Murray commits to 2023 property tax freeze during CBC’s Winnipeg mayoral debate

Glen Murray was the only mayoral candidate who committed to freezing Winnipeg’s property tax during a live televised debate on CBC News Wednesday evening. 

Murray had previously not commented on the tax freeze.

The revelation came during a rapid-fire question round when CBC Information Radio host Marcy Markusa, the debate’s moderator, asked the five candidates who participated to hold up a “yes” or “no” sign to indicate whether or not they would raise the property tax as mayor.

While all other candidates indicated “yes,” Murray, after some apparent hesitation, held up his sign saying “no.”

It was one of a number of significant points of difference that emerged during the one-hour debate, in which five of the 11 mayoral candidates — Scott Gillingham, Kevin Klein, Shaun Loney, Murray and Robert-Falcon Ouellette — told voters why they should be elected on Oct. 26.

When asked to clarify, Murray, who was mayor of Winnipeg from 1998 to 2004, repeated his intention to push the province to replace the city’s operating grant with a single percentage point of the seven per cent provincial sales tax.

“I believe we really have to build the tax base. I think we’ve exhausted it,” said Murray, who also served as a member of Ontario’s Provincial Parliament from 2010 to 2017.

“We are in a hyper period of inflation right now.… Property taxes, if you raise them, you are raising the tax burden significantly.”

Five men are standing behind podiums on a television set. A sign on the floor says "Winnipeg Votes."
From left to right, Scott Gillingham, Robert-Falcon Ouellette, Shaun Loney, Kevin Klein and Glen Murray participated in a televised debate at CBC Manitoba on Wednesday. (James Turner/CBC)

In an interview following the debate, Murray did not say how he would balance the budget without the planned 2.33 per cent increase the city has imposed each year for the past eight years.

“I will take the first year to do the in-depth engagement and long-term budget planning that I committed to and we will lay out a plan that will show how that will happen,” he said.

Murray’s tax plan ‘irresponsible:’ Klein

Other candidates challenged Murray on how he could accomplish the tax freeze with only months before the city’s next budget will be presented to council.

“You don’t have nearly enough time,” said Klein, an outgoing city councillor who was elected in 2018 to represent Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood, in an interview after the debate.

Klein has committed to keeping the 2.33 per cent tax increase for at least 2023, the final year of the four-year budget process, but said he would look for ways to reduce it in future years.

“It would be irresponsible for me to say that I could fix the budget in 90 days before it has to go to council,” Klein said during the debate.

“We will let the four-year budget play out, as bad as it is, and we will take the next 12 months to fix it and bring in a budget that people can be proud of, that they can see through and that they know that every dollar is being spent properly.”

Portage and Main revisited

Candidates also differed in their responses when asked whether they would reopen the intersection of Portage and Main to pedestrians, an issue that was the focus of a plebiscite in 2018. Voters overwhelmingly chose to keep the intersection closed to pedestrians.

Only Loney — a social enterprise activist who founded organizations such as BUILD (Building Urban Industries for Local Development) and the non-profit Aki Energy — committed to opening the intersection.

In an interview following the debate, Loney said the intersection needs repairs, and the city can find ways of mitigating disruptions to traffic, such as rerouting buses down Fort Street.

“There’s lots of things we can do to make sure that everybody’s happy, but that requires political leadership.”

Although Klein and Murray both said no to the reopening, they left the possibility open that there may be a case for that at some point in the future.

Klein argued the barricades should have been removed in 2014, when repair work was supposed to be done on the intersection, but the issue then became “a political hot potato.”

Millions of dollars of work still needs to be done at the intersection — both above and below ground — and Klein said once that’s done, “if it’s more cost-efficient not to put up the concrete [barricades], we won’t put it back up.”

Murray, who championed the idea of removing the pedestrian barricades when he was mayor, said the city should respect the result of the plebiscite and focus on redeveloping areas around the intersection.

“If there is going to be any changes at Portage and Main there is a process that we have to go through and those changes may be very different from anything we could imagine now.”

Wednesday’s debate comes one week before the Oct. 26 election day.

There are 11 candidates in total running to become mayor. CBC Manitoba limited participation in the debate to candidates who polled above 10 per cent, factoring in the margin of error, in a Probe Research poll released at the end of September

Idris Adelakun, Rana Bokhari, Chris Clacio, Jenny Motkaluk, Rick Shone and Don Woodstock are also running for mayor.