On the Winnipeg election, October 22, 2014
By Darrell Rankin
Leader, Communist Party of Canada – Manitoba
The best outcome in tomorrow’s civic election would see the defeat of the right-wing majority that has dominated civic politics for many decades. It would mean City Council and school boards would be better prepared to avoid looming problems that threaten the condition of working people.
Years of cronyism and shady deals are overshadowed by what lies ahead. It is essential to look at the election from the standpoint of improving and protecting the interests of the large majority of people.
We need civic representatives who will speak out for the rights of working people and not just on ‘local’ issues. From climate change and free trade to rail safety and protecting our right to vote federally, our representatives can fail us no longer.
An example of such a failure is when Sam Katz and the outgoing council voted in April 10-6 to not oppose the Harper Tories’ new federal election law whereby half a million people will lose their right to vote (about 10,000 voters in Winnipeg).*
People are aware of the need for real change. The growth in popularity of candidates on the left of the NDP such as Robert-Falcon Ouellette and David Sanders (to nearly 20 per cent) shows that people realize the existing taxation model and other blights of civic politics can last no longer.
By “left,” I mean ‘more interested in advancing the interests of working people’ and ‘actually willing to challenge the monopoly of power enjoyed by big developer and business interests in City affairs.’ Just one developer, Genstar, has a commanding 27% share of Winnipeg’s housing market.
The growth in the left vote is partly the result of the exceptionally reactionary, pro-corporate stance of the old City Council – stonewalling First Nations’ calls for justice concerning our water supply, not even saying so much as thank you to the Aboriginal people whose homes were sacrificed to save Winnipeg from flooding in 2011, and signing a contract with Veolia to co-manage our water utility, a company known for war crimes in Israel.
Mayoral candidate Garth Steeves’ wife’s racist facebook post about Aboriginal people had the good effect of galvanizing Aboriginal activists to campaign for a big voter turnout. The intolerable poverty and insecurity of the poorest sections of the working class have generated a change in mood for real change.
Not surprisingly, Winnipeg Free Press editors are concerned about the need to “quell civic unrest” (Oct. 7) and electing a mayor and council that will steer Winnipeg to “social harmony” (Oct. 20) – anything to stop protest movements.
If Brian Bowman is elected mayor, his Tory-inspired plan to “target” the pensions of 9,000 civic workers is sure to spark protests and maybe a strike, not stop them.
We need a City Council that shines a spotlight on who owns the land, curbs speculation and reduces housing costs. And since unions and First Nations are being forced to be “transparent” about their finances, then private companies like Genstar need to be forced to disclose their profits.
We need a City Council and school boards who will criticize the real source of budget underfunding and the expected two-year $100 million civic deficit: The pro-corporate Harper government that has downloaded costs to the Manitoba government, and in turn to the City.
There’s a price to pay for all this downloading, which protects the profits of Canada’s monopoly class. Harper expects workers in Winnipeg to pay higher property taxes for his hype that Canada is crisis-free and healthy since the 2008 economic crash. Without noise and resistance from a Council willing to expose this fiction, working people can expect hard times.
The top two candidates – Bowman and Wasylycia-Leis – are ignoring the need to address the realistic question, “How do they intend to fund the growing civic deficit, especially with the projects they intend to carry out such as rapid transit?”
With the Manitoba government looking at a $550 million deficit shortly before an election and no desire to tax the corporations and the wealthy, NDP Premier Greg Selinger is not likely to rescue Winnipeg in its hour of need.
Working people need relief from unfair taxes. They want taxes imposed on those able to pay, such as the corporations whose profits are the source of impoverishment and the growth of extreme social inequality.
It is important to hear the 69% of workers in Manitoba who say they live from cheque to cheque. A large tax increase means they could lose their homes. And such a tax increase could easily tilt our economy into a serious recession.
More than ever, it is essential to reduce property taxes.
Rather than look at fair ways to grow revenue, the once-leading contender Judy Wasylycia-Leis is proposing four years of property tax increases. This is inadequate. More importantly, it is regressive.
Steeves’ plan of no property tax increase is reactionary and destructive since he has no plan to replace the shortfall with fair taxes. (A fair tax system could actually reduce property taxes.)
Wasylycia-Leis adds that she is “probably the most fiscally conservative of all the candidates.” She reportedly “rejects the notion she’s the most union-friendly candidate this year,” saying “I have a record of working on a pragmatic basis… as opposed to pushing an ideological agenda” (WFP, Sept 26).
Yet her ideology is one of continuity, impoverishment and another economic crash through regressive taxes. Unless there’s a huge strike movement, wages will take a big hit from property tax hikes.
Brian Bowman has the most reactionary proposals concerning pensions and to replace the property tax with a sales tax. Bowman’s policies would merely push workers into poverty faster than Wasylycia-Leis’ plan. Objectively, both are pro-poverty.
Sales and property taxes are regressive, not based on ability to pay, but at least property taxes impose a burden on wealth. If property taxes could be a tax credited against income tax, it would boost workers’ income and penalize land speculators.
The problem is not so much a lack of vision, but a lack of reality among the three major contenders, with Bowman and Steeves expressing reactionary, pro-Tory ideas. All three endorse a regressive tax model without examination of what is fair and progressive.
The City’s budget deficit is $100 million over two years, and it may continue to escalate. Considering that a 1 per cent increase in property tax raises only $5 million, it would take an enormous increase in provincial subsidy and fee revenue to avoid a very costly increase in property taxes. With added needs for infrastructure and school boards, property taxes will likely grow far faster than 3.5 per cent a year.
Winnipeg and other communities need the ability to raise enough revenue based on a progressive and fair tax system.
What is the best outcome in tomorrow’s civic election from the standpoint of improving the condition of working people?
The best we can expect is a defeat of two or three right-wing candidates. This small shift would make City Council less reactionary and tilt politics slightly towards working people, but it means conditions will not improve without more organizing for real change.
That is because the next council will likely support continuous property tax increases above the rate of inflation, eating into take-home pay. Continued action by working people Aboriginal and not is needed on civic issues between elections, especially to reform the tax system and curb developer and big business interests. Working people need to become active at all levels and on all issues to improve their lot.
I urge that workers vote for their class, not the “lesser evil” – so-called strategic voting. Robert-Falcon Ouellette and David Sanders have thought in a realistic way about the challenges facing Winnipeg, recognize the regressive nature of property taxes and have a reform agenda.
They would probably reject the label “socialist” or even “left” but what counts, objectively, is their policies’ impact on the condition of the working class in Winnipeg.
They cannot be accused of splitting the progressive vote because Wasylysia-Leis’ support is at roughly the same level as 2010. They and new movements have galvanized new people to vote.
To me, they are the most unifying and visionary candidates for working people. Their continued connection to civic reform movements is needed over the next four years. As for the NDP, it is impossible to unite workers by expecting them to support regressive taxes.
Sanders says he is the most “union-friendly” candidate, but both he and Ouellette have policies that stand for working people regarding taxes, labour and social policy. A large vote for either will show that working people in Winnipeg need more from their next representatives, or else City Hall will hear be hearing from them soon.
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*For the record, Katz, Browaty, Fielding, Mayes, Nordman, Pagtakhan, Steen, Swandel, Wyatt and Sharma voted to support Harper’s mutilation of our right to vote.