The leading candidates in the race to be Edmonton’s next mayor took shots at each other during the first of three city-sponsored candidate forums on Tuesday night.
The forum at Harry Ainlay Composite High School was the first to feature all six declared candidates for the city’s top job — Kristine Acielo, Kerry Diotte, Don Iveson, Karen Leibovici, Josh Semotiuk and Gordon Ward — but Iveson, Diotte and Leibovici focused their attention on each other.
In his opening remarks, Diotte slammed Iveson and Leibovici for being “fiscally irresponsible.”
“Councillor Iveson insists that we have a revenue problem and has committed to finding new ways to generate more tax revenue, including a municipal income tax of some sort,” Diotte said.
“Councillor Leibovici doesn’t think we have any problem at all. She suggested we have plenty of room to run the debt up even higher.”
Iveson countered that by criticizing both Diotte and Leibovici for “misrepresenting” his desire to look for alternatives to property taxes which he believes are unfair to seniors and people with low incomes.
“I never talked about sales tax,” Iveson said.
“I am not saying that we should have a sales tax. I said in Manitoba municipalities have one per cent of the income tax the province of Manitoba shares with them.”
‘I understand what infill is’
Leibovici stressed her experience as a councillor, MLA, social worker and labour negotiator -- and someone who could work cohesively with council.
She also challenged Diotte’s statements on her fiscal record. .
“I have to tell you Councillor Diotte, just about every budget, I put forward motions that have taken dollars out, that have taken the percentages out,”she said.
“And I have not voted for some of the budgets. So let’s get the facts clear.”
Leibovici also directed some of her comments towards Iveson, who has made the creation of diverse types of housing part of his campaign platform.
“I grew up in a duplex. I don’t need to be told what duplexes will do for a city and what we need in our city are brownstones,” she said.
“I understand what infill is. I’ve lived in infill and I’ve lived in the inner city.”
After the forum, Diotte was philosophical about the attacks from his opponents.
“It’s politics,” he said. “We have to go in and try to take a few gentle shots at one another. It’s half entertainment as well.”
Public hears from lesser-known candidates
The forum also allowed many voters to get their first look at Acielo, Ward and Semotiuk. Semotiuk, who wore a Motorhead t-shirt and a Corb Lund baseball cap, was able to get laughs out of the crowd with his plainspoken approach.
“I decided to run for mayor because I look at the three big ones there and there’s nothing particularly terrible about them,” he said. “They’re just the same batch of politicians that we see every year.”
“I’m just like you guys, man. I’m just a regular guy. That’s why I’m here.”
Ward called the unfinished LRT an embarrassment and said that the city has to finish what it starts before it takes on new infrastructure projects.
“I stand for an immediate review of planned capital projects where the necessary infrastructure is not in place,” he said.
“To sustain a positive growth, existing and planned infrastructure must be in place. Ignoring deteriorating and failing infrastructure while pursuing new projects is exactly how companies fail.”
Acielo saw Tuesday’s forum as a chance to introduce herself to the public.
“A lot of people have been wondering ‘where has she been? Where is she, why is it focused on our star councillors right now?’” she said. “Well, here I am.”
Tuesday’s event was the first of three city-run mayoral forums. The candidates will face off at the Shaw Conference Centre on Monday and at the Italian Cultural Centre on Oct. 10.