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Ready, aim, fire... on Judy W.

Mayoral opponents launch attacks

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Mayoral candidate Gord Steeves stages an announcement on Portage Avenue near Judy Wasylycia-Leis' campaign headquarters Tuesday.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Mayoral candidate Gord Steeves stages an announcement on Portage Avenue near Judy Wasylycia-Leis' campaign headquarters Tuesday. Photo Store

One of her rivals outflanked her on rapid transit. The other paid a cheeky visit to her campaign office to slag her as a tax hiker.

And that was just before lunch.

For the first time in a campaign that's just revving up post-Labour Day, front-runner Judy Wasylycia-Leis was in everyone's crosshairs.

As he often has done, mayoral hopeful Gord Steeves set the agenda for the day with a mid-morning rant, delivered at a podium set up right outside Wasylycia-Leis's new Portage Avenue headquarters. Steeves, who has dominated the campaign in recent weeks with promises to abandon rapid transit and buy drones for police, had no new pledges. Instead, he took Wasylycia-Leis to task, saying he wanted to reframe the campaign narrative around taxes and who would raise them.

"I am sounding the alarm bell, because again more tax hikes are coming from Judy Wasylycia-Leis," Steeves said. "They'll be coming in the form of higher property taxes, but they are shrouded in mystery."

Early in the campaign, Wasylycia-Leis promised to cap tax hikes at the combined aggregate of inflation and Winnipeg's population growth, which would work out to between two and three per cent this year.

That prompted Steeves to redeploy a tactic used with considerable success by Mayor Sam Katz in his 2010 race against Wasylycia-Leis. Katz relentlessly cast the former New Democratic MP and MLA as the candidate who would impose property-tax increases Winnipeggers couldn't afford. Katz even unleashed a series of robocalls suggesting Wasylycia-Leis's tax hike would cause seniors and others on fixed incomes to lose their homes.

Steeves renewed his commitment to freeze property taxes and said Wasylycia-Leis will impose a 12 per cent property-tax increase during her four-year term, based on average inflation.

Wasylycia-Leis brushed off Steeves' math and joked about his stunt.

"I thought maybe he experienced a conversion this Labour Day weekend and was coming over to join me," she said.

Wasylycia-Leis said she's being open about the need for predictable and sustainable revenue growth in order to deal with the city's service and infrastructure needs.

"I was upfront with you in the last election, and I'm upfront with you now," she said.

The new focus on Wasylycia-Leis, who has so far run a classic, low-key front-runner campaign, marks a subtle shift. Until now, Bowman and Steeves, both vying for control of the centre-right, have tended to trade barbs and make pledges aimed at each other, while largely ignoring Wasylycia-Leis.

Now, with Wasylycia-Leis's polling numbers holding steady at roughly 40 per cent, and no signs any candidates on the right will drop out, going after her soft supporters appears to be the only way either Bowman or Steeves can eke out a win.

On Tuesday, Bowman attempted to out-transit Wasylycia-Leis, making what could be the most ambitious promise of the campaign so far. Bowman promised to build the entire rapid transit system in 15 years.

Asked whether his pledge was an attempt to carve out some of Wasylycia-Leis's support, Bowman demurred.

"This isn't intended to steal votes from anybody. It's to earn votes from Winnipeggers who want to see better leadership. I haven't heard Judy talk in any substantive way about something she says she supports."

But his move forced Wasylycia-Leis to clarify her position on the next legs of rapid transit, if only to clarify she doesn't have one. In 2010, she talked transit early and often, and this time she repeated her pledge to finish the Southwest Transitway to the University of Manitoba. But she would go no further. Instead of offering a long-term plan for transit, she questioned how Bowman would pay for his.

"I'm not sure Brian Bowman can do everything he's doing within his overall fiscal parameters without cutting deeply into service," said Wasylycia-Leis.

Charleswood councillor and trailing mayoral hopeful Paula Havixbeck also waded into the anti-Judy fray Tuesday, saying a vote for Wasylycia-Leis is a vote for more of what's been on offer from the unpopular provincial government.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 3, 2014 B1

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