Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Signs of Havixbeck being a real contender

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They don't have to be at the post until late next year, but this weekend's Free Press gave Sam Katz a look at the potential field vying for his job come October 2014.

But only one is a sure bet to be in the race.

The Old Grey Mayor himself.

Katz has been in training since he began appearing at every charity dinner, ribbon cutting and, oh yes, war veterans' celebration he can find.

Oh, there might be one other who's likely to be there when they're off and running. A long shot.

No, not Judy Wasylycia-Leis.

A different woman.

-- -- --

Last month I sat down over breakfast with Paula Havixbeck, the city councillor for Charleswood-Tuxedo who was elected in a field of seven by a margin of 56 votes three years ago and whose biggest political triumph since might be being dumped from executive policy committee by Katz. I say triumph, because of how it happened.

On Jan. 29, Havixbeck voted against the budget that raised property taxes by nearly four per cent. And the next day, she paid the price when Katz removed her from his inner cabinet. The price, by the way, was $22,000, the amount of salary she lost by being demoted.

"Yeah, it's hurting a bit," she said with the kind of smile that looked more like a wince. Havixbeck has two sons, aged 11 and seven. "The same age as Sam's daughters," she pointed out.

Havixbeck is also divorced and single so the pay cut was felt even deeper.

"I knew with the budget I was going to be kicked off EPC. But it was an important stance to take, and I'd take it again."

That stand on the budget, the one voters might appreciate come the election, helped soothe the pain.

"I felt a groundswell of support," she recalled of that moment. "I felt that citizens didn't deserve that four per cent tax increase. There were savings in the house."

Part of those savings were easy to see for Havixbeck. At a time when the people of Winnipeg were being told they would have to pay more taxes, city council was receiving a ward-allowance increase of $40,000 per councillor, or a bump of more than 50 per cent. Later, Havixbeck would try to give back her $40,000 portion of the $600,000 total, only to be told she would have to wait until the end of the year. All of that was being true to her fiscally conservative philosophy.

Although, late last year, she was mocked in the media for spending more than $2,300 on gingerbread cookies that were destined at Christmas for children at Osborne House, Siloam Mission and inner-city schools.

"I wanted to treat kids," she told me when I asked. "It's just a little bit of Christmas... for kids who wouldn't have experienced it."

One could argue that showed the social-conscience part of Havixbeck's political personality.

In any event, for a time Sam Katz seemed to treat the former card-carrying Conservative like a rising star. He not only appointed her to EPC, but asked her to serve as acting deputy and chairwoman of the protection and community services committee. It was while heading that committee the controversy broke over the construction of new fire halls. And when she couldn't get answers, she demonstrated a toughness that belies the soft side people see in social settings. Havixbeck hauled CAO Phil Sheegl and COO Depak Joshi into the protection committee. She still couldn't get the answers she wanted -- auditors have since been called in to find them -- and soon after Paula Havixbeck the rising star become Paula Havixbeck the shooting star.

"That fire hall was the beginning of my questioning a lot of things," she said.

Now, when she goes to events where the mayor speaks, she's not acknowledged in the crowd.

"They'll acknowledge every other councillor. In 24 hours that happened at three different events."

She said it even happened last month in her own ward when the mayor spoke at the ribbon cutting for the new Cabela's store.

"I think that's a sign."

What she means is it suggests the Old Grey Mayor can hear hoofs pawing at the ground behind him, and one of them is Paula Havixbeck.

Of course for Sam Katz, the bigger the field -- former city councillor Gord Steeves and Paul Jordan, COO of The Forks are talking about saddling up -- the better his chances.

Can Havixbeck win?

Maybe if she was the only other one in the field.

What it would take, though, is a campaign that pounds away down the election backstretch at the one issue that should resonate with every voter.

Integrity.

And that's one very dark horse that will be there at the starting line.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 4, 2013 B1

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