The centre of discussion at the latest Winnipeg mayoral forum was the centre of the city.
All eight candidates gathered at Manitoba Hydro Place to talk about the issues affecting Winnipeg’s downtown and there were some fireworks.
The biggest reaction from the standing only room crowd coming when the candidates talked about re-opening Portage and Main to pedestrians. Mayor Bowman was the only candidate to pledge his support.
“I’ll be voting to have the intersection opened as a citizen and I think it’s part of building a modern city that we can all be proud of,” Bowman said.
Others were vocal against it.
“It’s not the time for us to open this,” mayoral candidate Tim Diack said. “And I appreciate there’s a lot of work and study that goes into it, but we have bigger issues.”
Discussion on crime and safety turned into a back and forth with Diack, a longtime police officer, accusing Mayor Bowman of not meeting with the police union since early in his term. Bowman denied this, but made it clear the police union is not his focus.
“The mayor is there for Winnipeg, not the head of the police union,” Bowman said.
Diack said Winnipeg needs more officers on the street rather than increased safety lighting and video surveillance, which Bowman said is part of his downtown safety strategy.
Bowman’s plan to cut overtime from police pension to provide around $1.5 million for more officers on the street was questioned by Jenny Motkaluk.
“It’s not about how much money we’re spending, it’s about what the results are,” Motkaluk said.
“And frankly, the thought of adding 10 more police officers into a system that’s broken and doesn’t have the right tools to do the job on the backs of the police’s pension, to me that is absolutely shameful.”
Motkaluk says her plan would put police on the street without adding money to the police budget.
Winnipeg’s meth crisis was talked about and Bowman said if re-elected, he wouldn’t rule out starting a safe injection site in the city.
“I don’t think we can afford to rule anything out if it’s going to help save lives in our community,” Bowman said.
Candidate Don Woodstock nearly walked off the stage and went home after not getting an answer he desired from Bowman after continuously asking him when he first heard about the meth crisis in the city and what he’s done about it.
Motkaluk also ripped into the city’s transit system.
“Let’s face it, the Winnipeg Transit system today sucks,” she said. “It takes a long time to get to where we’re going. We don’t have a lot of people who you would call choice riders on the bus, because in other cities, they take transit because it’s better, faster and cheaper.”
Bowman replied by saying,”A Winnipegger is a Winnipegger is a Winnipegger and every person who takes transit is a valued citizen. You don’t talk down to Winnipeggers like that.”
The candidates will stay busy with forums scheduled over the next few days. They’ll talk about design and urbanism on Wednesday at the Forks and then business will be the topic on Thursday.
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