The controversial plan to lease out four municipal golf courses to a private manager and sell another was narrowly passed by the City of Winnipeg's executive policy committee.

The plan was debated Wednesday morning before the committee took a lunch break and returned to vote. It passed by a 4-3 margin.

During the morning discussion, councillors got an earful from people upset about the plan and the ad campaign launched by the city and the mayor, which was described as deceptive and wasteful.

One woman who spoke, Cecilia McIntosh, told EPC she has lost faith in the mayor.

"We feel a deep sense of betrayal with Mayor Sam Katz. Perhaps he has lost his moral compass, I don't know," she said.

"But the leasing of these golf courses is being rammed down our throats."

A citizens' group called 'Outdoor Urban Recreation Spaces Winnipeg' said the controversy over the issue has brought trust in city hall to a new low.

Spokesperson Ron Mazur said the public isn't getting all the information it needs.

"There has to be substantive change so that we have true accountability, openness, (and) transparency,"

"(We have to) involve and engage ...citizens...and everybody can proceed forward in a united basis. But we don't have that now, and that's sad," he said.

Now that it has been passed by EPC, the plan will go to council for a final decision next week. OURS Winnipeg says its members intend to appear at council to fight it.

Support for leasing out courses

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation was one of the few voices in favour of Winnipeg getting out of the golf business.

Prairie director Colin Craig said labour costs are a drain on the city, and the city's own auditors have said the demand isn't there.

"Too many courses and not enough golfers," he said.

"I think it's a good thing …the city is trying to address that. Personally we think the city could go even further and look at divesting itself of even more courses."

Craig said the controversial $90,000 ad campaign the city launched on the issue didn't roll out in the best manner.

But he applauded it as an effort to counter false information about the viability of city-run courses.

City councillor Brian Mayes, who sits on the executive policy committee and did not support either the plan to lease out the courses or the ad campaign, said councillors will have to work hard to restore lost trust.

He said he doesn't blame people for being upset about the 'Responsible Winnipeg' campaign.

"I'm upset about it. And it is misspent taxpayer money."

Mayes predicted the golf plan will die at city council on May 29 because it won't have the support of two thirds of city councillors.

20-year lease

Ontario-based GolfNorth has expressed interest in running the Kildonan Park, Windsor Park, Crescent Drive and Harbour View golf courses, according to the city.

The company, owned by former BlackBerry CEO Jim Balsillie, would pay the city $100,000 to $150,000 annually for 20 years under the arrangement. And the city would still own the land.

In exchange, GolfNorth would operate the courses, invest about $4 million, and keep almost all the profit it makes.

The city proposal includes the sale of the John Blumberg Golf Course.

The plan, which needs two-thirds support at council to pass, has come under fire by a number of councillors, who have also taken aim at the city's $90,000 ad campaign to garner public support.

Ad campaign attacked

The ads, which have run in newspapers, online and on billboards, urge people to lobby their councillors to approve the proposal.

The veiled ads claimed to be from a group called "Responsible Winnipeg," which turned out to not be a citizen group but the city's Office of Policy Development and Communications.

Katz, who backs the plan to privatize the management of the courses, said it was a mistake the City of Winnipeg logo was left off the ads.

Not long after an ad from Responsible Winnipeg appeared on the billboard at Shaw Park, which is operated by Katz and his management group. Katz owns the Winnipeg Goldeyes baseball team, which plays in the park.

A spokesperson for the mayor told CBC News the billboard was placed at the baseball park in error, and has since been removed.