As Manitoba's political parties pander to vote-rich Winnipeg on the campaign trail, Mayor Sam Katz took the unusual step of urging them to simply leave the city alone.

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The Osborne bus-way station is part of the province’s most important infrastructure project, says Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The Osborne bus-way station is part of the province’s most important infrastructure project, says Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard.

As Manitoba's political parties pander to vote-rich Winnipeg on the campaign trail, Mayor Sam Katz took the unusual step of urging them to simply leave the city alone.

In a shot at all of the parties vying to win the Oct. 4 provincial election, Katz begged provincial leaders not to burden the city with election promises the municipality cannot afford.

"There are all these pledges coming forward from the different parties, if elected," Katz said Wednesday, referring to pledges to hire police or paramedics without also pledging money for the increased cost of paying for additional employees in future years.

"What scares me... the most is any time there's a commitment to hire more people at the City of Winnipeg, without a long-term commitment to pay for salaries and benefits. Please just leave us alone. Otherwise, we'll bankrupt the city.

"We get killed on those types of promises and commitments."

Katz's comments followed a Wednesday campaign pledge he actually welcomed: a Liberal party promise to spend $44 million a year to accelerate the construction of rapid transit in Winnipeg.

Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard and Fort Rouge candidate Paul Hesse, a rapid-transit activist, pledged to hand the city rapid-transit money every year until the Southwest Rapid Transit Corridor is extended all the way south to the University of Manitoba and other sections of the city are served by rapid transit.

The $138-million first phase of the southwest corridor, a 3.6-kilometre link between Queen Elizabeth Way and Jubilee Avenue, which will allow buses to bypass Confusion Corner traffic, is slated to open in April.

There are no plans to build a six-kilometre extension to Bison Drive, as the Selinger government and a Katz-led city council are at odds over the cost of the project, the mayor's preference being to build light-rail transit instead of bus-ways and a council-approved Katz directive to devote federal infrastructure dollars to projects other than rapid transit.

Gerrard and Hesse said they could break this impasse by allowing the city to choose which mode of transit to build and where to build rapid-transit lines. They claimed the NDP has only built an average of 300 metres of rapid transit every year since they took office in 1999.

"Building rapid transit is the single most important infrastructure project for Winnipeg and for Manitoba in the next several years," Gerrard told reporters at a campaign stop near the future Osborne bus-way station, which is being built on a new bridge south of Confusion Corner.

But the Liberal leader could not identify the source of the funding, which he pledged would flow even if Ottawa chose not to support the project. "The money is there, regardless of what the federal government does," he said.

A spokesman for Premier Greg Selinger said the party stands by its offer to pay for one-third of the second phase of the Southwest Rapid Transit Corridor. Katz challenged this claim, insisting the New Democrats refuse to take construction inflation into account ever since former premier Gary Doer first agreed to fund rapid transit in 2008.

"It's a standing offer to pay for one-third of a number that doesn't exist," the mayor said.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca