Judy Wasylycia-Leis and Gord Steeves answer to the Manitoba Chinese Tribune.
1. Winnipeg’s Rapid Transit plan has been debated for over 30 years. What is your opinion on the current rapid transit plan? What is your vision on Winnipeg transit overall?
Judy: Rapid transit is an absolute necessity for a city of our size. It is embarrassing and irresponsible to have the spectacle of a half-built transitway after 30 years of discussion. My position is to finish this line to the University of Manitoba as Bus Rapid Transit without further delay or talk of a referendum. Students at the University of Manitoba deserve a bus rapid transit system that works. I will also require independent oversight to ensure this project is done on time and on budget. My vision is for a rapid transit system that reaches all corners of the city. The decision about what routes and what kind of rapid transit will be done on a planned basis involving the input of citizens, local experts and all levels of government.
Gord: I support the idea of rapid transit for our growing city. Any modern city has built an effective transportation system that offers options to its citizens. Although I believe we should be spending more money on bad Winnipeg roads right now, rapid transit (whether it’s bus or rail in the future) should be directly linked to Transit Oriented Development (TOD), so more people will be living in close proximity to it. TOD means that the City of Winnipeg will recoup the costs through residential and commercial development around stations.
2. The community consultation process for the 2015 civic budget has begun. What is your priority for next year’s budget? What is your policy on property taxes?
Judy: My priority for Budget 2015 is to make Winnipeg a city that works. That means focusing on a back-to-basics plan that will make serious strides in fixing our crumbling infrastructure and will establish new independent oversight to stop expensive cost overruns that have plagued Winnipeg and begin to restore trust in City Hall. The task to fix our neglected streets and sidewalks, to upgrade our aging sewers and water mains, to ensure proper snow clearing, and to provide improved transit and active transportation is huge but will be done on a step-by-step planned basis and ensuring an honest, affordable and predictable tax plan that keeps tax increases at or below inflation and spending under control. With a new culture of ethics and accountability at City Hall, we can stop millions of dollars from being wasted on land swaps and real estate deals.
Gord: My priorities are Infrastructure, community safety, our economy and taxation, Downtown Winnipeg, all supported by a clear transparent government. For 11 years I did not raise taxes because Manitobans are essentially the highest taxed people in Canada, we eliminated the business tax on the smallest third of our businesses. I will keep taxes as absolutely low as possible to leave money in our economy, I’ll open up the books at City Hall on Day 1 when I am elected.
3. What differences exist between yourself as a Mayor and other mayoral candidates when it comes to accountability at City Hall?
Judy: I have had the privilege of serving in public office for over 25 years where I gained valuable experience working in government as a Cabinet Minister, sponsoring legislation such as Manitoba’s first Freedom of Information Act, cooperating with other MPs in Ottawa to influence and shape a federal budget, serving as a Caucus leader to build a strong team and work across party lines on parliamentary affairs, and serving on the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee to oversee government expenditures. Working closely with my colleagues such as Olivia Chow, I have been a strong advocate as a Member of Parliament for better legislation to reunite families from overseas, and make immigration fair for everyone. It is this experience combined with an established record for maintaining a highly visible, and very accessible presence at the community level that is, I believe, unique among candidates for mayor.
Gord: Although I have been gone from city council for 3 years, I have been there for 11 years in my career and I have answered to citizens day after day, month after month, year after year, meeting after meeting. I have solid relationships with all of council and with City administration. The biggest difference between me and other candidates is that I will be ready to work on the first day after I am elected, no learning curve.
4. What is your vision for Winnipeg’s infrastructure (e.g., potholes, water main breaks, frozen pipes)?
Judy: When a cold winter put Winnipeg families into a difficult position with failing infrastructure, their city council abandoned them. I will clean up the wasteful spending at city hall to ensure that the hard earned tax dollars that Winnipeg entrusts to city hall are invested in the core infrastructure that Winnipeg families count on to be there. Roads you can drive on, water you can drink all year round and transit that will help speed up traffic flow, and get you to-and-from school and work.
Gord: Infrastructure needs to be the top priority for our city; everyone needs infrastructure to conduct their day to day affairs. If it is business then the need the ability to transport goods and services, personal use is just as important in terms of people and how they feel about their city. Infrastructure projects large and small need to be a priority for our city government AND our provincial government. Most recent public opinion polls show that infrastructure is number one priority for Winnipeggers and it’s my number of priority. I have a comprehensive 5 point plan that addresses infrastructure from potholes to delays at rail crossings to funding.
5. What is your vision for enhancing success for small businesses in Winnipeg?
Judy: Small business and the people who make them work are the backbone of our city. They work hard, create employment and make our communities better places to live. I want to make City Hall a place of proactive support for our small business community working in partnership with business leaders to ensure that the foundation of our city’s economic health is supported and nurtured. If elected Mayor, I will freeze Winnipeg’s business tax rate and will take steps to encourage new and expanded businesses by establishing a business liaison at the City to help expedite the approval of licenses and permits, and I will create a small business roundtable to meet at least twice a year to provide advice for building a more business friendly climate.
Gord: Businesses want Infrastructure, fair taxation, and a set of rules that they understand and that they can follow. We need to give them all of these things. We cut all business taxes to our smallest one third of council when I was on council to ensure that we were giving our businesses the chance to grow. Nothing infuriates Business more than having no sense as to when or where there permits are. Timely and efficient response to business requests to have these things matters granted is the key to helping businesses succeed and giving them the confidence that the city is their partner, not their enemy.
6. What would you do to help new comers, including newcomers in the Chinese community, to be better included in the social fabric of Winnipeg?
Judy: Winnipeg is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in Canada which has benefited our city economically, culturally and spiritually. When I was a Member of Parliament, I was a strong advocate for better settlement services, and a more accessible immigration policy for Canada. As Mayor I will be a leader in encouraging newcomers to live in Winnipeg by supporting ethno-cultural activities, speaking out against racism and anti-immigration policies, and implementing policies that support multiculturalism as inclusive citizenship where equality and dignity for all are understood as fundamental City values. I will also encourage municipal support for settlement services, multicultural events, and cross-cultural collaboration.
Gord: First lets create a direct liaison with the Chinese community and the Mayor’s office so we can get newcomers into our city hall. If people are going to live here they need to know the way the city works and how things function. We could do the same for all groups. New comers represent an exceptionally entrepreneurial part of our community, they would benefit from assistance as to how things like permitting, licensing work. Let’s show them. I want you to know that my doors will always be open to the Chinese community who has helped to build out city over decades. Winnipeg is growing mostly because of immigration, so I’ll ensure that the voices of your community are heard directly in the Mayor’s Office. I’ll work with Citizens Equity Committee at City Hall to ensure our great city have representations from ethnic communities and our sister cities to reach out to people from around the world.
* Editor’s note: these questions were sent to five major candidates, two responded by publication date. Published on Issue 76.