The CBC News mayoral debate: Murray makes waves, with a twist of a paddle

In every opinion poll since the start of 2022 Winnipeg mayoral race, former mayor Glen Murray has dominated his competition.

He also managed to generate the most news during CBC Manitoba’s mayoral debate on Wednesday, albeit not through the oration for which he is renowned.

All Murray had to do was hold up a glittery paddle a couple of times in response to a pair of yes-or-no questions.

When the five candidates assembled in CBC’s Studio 41 were asked whether they would raise property taxes, Murray held up the red “no” side of the paddle, confirming he plans to join candidate Jenny Motkaluk in pledging to freeze taxes in 2023.

That pledge is consistent with Murray’s six-year initial stint as mayor, from 1998 to 2004, when the former Fort Rouge councillor continued the property-tax freeze started by his predecessor Susan Thompson and then made three years of property-tax cuts before freezing taxes once more in his final budget.

Nearly two decades later, as inflation hammers the finances of every level of government, Murray’s renewed pledge to freeze taxes makes him an outlier among the leading mayoral candidates. Of the four other mayoral contestants on stage on Wednesday night, only Murray vowed not to raise taxes.

Robert-Falcon Ouellette said he would raise property taxes but did not say by how much. Kevin Klein has promised to keep Brian Bowman’s 2.33-per-cent tax hike for 2023 and then assess city finances after that.

Shaun Loney has pledged to raise property taxes by 3.7 per cent. Scott Gillingham has pledged a 3.5 per cent tax hike as well as a frontage-levy hike that would raise the property-tax-revenue equivalent of another 2.6-per cent hike.

Murray has pledged to pay for his proposed tax freeze by convincing the provincial government to part ways with one percentage point worth of provincial sales tax revenue and growing city revenues over time.

Glen Murray won’t ‘raise the tax burden’ if elected

13 hours ago

Duration 0:34

Winnipeg mayoral candidate Glen Murray said at CBC’s mayoral debate on Wednesday he won’t raise property taxes if elected at the end of the month.

University of Manitoba political studies professor Royce Koop said he was initially surprised to see Murray promise to freeze property taxes on Wednesday, but soon came to see the pledge as consistent with the candidate’s platform.

“This is a campaign that has kind of been all over the map,” Koop said in an interview.

“It’s been pretty ideologically flexible, being focused upon him as a person and his own appeal and people’s memories of him.

“He’s been polling so well for so long that he hasn’t really had to address the kind of perceived inconsistencies between the things he’s advocating for – new spending, new programs — yet no property-tax increase.”

Paul Thomas, a professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Manitoba, was less charitable in his assessment of the tax-freeze pledge.

“I don’t think it’s realistic,” said Thomas, noting Murray is promising to succeed in doing something now he could not convince former Manitoba premier Gary Doer to do two decades ago — part ways with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of growth revenue, with no strings attached.

“I think we’ve got an infrastructure deficit that partly came out of 14 years of freezing taxes and that’s got to be dealt with,” said Thomas, referring to the freeze started by Thompson, continued by Murray and then extended by Murray’s successor as mayor, Sam Katz.

“There are so many pressing other issues. I mean, you can tell people to do more with less, but at some point you can’t ask them to do everything with nothing.”

Murray also made waves with the yes-or-no paddle by indicating he does not support reopening Portage & Main to pedestrians.

As Winnipeg’s mayor in 2003, Murray launched a pedestrian-friendly Portage & Main redesign competition that would award a $100,000 prize to the winning architecture firm.

He maintained that urbanist stance in 2018, when he returned to Winnipeg, supported Brian Bowman’s “yes” position on reopening in the municipal plebiscite that fall and told a Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce audience he will be “an unrelenting advocate” for reopening Portage & Main.

“It’s a platform for culture and commerce. This is one of the most important intersections,” Murray said at the Fort Garry Hotel, adding he pushed for the construction of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and MTS Centre to restore life to downtown Winnipeg.

“Why the heck did we go to all that problem and then leave it closed? This is absolutely stupid. You are suppressing the downtown tax base and the traffic thing is not that hard to fix,” Murray said four years ago.

On Wednesday, Murray said he will respect the will of voters in the 2018 Portage and Main plebiscite, which was won by the “no” side. 

“When you have a referendum and you ask people to vote, if you don’t respect that then, how does anyone have any confidence in a referendum?” Murray asked, referring to the non-binding plebiscite, when pressed on his policy pivot in a scrum following Wednesday’s debate.

Kevin Klein on ‘political hot potato’ issue Portage and Main

11 hours ago

Duration 1:06

Although mayoral candidate Kevin Klein voted ‘no’ to reopening Portage and Main to pedestrians, he said there’s a possibility of keeping it open after repairs are done.

Thomas said he does not feel any contestant won the debate, though he praised Murray’s skill as a tactician by choosing to address his one question to Klein, a conservative candidate who is polling lower than the Red Tory Gillingham.

“I think that was intended to boost Klein’s credibility as the would-be business type running to be mayor and erode the support for Scott Gillingham,” Thomas said.

Klein, Loney and Ouellette all chose to direct their questions at Gillingham, depriving Murray of screen time, while Gillingham chose to bring up Murray’s record as the leader of the Pembina Institute and as an Ontario Liberal MPP.

Koop said he was surprised to find Klein the best speaker in the debate, especially when the Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood candidate spoke about crime, while the professor said Gillingham had the most substantive policy positions.

“Klein brought the sizzle and and Gillingham brought the steak. In a lot of ways, they were the two impressive people on the stage,” he said.

Whether or not that was the case, it was Murray who made the most waves. 

Gillingham grills Murray on Pembina Institute allegations

11 hours ago

Duration 2:53

Mayoral candidate Scott Gillingham grilled rival candidate Glen Murray on allegations stemming from his time at the Pembina Institute at CBC Manitoba’s debate Wednesday.