Winnipeggers believe mayor in conflict of interest, poll suggests
Nearly 80 per cent of Winnipeg voters think Mayor Sam Katz has been embroiled in conflicts of interest while in office, according to an exclusive poll commissioned by CBC News.
Results of the EKOS Research poll, released Wednesday, also found that only 13 per cent of respondents would vote for Katz if he were to seek a fourth term in office.
An additional 15 per cent said they might also vote for Katz if he runs for re-election. However, 51 per cent said they would not vote for him.
"I haven't seen numbers like this since the 1970s, and they weren't even that bad in the 1970s," said Chris Adams, a political analyst and the author of Politics in Manitoba: Parties, Leaders and Voters.
"[These are] the worst numbers that we've seen for a mayor in a number of polls going back decades."
Mayor Sam Katz responded to the CBC/EKOS poll findings at city hall on Wednesday, saying he puts little stock in polls.
"The last time I ran the poll said I was supposed to lose, too," he said. "I mean polls are polls. You know politicians won't normally comment on polls and you know me that I've never really commented on polls."
He said he would rather focus on the many positive things going on in the city, including improving infrastructure and attracting investment to the city.
"We're building new bridges, we're building fire paramedic stations, we're building new libraries, new community centres, we're improving our roads. And the public is very happy to see this happening and that to me is what it's all about," he said.
Katz also issued this statement Tuesday after first being contacted about the poll:
"At various times, I have recused myself from Executive Policy Committee and Council to avoid even the appearance of conflict of interest.
"My recusal, and the resulting media coverage, may give the impression that I am involved in conflicts of interest, when, in fact, I am taking steps to avoid potential or perceived conflicts."
First elected to the city's top political job in 2004 and re-elected in 2006, Katz was most recently re-elected in 2010, taking 55 per cent of the total vote.
"I think the more people might call for Sam Katz not to run again, the more he's going to dig in his heels in and run again," Adams said.
CBC News commissioned EKOS Research to conduct the poll, in which a random sample of 544 Winnipeg adults were surveyed by phone between Dec. 5 and Dec. 8. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
About 46 per cent of respondents said they believe Katz has "definitely" been involved in conflicts of interest during his time in office, while an additional 33 per cent said he was "probably" involved.
Sixteen per cent disagreed, saying they definitely or probably did not believe Katz has been in conflicts of interest.
Only one per cent of respondents said they have not seen, read or heard anything on the topic, the poll results suggested.
In an email to CBC News, Katz said he believes the high perception that he may be in conflicts of interest could be because he has recused himself from some council votes.
The poll also found that 70 per cent of respondents believe city council does not deal very well with allegations of conflict of interest in general.
As well, about 69 per cent said they don't think council has dealt effectively with the allegations involving Katz.
Point Douglas Coun. Mike Pagtakhan says he would support the creation of a city ethics commissioner, as he believes maintaining public confidence is paramount.
"Every single councillor is very mindful of that and definitely wants to do the right thing," Pagtakhan said.
"At the same time … the public needs to be assured that if there is a perceived conflict of interest, that it's somehow dealt with in an effective and sound manner."
Pagtakhan added that he's not surprised to hear what the poll results had to say about Katz, saying the onus is on the mayor to restore citizens' confidence.
Land swap, restaurant lawsuit
A number of controversies involving the mayor has surfaced over the past year, some of which involved Shindico Realty, a local property development company.
A land swap between Shindico and fire Chief Reid Douglas, in which three pieces of city-owned land were exchanged for a Shindico-owned property where a new fire hall sits, prompted Katz to order an internal review.
Check out our interactive feature on the controversies involving Katz.
Councillors later ordered an external review of all the city's real-estate transactions from the past five years.
Katz also came under fire for buying a $1-million US house in Scottsdale, Arizona, from the sister-in-law of Shindico president Sandy Shindleman.
The deal raised questions about Katz's long-held claim that he has no connection with Shindleman beyond the developer's shares in Katz's baseball team, the Winnipeg Goldeyes.
Meanwhile, Winnipeg restaurateur Joe Chan will be taking Katz to court in April, alleging that the mayor spent more than $2,900 in public money for holiday parties at Hu's Asian Bistro, an eatery Katz owned at the time.
Chan is suing Katz under Manitoba's Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. The allegations have not been proven in court.
"If he took city people on city money to that restaurant, then yes, I do believe it's a conflict of interest," resident Debbie Dunlop told CBC News on Tuesday.
If Katz is found to have violated the law, he could be ordered removed from office.
CAO also in conflict of interest, poll suggests
The EKOS Research poll also found that 61 per cent of respondents believe Phil Sheegl, the city's top bureaucrat, has been in conflicts of interest.
Sheegl, as the City of Winnipeg's chief administrative officer, has been involved in some of the controversies surrounding Katz, including the fire hall land swap.
In September, CBC News reported that Katz bought Duddy Enterprises LLC, an Arizona-based shell company, from Sheegl earlier this year.
Katz did not declare the purchase of Duddy Enterprises in his statement of assets and interests, as is required under the conflict of interest legislation. At the time, Katz said he did not need to declare that transaction because it happened outside Manitoba.
But in the face of public pressure, Katz sold the company back to Sheegl.
Of the 61 per cent of poll respondents who said Sheegl has been involved in conflicts of interest, 29 per cent said "definitely" while 32 per cent said "probably."
Twenty-three per cent of respondents said they definitely or probably do not believe Sheegl has been in any conflicts of interest.
On Wednesday, Sheegl said he still has the confidence of the political side of city hall, no matter what anyone else may think of him.
"I answer to the mayor, EPC [executive policy committee] and council as a whole, so that's their job," he said.
"Any poll that you do that polls the public, that's just someone's opinion."
But Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt, who has called on Sheegl to resign, says the poll results reflect what's been happening at city hall.
"We do have the audits, which are now underway, and we've gone to external auditors to look at real estate and fire, and so I'm hopeful that we'll get answers," Wyatt said.