Taxes and downtown revitalization major debate points at mayoral forum

From increasing property taxes to demanding a cut of the PST from the province, five mayoral candidates pulled no punches at an afternoon debate.

With only a few days left before Winnipeggers vote, mayoral candidates who are front-runners in the latest poll made their cases during a forum hosted by the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce on Friday.

The debate centred around topics important to the chamber, like economic growth and employment.

“We really want to hear more about the downtown,” said Loren Remillard, president & CEO of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s the number one issue for our members in surveys that we’ve done. It is the number one issue for Winnipeggers overall. We know we have a number of challenges in this community.”

All candidates found common ground, agreeing Winnipeg’s core needs help revitalizing, but each one had a different idea on how to do it.

“So we will do that by looking at office-to-residential conversions. Making sure people feel confident in the downtown. I said we will add more money and commit to funding the downtown community safety partnership,” said candidate Scott Gillingham.

“There are eight great suggestions in the playbook, but we have to address homelessness,” said Shaun Loney, who also suggested creating a new city position called “the mayor of nightlife.”

“Addictions affect every aspect of our city. It makes us nervous to take the bus. It makes people afraid to be downtown,” added Robert-Falcon Ouellette, another mayoral candidate.

Tensions increased when the topic shifted to the city’s strained financial situation.

Candidates were quick to describe their tax targets and how they plan on solving city shortfalls.

“Never before have we paid so much in property tax and business taxes to receive this level of service we’re receiving,” said candidate Kevin Klein, “The work we have to do begins internally.”

“So before we look to take money from taxpayers and certainly specifically from residential ratepayers, it’s very important that we’re doing all we can to build the tax base and reduce the tax burden when opportunities arise,” noted Glen Murray, the final candidate who participated in the debate.

Murray doubled down on freezing property taxes, saying he’ll instead ask the province for a 1 per cent cut of PST revenue.

He also announced a potential plan to create localized impact fees for major capital projects.

“Take Peguis Trail, part of the money is going to have to come from the consent of people in that area or across the city who are then going to say ‘we’re prepared to pay a development charge for a specific project,'” said Murray.

A variety of plans and solutions for voters to think about before election day on Oct. 26.

“It’s one thing to talk about taxes and services, but ultimately, I think we can all agree it’s best to grow the pie as opposed to grow the tax burden,” said Remillard.

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