If you ask Mayor Sam Katz, 2012 was a fantastic year.
The reconstruction of the Disraeli Freeway, the reopening of the Osborne Street Bridge and a commitment to improve Polo Park traffic illustrate how Winnipeg continues to whittle away at its infrastructure deficit, the mayor beamed during a year-end interview with the Free Press.
The ever-optimistic Katz also pointed to new private investment in downtown Winnipeg and the opening of an IKEA store south of Tuxedo as evidence of the city's economic health. And on a personal level, the mayor is still basking in the glow of the November birth of his third child, Aidan.
Of course, 2012 was anything but easy for Katz, who watched his water-park dream die in April and then stumbled through a series of embarrassing episodes during the late summer and fall.
First came revelations about Winnipeg's fire-paramedic station replacement program, which the mayor initially defended. Then Katz's relationship with chief administrative officer Phil Sheegl re-entered the spotlight after the two officials swapped an Arizona-based shell company. Finally, the mayor declined to answer some of the questions surrounding his purchase of a $1-million home from the sister-in-law of one of the city's most prominent developers.
Nonetheless, Katz remained upbeat when asked to assess the year that was.
Free Press: What are you most proud of accomplishing in 2012?
Sam Katz: The fact we're making significant investment in our infrastructure, which is probably the greatest challenge we face. As you know, we've been investing $10 million every year in community centres. When it comes to fire-paramedic stations as well as police stations, significant investment there. We're continuing to basically make sure we're taking care of one of the gems of our city, Assiniboine Park. And just recently, we made a significant announcement to address the infrastructure at Polo Park, with an investment of $30 million.
This, to me, is what we need to do.
FP: What would you have done differently?
SK: We would have done more, quicker, if we had access to more money.
I very much would have wanted to see the provincial government give us access to what I call consumption taxes, which I think make a lot of sense. In the provincial government's budget, they increased their consumption taxes by approximately $185 million and no one really seemed to whine or cry the blues. That would have been a 45 per cent property-tax increase. You can see the type of opportunities that exist if you access consumption taxes.
FP: Going through your 2010 election promises, the only one you haven't dealt with at all is incentives for getting rid of surface parking lots. When are those coming?
SK: Those are going to come very shortly, but I think you've already seen a lot of development. There's other ways of giving incentives on surface parking lots, and I think we're accomplishing that in a major way. I think there's been about three major announcements in the last little while.
FP: After four years of trying to get a private water park built with $7 million worth of public funds, that project died this year. Any thoughts on how that ended?
SK: The realities are we had that deal put together many years ago in the Polo Park site with the Canad Inns. They withdrew from that. Since that, nothing really has evolved into reality, and now we move on.
FP: What do you think the best use of (city-owned downtown surface lot) Parcel Four would be?
SK: From my point of view, I think the public should decide, OK. Let's see what ideas come forward. I threw out some thoughts a long time ago, so let's see what happens.
FP: What do you take away from the revelations about the fire-paramedic station replacement program?
SK: We all know there was a ($2.5-) million shortfall on the construction of those facilities. Any time you go over budget, it's not a good thing. That's why I've asked the department to cease and desist with the class C or D estimates.
I think the real problem that took place -- and I think it's extremely unfortunate, never should have happened -- nobody should ever list a property they don't have the right to list. That, to me, was a major, major problem that was created, which never should have happened, as well as we should never be building a fire-paramedic station on (private land).
I doubt you'll ever see that take place again.
FP: What struck me was the absence of disclosure. Even routine aspects of this program didn't come to council.
SK: The one thing I have determined was the entire agreement was done subject to council approval. If things had flowed normally, everything would have been wonderful. As I said, as a result of someone doing something they never should have done, it kind of changed everything. It definitely caused a lot of grief and aggravation, to say the least.
FP: What also came up a number of times this fall was your personal assets in Arizona. About that $1-million home in Scottsdale: Why was (Sandy Shindleman sister-in-law) Teri Nordstrom's name on the property-tax bill sent to you in Winnipeg?
SK: I think you and I have discussed for years how I've gone to Arizona and I've owned several homes there. That's really the end of story. There is no story there. That's the prerogative of the media to make a story out of it. Frankly speaking, I don't think there is any story.
FP: So why was somebody else's tax bill sent to you?
SK: As I said, I'm not going to indulge anyone in this situation.
FP: In 1987, you told my newspaper your nickname is Duddy. Phil Sheegl started Duddy Enterprises in 2002. This year, you bought it and sold it back. What does Duddy actually do?
SK: Duddy doesn't do anything, from my point of view right now, because I don't have it. I had it for a short period of time and gave it back. That's it.
FP: Why did Sheegl create a company with your nickname?
SK: As you probably know, lots of people of the faith use the name Duddy. It's not exactly a shock or a surprise. Many people talk about the movie. In my opinion, someone's trying to manufacture (something). There's nothing there. I got a company, I gave it back. It was a dollar. I paid cash, as I told you, and that's the end of it. I really don't know why, for whatever the reason may be, people like you or any others are pursuing it. I don't see what the deal is.
FP: That issue led to criticism of the CAO. Some councillors called for him to step down. What confidence do you have in Phil Sheegl's leadership of the City of Winnipeg?
SK: If you talk to the people who work with him, you will find that they find him to be very good at what he does. I'm referring to people at the provincial government, the federal government, people working in the community.
Depending on what you're using as a yardstick or measuring stick for a good CAO, I think getting things done and moving the city forward is a positive step. There are many councilors who tell me he's been terrific. There are probably two who said what you said, but the realities are it went absolutely nowhere.
FP: How would you assess the city's confidence in you as mayor?
SK: When I talk to the citizens of our city and get stopped at a Safeway or a Shoppers and people want to talk, the vast majority of what I'm hearing is really positive. They like what's going on in the city. They like what they see. They like the investment. They like to see downtown being rejuvenated and revitalized. They like to see residential happening on our downtown.
There's a lot of good things happening. And I believe the vast majority are ecstatic to see the investment in fire-paramedic buildings that are safer for our citizens, that are safer for the firefighters, as opposed to some of the ones we have that are 100 years old.
FP: There are 22 months left in this term. What do you want accomplish in that time?
SK: First of all, I want to complete our southwest (rapid-transit) corridor. I want to get a commitment from everybody and make sure we can move forward. I also want to start working on one going east as well. That's the next one in line.
If the provincial government will not come to the table with a form of helping the city and all other municipalities generate revenue for infrastructure, I would say we're a ship that's about to capsize and we need to do something, one way or another.
We need to make a commitment to our infrastructure, and that (could be) more capital borrowing.
FP: What factors will influence your decision to run again in 2014?
SK: I would have to look at what's been done during the 10 years before me.
And the other scenario, and I've said this to you many times, is my No. 1 priority is my family. With the addition of Aidan, the family is growing. As long as it's OK with my wife Leah and my family, and we are making genuine progress in getting things done, where not only young people want to stay, as opposed to leave, but young people want to come to Winnipeg. That's extremely important.
That's one of the reasons I ran in the first place. I'd like to see my children and everyone's children not have to leave.
This interview has been edited and condensed.