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Candidates spar at debate

Clashes over downtown, transit as hopefuls take different paths

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/9/2014 (1772 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

They agreed a roundabout at Portage and Main is a dumb idea, but that's about the only thing the top five mayoral candidates settled on during a scrappy debate about the future of downtown.

Rapid-transit plans were dissected. Candidates were accused of sowing fear about downtown safety, being flip-floppers or beholden to the provincial NDP. Robin Hood was invoked and one candidate even interrupted to invite everyone out to his campaign motorhome for a chat.

Wednesday night's standing-room-only debate, hosted by the Downtown BIZ in the atrium of the Manitoba Hydro headquarters, began with a key campaign issue -- the perception the downtown is dodgy.

Gord Steeves reiterated his promise to crack down on panhandling and public intoxication. He said he has no fear being downtown but perception is a barrier to development, he said.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/9/2014 (1772 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

They agreed a roundabout at Portage and Main is a dumb idea, but that's about the only thing the top five mayoral candidates settled on during a scrappy debate about the future of downtown.

Rapid-transit plans were dissected. Candidates were accused of sowing fear about downtown safety, being flip-floppers or beholden to the provincial NDP. Robin Hood was invoked and one candidate even interrupted to invite everyone out to his campaign motorhome for a chat.

Wednesday night's standing-room-only debate, hosted by the Downtown BIZ in the atrium of the Manitoba Hydro headquarters, began with a key campaign issue — the perception the downtown is dodgy.

Gord Steeves reiterated his promise to crack down on panhandling and public intoxication. He said he has no fear being downtown but perception is a barrier to development, he said.

"The challenge is that we happen to know because of specific data, that the vast majority of our citizens do not feel safe in the downtown," he said.

That prompted Judy Wasylycia-Leis to accuse Steeves of "casting blame and raising fears" instead of dealing with homelessness and poverty.

Paula Havixbeck piled on, saying tackling the root causes of crime ought to be the focus. "We've been adding police for 10 years," she said. "It's not solving the problem."

The BIZ debate came under some criticism for only inviting five leading candidates to take the stage, leaving five others who are running low-key campaigns out of the mix. One of those, Mike Vogiatzakis, waited in the wings near the stage hoping to have a chance to field a question and briefly interrupted the debate to invite voters outside for some straight talk.

Candidate David Sanders was also denied a spot on the stage, but was invited to answer a few questions from a seat in the front. He left in anger.

Though there were plenty of rehashed pledges, the candidates were asked to weigh in on a few new, nitty-gritty issues, such as how much they might be willing to earmark to save the Hudson's Bay store, whose shrinking floor space has prompted fears it will eventually close.

Judy Wasylycia-Leis, Brian Bowman, Gord Steeves, Paula Havixbeck and Robert-Falcon Ouellette take part in a mayoral debate focused on downtown Winnipeg at the Hydro Building.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Judy Wasylycia-Leis, Brian Bowman, Gord Steeves, Paula Havixbeck and Robert-Falcon Ouellette take part in a mayoral debate focused on downtown Winnipeg at the Hydro Building.

"I will never subsidize one private business to compete with another," said Steeves, emphatically, adding that he would relax red tape to help the Bay store survive or another development to take over the historic building.

Rapid transit, another recurring election issue, sparked the best fireworks of the evening. Wasylycia-Leis fired shots at both leading candidates on her political right, saying Brian Bowman wants to build everything without costing it, while Steeves wants to cancel the Phase 2 of the Southwest transitway.

Bowman stumbled when asked repeatedly how he would find the cash for one of his marquee pledges, to build all six legs of rapid transit in 15 years. He settled finally on the hope dense development around future lines would fatten city coffers and Winnipeg would get a fair share of the province's PST.

He said building rapid transit is key to building the city.

"You listen to some of these guys and it's like charity," instead of sound economic development, said Bowman.

Largely silent until then, Steeves was asked to weigh in and went after Bowman, saying the city simply cannot afford rapid transit.

"The province is not going to give us PST money to build rapid transit. It's not going to happen," said Steeves. "There is more chance that Robin Hood will ride through that door."

Though he fumbled rapid transit funding, Bowman was among the only candidates to give a modestly clear answer on downtown bike lanes and whether driving space must be given up for better cycling infrastructure.

"I don't want to close road lanes in order to do it," said Bowman, who instead floated the idea of splitting sidewalks to allow for bikes and pedestrians.

Steeves squeezed in a swipe at Wasylycia-Leis, saying she is too tied to the provincial NDP and would saddle Winnipeggers with higher taxes. Bowman piled on, saying "sitting in the opposition benches and toeing the party line is not leadership."

Wasylycia-Leis took a jab at Steeves for flip-flopping on rapid transit and accused Bowman of being another inexperienced private-sector candidate, much like Mayor Sam Katz.

Robert-Falcon Ouellette, who earned applause throughout the evening, closed with a gentle zinger at his fellow candidates. "I may not be the most vocal or angry candidate on this platform, but I am the most independent."

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

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History

Updated on Thursday, September 11, 2014 at 8:02 AM CDT: Removes photos, adds photo, adds videos

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