Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Where were you on Nov. 11, Sam?

Katz fails to attend Remembrance Day service in Winnipeg

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It's not easy being a broken record.

You know many of the people who have been listening to that same song, over and over again, are less likely to believe what you have to say each time you try to say it. In fact, repetition of the same song can turn even supporters against you. But worse is, even with that awareness, you can't stop singing. Which explains why this space will once again take issue with Mayor Sam Katz's absence at a prominent community event.

Last Friday was Remembrance Day. Nov. 11 has always been a big date in the political calendar. It is the biggest single day of the year for current and former members of the Canadian military who, in addition to being selfless public servants bearing the horrors of their experience without proper remuneration or respect, represent a potent political constituency that can make or break an election. That alone makes it an essential day for any political leader.

However, this year Nov. 11 probably had a bit more symbolic and real importance. Canada is winding up a painful, bloody and tragic combat mission in Afghanistan. A total of 158 military personnel have lost their lives in Afghanistan since 2002, a toll that has forever changed the consciousness of this country and made Remembrance Day more poignant.

So why, you might ask, would Katz miss this event? He was not present at the main Remembrance Day memorial service at the Winnipeg Convention Centre, which attracted several thousand people including Premier Greg Selinger. There is always a chance the mayor had to attend to an important personal event -- sickness, funeral, crisis of some sort -- but emails and calls to Katz's staff, who are connected to their BlackBerrys by direct link from the cerebral cortex, went unanswered.

Did Katz happen to drop by another service somewhere in the city that day? Maybe. But if he did, wouldn't his staff be happy to tell us all about it?

In the past, when the Free Press has criticized the mayor over his inability to attend a cultural, political or philanthropic event, senior officials in his office have refused to offer much of an explanation. But they have complained Katz works hard and needs time away from city hall with his family. And in many of these instances, it would be hard to argue mayors of other cities don't take off an event here or there in similar circumstances. Just not this event.

It did not take long to confirm the mayor of every other major city in Canada attended Remembrance Day ceremonies -- Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Regina, Ottawa, Hamilton, Montreal, Moncton and St. John's, just to mention a few. Even Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, the bumbling populist who made national headlines by refusing to attend Pride Day in Toronto -- a very poor political strategy in Canada's largest city -- strapped on the ceremonial chain of office and laid down a wreath.

In fact, it would have been much harder to find out which mayors did NOT attend Remembrance Day ceremonies. When the chief of staff for one of Canada's other big-city mayors was told Katz was a no-show last Friday, he was stunned.

"Really? Sam didn't attend Remembrance Day? That's so... odd." Indeed. Mayors who value re-election would almost never ignore an event of such import. But this isn't just any mayor, nor is this just any city.

There is no evidence to date Winnipeggers are all that concerned when Katz thumbs his nose at political convention.

It is by now well understood Katz passes on many cultural and philanthropic events so he can enjoy frequent long weekends, many times to visit a vacation property in Phoenix. And that while he is not reliable on evenings and weekends to perform mayoral duties, as owner of the Northern League's Winnipeg Goldeyes, he almost never misses a home game.

But despite failing to attend many community events between elections, Katz has amassed an impressive record of electoral success. While some of us have been singing this same critical song for years, voters have made it abundantly clear it's no big deal. Will that change? A recent national survey of mayoral approval ratings ranked Katz near the bottom, a big change from his normal place near the top. That will only mean something if Katz decides to run again in 2014, which is nowhere near a sure thing.

Sam, a man who has made it quite clear he does not dance to someone else's tune, will likely continue being Sam. And lest we forget, Sam will play it again and again.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 15, 2011 A4


Updated on Tuesday, November 15, 2011 at 11:07 AM CST: Switches images to colour versions.

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