Manitoba

'A great mayor': Sam Katz reflects on his 10 years in office

Sam Katz admits there may have been room for improvement during his 10 years as Winnipeg's mayor, but he says people will probably remember great changes to the city when they look back at his term.

Winnipeg's outgoing mayor says people will remember positive changes to city

Winnipeg's outgoing mayor says people will remember positive changes to city 2:24

Sam Katz admits there may have been room for improvement during his 10 years as Winnipeg's mayor, but he says people will probably remember great changes to the city when they look back at his term.

In an exit interview with the CBC's Sean Kavanagh, the outgoing mayor reflected on his time in office and what he believes his legacy will be.

"I'll have citizens come up to me and say, 'You were a great mayor and we wish you were still there.' I get a phenomenal amount of that happening every time I go out somewhere," Katz said.

Katz was first elected in 2004 and re-elected in 2006 and 2010. He announced on June 20 that he would not seek another term.

During Monday's interview, Katz said his legacy includes revitalized community clubs, a big makeover at Assiniboine Park, and growth in the city's downtown.

"I love seeing what's going on in the downtown," he said.

"I love that it was almost 2½ to three decades before any apartments ever got built, and it was during my term that apartments got built."

Katz said other than further lowering business taxes and reducing the number of surface parking lots, he has delivered on his promises.

Real estate controversies

But the mayor faced controversy in recent years over questionable real estate dealings, including a fire hall land swap and cost overruns in the development of the Winnipeg Police Service's new headquarters.

The fire hall land swap was cast into the spotlight in 2012 after CBC News first reported that the city was building a new fire station on Taylor Avenue  on land it did not own — in exchange for three other properties as part of a deal with Shindico, a land developer.

An audit report on the land swap, released last fall, said the deal showed favouritism toward Shindico and, as a result, the city's interests were not protected.

The report charged the land deals were made under bad management at city hall, and it did breach city policy but not the city's code of conduct.

It also directly implicated Phil Sheegl, who resigned as the city's chief administrative officer shortly before the audit report came out.

A separate audit of the city's real estate transactions, released in July, raised questions about how the city handled the sale of the former Canada Post building on Graham Avenue, which is being turned into the new police HQ.

Later that month, an external review of the conversion of the building into the police headquarters detailed "gaps" between how the project was handled and what current city policy states.

"I guarantee you they're going to find something. They can't come back and say, 'You know what? everything's fine,'" Katz said.

"I spoke to several lawyers and accountants who said, 'They have to come up with something; that's their job. They have to find something.'"

Katz said he wonders how thorough those reviews and audits would be if officials did not interview Sheegl, who has been a longtime friend of his.

Perception versus reality

Katz accused the media of relentlessly pursuing the audit stories, leaving a lingering impression that something was wrong at the City of Winnipeg.

He also blamed the media for blowing up a story about how he swapped a U.S.-based shell company with Sheegl.

"I deal with reality. Perception is a whole different story … especially when you get the media bringing it up and then people start fanning the flames. Do I get it? Absolutely I get it; unfortunately, yes," he said.

"Do you know what I've learned? It doesn't make a difference whether it's reality or not," he added. "That impression is there … and it's not going to go away."

The Manitoba government has asked the RCMP to review all the audits and reviews.

"The province, I don't think, had any option whatsoever," Katz said.

"If they didn't ask for that review, possibly you and many others in the media would be all over them, and there's an election coming up."

Looking back on his 10 years as mayor, Katz said he's proud of everything he and his council have accomplished.

"The mayor and council have done some wonderful things, and when people look back they will say, 'This was a phenomenal decade of things getting done in this city and it's moved us forward, and I like what I see,'" he said.

Winnipeggers will elect a new mayor, as well as councillors and school trustees, on Oct. 22.

As for his own future, Katz said he plans to stay in the city after his term is up.

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