5 Winnipeg mayoral candidates debate taxes, police budget

Five Winnipeg mayoral candidates found common ground during a debate Thursday night, each agreeing to keep Winnipeg’s current rate of property tax increases, although some said they’d look to raise or lower it after a few years.

Right now, the city’s 2023 and 2024 budgets have a maximum property tax rate increase of 2.33 per cent.

Rana Bokhari’s plan is to go along with that if she’s elected mayor. She said if her administration has proven itself to be “trustworthy” by 2024, she would look at increasing the tax rate hike.

When asked in an interview what she meant by “trustworthy,” Bokhari said “if Winnipeggers can drive down the street in two years and have their snow cleared, their sidewalks cleared … they will feel it themselves.”

She added her campaign has other ideas to raise revenue to pay for improving services including adding an extra tax to short-term rentals.

Rick Shone also said he’d commit to the 2.33 per cent increase for the following year, but he hopes to dig deeper into the city’s budget to see where taxes are going.

Shone said he believes the current publicly available budget documents aren’t detailed enough, so he’d wait to get into office before promising to adjust the rate hike.

“As an average citizen, you cannot get a clear idea of where the money is spent,” he said.

“Winnipeggers have said they’re willing to pay more taxes in some cases, but would you want to pay taxes if you really have no clear idea at this point how your money is being spent and if it’s actually being spent well?”

‘Equate Debate’

Shone and Bokhari joined three other candidates in a St. Vital home Thursday night for a debate around homelessness, crime, reconciliation and finances.

They were all among the six candidates — out of 11 total — who weren’t invited to participate in CBC’s mayoral debate on Wednesday because they didn’t poll 10 per cent, plus or minus the margin of error, in a late September Probe survey.

In response, Rana Bokhari’s campaign held its own event for the remaining candidates, titled the “Equate Debate,” also supported by the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce.

Initially, Chris Clacio, Shone, Jenny Motkaluk, Idris Adelakun, Don Woodstock and Bokhari were all set to participate. Organizers said Motkaluk’s team told them she wasn’t coming shortly before the debate, with no explanation.

Chris Clacio says he wants to ‘abolish poverty’ in Winnipeg. (Sam Samson/CBC)

Clacio committed to the 2.33 per cent increase. Woodstock and Adelakun also did, both with commitments to lower it after 2023.

Glen Murray is the only mayoral candidate who has said he will freeze property taxes next year.

Candidates were also asked how they’d address homelessness.

Both Shone and Bokhari said they will commit to building a supervised consumption site, which they said will address one root cause of homelessness: addiction. Both said they would find ways to convert vacant, city-owned lots into affordable housing.

Adelakun promised more housing while Clacio said he wants to “abolish poverty” by supporting a universal basic income.

“How can I access city services if I don’t have money to access those city services?” he said.

“It’s a question of what our vision is for our city.”

When it came to crime, Bokhari, Clacio, Shone and Adelakun want to see more money and effort go to preventative measures rather than in an increase to the police budget, which makes up almost one-third of the city’s entire budget.

Bokhari wants to see a 10 per cent reduction in the police budget, which would go to grassroots programs that address the root causes of crime — the request first made from the Police Accountability Coalition.

Five mayoral candidates participated in the debate, livestreamed from a St. Vital home on Thursday night. (Sam Samson/CBC)

Shone rejected that idea, adding he’d freeze the police budget at 2023 levels.

“The majority of the police budget is tied up in salaries and benefits, and I’m not about laying off police officers right now,” he said after the debate.

“We have to figure out how do we use our police force better so they can respond to the higher priority calls more.”

Adelakun wants a youth crime prevention program, and to support police by investing in crime prevention groups.

“I want to collaborate with our social services so we can free [police] up for more challenging tasks,” he said during the debate.

Woodstock said he’d find a way to give police more money because the city is quickly growing and police can’t keep up.

“A lot of folks think the budget is way high, but the police need our help,” he said during the debate.

Every dollar the police give back to our city in the form of rent … I would give that back to the police in the first four years because they need to expand.”

The other five candidates running to be Winnipeg’s mayor are Kevin Klein, Scott Gillingham, Glen Murray, Shaun Loney and Robert-Falcon Ouellette. Election day is Oct. 26.

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