Mayoral candidate Ouellette pitches tax for surface lots that would require change to provincial law
Rival Glen Murray outlined transit safety plan on Thursday
A Winnipeg mayoral candidate wants the city to tax downtown surface parking lots as if they had buildings on them.
"In this case of downtown surface parking lots, they should be assessed as if they were a four-storey commercial building," Robert-Falcon Ouellette said during a Thursday campaign announcement at a downtown parking lot near Portage and Main.
Ouellette called the surface parking lots a barrier to economic development and said they create unsafe environments. His hope is that taxing the properties as if they had buildings on them will encourage owners to redevelop them.
"Like missing teeth in a smile, these lots are a constant reminder that we need to do better," he said.
Winnipeg's downtown parking strategy says an estimated 20 per cent of downtown real estate is devoted to surface parking. Roughly one-fifth of those lots are owned by government, including the city.
The proposed tax change would raise an estimated $65.5 million in revenue, Ouellette said.
However, the city does not currently have the power to do this. Former mayor Sam Katz made a similar proposal, but it would require the province to amend the City of Winnipeg charter.
That legislation says the city must charge "a single rate of real property tax," which means any additional taxes on parking could be subject to a legal challenge.
This is at least the third pledge Ouellette has made during his mayoral campaign that would need a change to provincial legislation.
He previously called for Winnipeg city councillors to elect members of the council's executive policy committee — something the Winnipeg charter also prohibits. Members of the committee are currently appointed by the mayor.
Ouellette also wants future municipal elections to be decided by a ranked-ballot voting system, which would require amendments to the Municipal Councils and School Boards Elections Act.
Within hours of Ouellette's announcement, rival mayoral candidate Rana Bokhari released a statement saying the proposal would be subject to "numerous lawsuits."
A simpler solution would be for the province to approve the city charging a parking tax, Bokhari said.
Transit safety plan
At a campaign event of his own, mayoral hopeful Glen Murray outlined a plan for improving safety on Winnipeg Transit buses and at bus stops.
"Given the importance and the number of incidents that are going on in our transit system, I think it's really important that we take immediate and strong action to make our transit system safer," Murray said.
His proposal includes replacing Transit's radio communication system.
That's already in the works, through a $17.3-million capital project funded by the federal government's Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program, a City of Winnipeg spokesperson said in an email.
The city's transit master plan says all projects funded under that program must be completed by 2027, while Murray said he hopes to look at getting the replacement done within the next 12 to 18 months.
Murray's plan — which he announced alongside James Van Gerwen, vice-president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505 — also includes extended protective shields around drivers' seats, which the union representing transit drivers has been calling for.
Murray also charged that bus drivers are reprimanded for calling 911 in emergency situations, and said they should instead be encouraged to do so.
The city spokesperson said while drivers are trained to contact the transit control centre for emergencies, they're "absolutely encouraged" to use their cellphone to call 911 if they're away from the radio system. The spokesperson did not say whether drivers are punished for calling 911 while within reach of the radio system.
Murray's plan also includes training teams of people with skills in mental health and conflict resolution work to be available when conflicts arise on buses, the details of which would be determined through community engagement.
"The city doesn't have that expertise right now. So what I'm saying is we have to start a process now, immediately, to engage with those people who do have that expertise," he said.
Murray also wants more police officers walking beats in certain areas to assist with any incidents, and to see Winnipeg Transit's on-bus video streaming security program — which is already ongoing in 50 buses — extended to the remaining 590 buses.
His proposal also includes expanding an Exchange District BIZ well-being check program to transit shelters across the city, conducting a safety audit of transit stations and stops, and creating a competition for a new series of bus shelter designs for the city.
Murray, Ouellette and Bokhari are among 14 candidates running for mayor. The others are Idris Adelakun, Chris Clacio, Scott Gillingham, Kevin Klein, Shaun Loney, Jenny Motkaluk, Jessica Peebles, Rick Shone, Govind Thawani, Desmond Thomas and Don Woodstock.
Election day is Oct. 26.
With files from Sam Samson