him even when due process was trampled. Those who opposed the mayor did such a poor job of cultivating support; their protestations grew tired and repetitive.

This is a mayor who needs a strong, competent council to balance his impulses. There are new faces, but it is unclear whether they and the incumbents can exert that supreme authority that Katz has so often celebrated.

Finally, it would be very much appreciated if in this, reportedly his final term in office, Katz would put in a full-time effort. This is a mayor who has succeeded without doing much of the spade work politicians perform to keep both voters and supporters on his side. He has been a no-show at all kinds of cultural and community events. Outside of business hours at city hall and campaign time, the chances of seeing the mayor anywhere but CanWest Global Park, home to his Goldeyes baseball club, are slim and none.

By virtue of his electoral record, Katz can be talked about in the same breath as Winnipeg's most successful mayors. Having shown him that support, Winnipeggers now deserve a better effort. He has the next four years to do deliver it.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 28, 2010 B4

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