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Tossing irksome councillor politics pure and simple

Three years ago this week, Mayor Sam Katz stood up at the Winnipeg Convention Centre and sounded an alarm about an NDP conspiracy to take over city hall.

In early 2010, when it was obvious then-member of parliament Judy Wasylycia-Leis was planning to run for mayor, Katz used his annual state of the city speech to characterize the upcoming civic election as a contest between nefarious New Democratic Party forces and his own valiant, apolitical effort to stem the tide of partisan politics.

The rhetoric, of course, was abject nonsense, concocted solely to set up a clear distinction between him and Wasylycia-Leis. To Sam Katz, all politics is personal, not partisan.

Which is why this mayor had no problem punting Conservative Charleswood-Tuxedo Coun. Paula Havixbeck from city council's most powerful committee Wednesday and replacing her with a New Democrat, St. Vital Coun. Brian Mayes.

"He's hard-working. He thinks things through. It also gives me a good mix," Katz said Wednesday of the addition of Mayes to executive policy committee, which now boasts two NDP-affiliated councillors, two Tories, one Liberal and whatever party Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt favours this nanosecond. Suddenly, a balance of ideological beliefs is important to Sam Katz. That, too, is abject nonsense, as the only reason Mayes is on EPC is Havixbeck had to go.

On paper, Paula Havixbeck is precisely the sort of councillor Katz should have been able to work with. The council rookie is not just a Tory, but a fiscal conservative who espouses many of the same values the mayor has espoused.

After narrowly winning a wide-open race to replace the late Bill Clement, Havixbeck was immediately appointed to EPC, initially without a committee to chair. She only took over the responsibility for council's protection and community services committee at the end of August 2011, when St. Vital's Gord Steeves resigned to make an ill-fated run for provincial office.

One summer later, Havixbeck started driving the mayor's office nuts. First, the rookie councillor quit the committee responsible for selecting a new police chief. Havixbeck butted heads with chief administrative officer Phil Sheegl, claiming she had a problem with the process, not the candidate.

Conflict with the CAO intensified over the fall, when a series of revelations about the Winnipeg's fire-paramedic station replacement program came to light. After expressing annoyance about her inability to extract information from city staff, Havixbeck hauled the CAO, chief operations officer Deepak Joshi and fire-paramedic chief Reid Douglas in front of her committee and subjected them to public interrogation.

Katz responded by stripping her of her chairwomanship. But Havixbeck wasn't done.

First, she reversed course on her decision to support a review of the Winnipeg Police Service's operations. She then voted against the 2013 capital and operating budgets, insisting she couldn't support spending an additional $600,000 on discretionary ward spending at a time property taxes are rising and grants to non-profit organizations are getting cut.

Katz said Wednesday Havixbeck initially was among the biggest supporters for extra ward spending. She was too unreliable and unpredictable to remain on EPC, the mayor suggested.

"It creates a difficult working environment, wondering 'OK, here's what you said on Tuesday. What are you saying on Wednesday?' " Katz said.

Havixbeck rejects that, claiming she only supported more spending if the cash was dedicated solely to executive-assistant salaries.

By punting her now, Katz runs some risk of allowing Havixbeck to set herself up as a right-of-centre candidate in the 2014 mayoral race. While she has expressed some interest in that gig, on Wednesday she stuck to politically safe statements about serving her constituents.

But from this far out, Havixbeck looks like a long shot for mayor in 2014 and it isn't even clear Katz will run again. For this mayor, the correct political move was hit the eject button now and worry later about the consequences, if there happen to be any.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 31, 2013 B1

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