Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Proposed cuts spark outrage, call for ouster

Wyatt's musings shake up city hall

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Deputy mayor Russ Wyatt's call for drastic cuts to city services has led one of his council colleagues to ask Mayor Sam Katz to once again demote the outspoken Transcona councillor.

Over the weekend, Daniel McIntyre Coun. Harvey Smith asked Katz to remove Wyatt from executive policy committee and strip him of his duties as deputy mayor and council finance chairman over a proposal to make 26 spending cuts that would finance road-and-bridge repairs.

Last week, Wyatt proposed cancelling the city's fresh commitment to the Canada Summer Games, closing the Arlington Bridge, shelving the next phase of rapid transit, slashing arts funding to zero, cutting back on both snow-clearing and tree-pruning and eliminating all grants to museums, the Assiniboine Park Conservancy, the Winnipeg Convention Centre and Economic Development Winnipeg.

The city has no choice but to make drastic cuts in the wake of the provincial budget, Wyatt argued.

The mayor dismissed the idea and surmised Wyatt is simply frustrated with the NDP government.

In a subsequent email to the mayor, Smith said Wyatt failed to share his "wild views" with other members of council's finance committee and has frightened Winnipeggers with a "savage plan" he said would destroy cherished services and amenities.

"I treasure our elm trees, public art and Assiniboine Park," Smith wrote. "Cuts to the convention centre and Economic Development Winnipeg are foolhardy as they are economic tools that attract new businesses to Winnipeg.

"Wyatt's Winnipeg would make Winnipeg less attractive to investors, but we would have better roads. Wyatt seems to have an obsession about improving roads, but he does not understand that roads alone do not make a city."

Wyatt has sat on EPC since 2011, when he filled a vacancy created by the resignation of former St. Vital Coun. Gord Steeves. Wyatt also sat on EPC from 2006 until 2009, when he was punted from the mayor's inner circle after voting against a plan to replace the city's water-and-waste department with a corporate utility and questioning Katz's ethics.

The mayor is unlikely to remove Wyatt a second time, as the deputy mayor's comments do not reflect directly upon Katz.

Nonetheless, Wyatt suggested Smith is trying to squelch an open exchange of ideas.

"Vladimir Lenin, Hugo Chavez and Harvey Smith -- all great defenders of freedom of speech," Wyatt said via text message.

The Transcona councillor also said he has been told his proposal for "Wyatt weekends" -- 13 unpaid Fridays off each fall for city workers -- would save $14.8 million a year, not $2.5 million as he previously estimated.

St. James-Brooklands Coun. Scott Fielding, a fiscal conservative and former council finance chairman, said Wyatt is not being realistic.

"I'm a hawkish one on these types of items, but should this be done on the backs of employees?" asked Fielding, who likes the idea of cancelling rapid transit but does not believe Wyatt has properly vetted other cost-cutting ideas, such as cancelling a legal agreement with True North Sports & Entertainment, which receives entertainment-tax refunds from the city.

"I'm trying to be generous here: It's not going to happen," Fielding said.

North Kildonan Coun. Jeff Browaty, however, said there are merits to cut ting snow-clearing and other services the city delivers at a high standard.

"I think it's a healthy discussion to have," Browaty said. "You don't want to throw out the baby with the bath water. We need to seriously evaluate it."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 29, 2013 0

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