Winnipeg’s mayor, Sam Katz, has established something called an Economic Opportunity Commission to identify how the City can offset the approximately $62 million in business tax it collects every year.
In the words of the Mayor, “Unfortunately the business tax has long been identified as an impediment to growth. Fortunately, we’re going to eliminate it.”
This suggests to me that the Mayor has made up his mind. Axing the business tax has been a key plank for Katz in his last two elections. Regardless of the nature or quality of the EOC’s recommendations, he plans to deliver on this one. The EOC process is window dressing and will likely provide a platform for promoting other aspects of the Mayor’s pro-business agenda, such as privatization, contracting out, and reductions in services.
The EOC process has a veneer of democracy insofar as the public is invited to submit suggestions, in writing or online. But bear in mind that the discussion is about how businesses taxes should be eliminated, not if. And it is very much a one way process in that citizens are invited to submit recommendations, but there is no forum for citizens to see which recommendations have been submitted and who made them. Neither is there a way to debate them. This is unfortunate, because internet technology makes it easy to set up web forums that would facilitate the lively public debate that this issue deserves.
The makeup of the EOC is revealing. The members are all, in one way or another, strongly linked to the business community. Conspicuously absent are people who would bring alternative perspectives. There are no members associated with labour, or community development, aboriginal people, social services – and certainly no representatives of the workers who provide Winnipeg’s public services.
Also revealing are the links the EOC site provides for further information. In addition to links to various City sites and reports, there is a list of pro-business sites that clearly support the Mayor’s one-sided rightwing vision. As with the EOC membership, alternative visions are not present.
While the fix is in, the EOC process does provide at least a partial forum to debate critical issues underlying the future of Winnipeg. Although we can’t afford to limit our activities to making submissions that may never see the light of day, we shouldn’t ignore the opportunity to express our views.
Disclosure Time: I’m not a fan of our Mayor. And last year, I managed the electoral campaign of Marianne Cerilli, in which we put forward a positive, constructive vision for Winnipeg that remains relevant. I invite you to review these ideas here.