Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fish owner needs to be careful what he says

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If you ask Mayor Sam Katz, he has a great working relationship with pretty much everybody.

All those fights with the province over the years? Those were just ordinary differences of opinion with his best of buddies, Premier Greg Selinger.

All those backroom squabbles at "informal executive policy committee" meetings? Just a healthy give-and-take with soon-to-be-excused executive policy committee members such as Couns. Russ Wyatt, Justin Swandel and Paula Havixbeck.

So on a day when the City of Winnipeg did a fantastic imitation of Lucy from Peanuts and yanked a transit subsidy away from the Winnipeg Football Club only days before CFL training camp was supposed to start, it's no surprise to see the mayor claim everything is hunky-dory when it comes to him and the Blue Bombers.

On Tuesday afternoon, Katz stood before reporters and denied his relationship with the football club was frosty. If that were the case, the mayor argued, how could the city offer so much financial support for the non-profit football club and Investors Group Field?

This is fascinating logic. Go to divorce court, and you'll meet all kinds of men and women who offer financial support for people they don't like very much.

The mayor is correct when he says the city offers the Bombers a lot of moolah. The non-profit football club is entitled to a rebate on all the entertainment taxes it collects -- estimated at $1.25 million this season -- plus a property-tax exemption.

The city also contributed $7.5 million in cold cash toward the construction of Investors Group Field and will forgo slightly less than half of the first $75 million in property taxes it collects from new developments at the Canad Inns Stadium site to help pay back a $160-million provincial stadium-building loan.

But is the mayor pleased about this? Over the years, he hasn't exactly been enthusiastic about city-provincial funding for both the Winnipeg Football Club and True North Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Winnipeg Jets.

This year, True North is in line to receive an estimated $12.8 million in city-provincial subsidies. About $41 million worth of government funding helped build the MTS Centre.

Winnipeg's third professional sports franchise, the Winnipeg Goldeyes baseball club, receives $291,000 in government support. All three levels of government contributed about $3.4 million toward the construction of what's now Shaw Park.

The owner of the Winnipeg Goldeyes can be forgiven for gazing enviously at the public funding packages that benefit the Bombers and Jets. Of course, Katz happens to be that person.

This is why anything this mayor says about public funding for Winnipeg's other two professional sports franchises must be considered within the context of his own interests.

This is no aspersion. As a businessman, Katz would be foolish to ignore the goodies enjoyed by the other two sports franchises. But this mayor is no fool.

Over his years in office, Katz has often recounted his struggle to convince governments to help him build a downtown Winnipeg baseball stadium. Katz has also expressed concerns about the public bailout of the Winnipeg Football Club and the deal to build the MTS Centre.

Katz's enmity toward the football club came to a head in 2006, when he butted heads with former Bomber president and CEO Lyle Bauer over the club's financial oversight. Katz's comments about the MTS Centre likely cost him a place on the podium when True North announced the return of the NHL in 2011.

Now, Katz claims a rosy Bomber financial picture warrants a city decision to yank away a promised $650,000 transit subsidy. Reality check: The club faces about $180 million in principal-and-interest payments over the next 40 years and must start ponying up $4.5 million a year this year.

Seeing as the mayor owns the Goldeyes, he might want to refrain from public discussions about financial subsidies for the Jets and Bombers. He may also wish to refrain from overstating the awesomeness of his relationship with the current Bomber executive.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 28, 2014 B1

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About Bartley Kives

Bartley Kives wants you to know his last name rhymes with Beavis, as in Beavis and Butthead. He aspires to match the wit, grace and intelligence of the 1990s cartoon series.

Bartley joined the Free Press in 1998 as a music critic. He spent the ensuing 7.5 years interviewing the likes of Neil Young and David Bowie and trying to stay out of trouble at the Winnipeg Folk Festival before deciding it was far more exciting to sit through zoning-variance appeals at city hall.

In 2006, Bartley followed Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz from the music business into civic politics. He spent seven years covering city hall from a windowless basement office.

He is now reporter-at-large for the Free Press and also writes an outdoor-recreation column called Offroad for the Outdoors page.

A canoeist, backpacker and food geek, Bartley is fond of conventional and wilderness travel. He is the author of A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada’s Undiscovered Province, the only comprehensive travel guidebook for Manitoba – and a Canadian bestseller, to boot. He is also co-author of Stuck In The Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg, a collaboration with photographer Bryan Scott and the winner of the 2014 Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award.

Bartley’s work has also appeared on CBC Radio and Citytv as well as in publications such as The Guardian, explore magazine and National Geographic Traveler. He sits on the board of PEN Canada, which promotes freedom of expression.

Born in Winnipeg, he has an arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and a master’s degree in journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University. He is the proud owner of a blender.

On Twitter: @bkives


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