If Canadian voters continue to ignore politics at the municipal level, they could wind up with a crack-smoking, criminal-consorting, alcohol-abusing, profanity-spewing, murder-threatening buffoon for a mayor.
This is the hard lesson learned by the downtrodden denizens of Toronto, a once-proud city transformed into the setting of the world's lewdest and crudest reality TV show, thanks to the misadventures of miscreant Mayor Rob Ford.
In 2010, Torontonians chose Ford to wear the chain of office primarily on the basis of his promise to "end the gravy train" and hold the line on taxes.
To the tiny minority of people who always pay attention to city hall, Ford was familiar as the rich-kid, redneck Etobicoke councillor who made controversial comments about women with HIV, Italian-Canadians, cyclists and "Oriental people" who "work like dogs."
To put it mildly, Ford was the biggest oaf at city hall. But he won the 2010 Toronto mayoral race by more than 90,000 votes, as many voters simply knew him as the guy who promised not to raise their taxes.
The lesson learned in that race is it's not good enough to simply vote for an agenda, regardless of your political persuasion. At the municipal level, if you vote for a sloganeer, you may just wind up with an incompetent figurehead instead a functioning mayor.
Obviously, Ford is an extreme example of what can go wrong. Winnipeg has been lucky enough to avoid electing a drunk racist for a mayor since 1874, when we selected Francis Evans Cornish -- a drunk and violent racist -- to be our first leader.
But with only 11 months before Winnipeggers go to the polls, it's time to begin careful consideration of the people who would seek to be our next mayor.
The only candidate who's actually declared a run is former councillor Gord Steeves, who resigned his St. Vital seat in 2011 to make an unsuccessful provincial run as a Progressive Conservative candidate in Seine River.
Steeves, a lawyer, was an even-tempered presence at city hall who got along with both former mayor Glen Murray and current Mayor Sam Katz. But he has yet to outline a vision for the city, aside from declaring a desire to bring an atmosphere of mutual respect back to city hall and prevent a situation where audits are required to get officials to tell the truth.
Two of his former colleagues are mulling a mayoral run: Couns. Scott Fielding (St. James-Brooklands) and Paula Havixbeck (Charleswood-Tuxedo).
Fielding, a fiscal conservative who surprised Katz by quitting executive policy committee in October, has promised to declare his intentions before the end of the year. Whatever he decides, he will not seek a third term as a councillor and could run in 2015 at the provincial level.
Havixbeck, also a fiscal conservative, has been a vocal critic of city hall since she was punted off EPC last fall at the height of the initial flare-up of city hall's fire-paramedic station scandal. She has been less certain about the timeline for her decision.
Katz has also left the door open for a fourth run for the mayor's office, either in defiance of public discontent over a tumultuous 16 months at city hall -- or because he isn't the least bit concerned about it. Based on his behaviour in previous campaigns, Katz is unlikely to declare his intentions until the spring or summer.
Voters, however, know precisely what they would get from another four years of Katz. At the other end of the certainty scale is lawyer Brian Bowman.
Bowman, a former Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce chairman who sits on the board of several non-profit organizations, is the only political neophyte mulling a mayoral run. What he would do as mayor -- and who would provide him with advice -- is completely unknown, making him a blank slate at this stage of the game.
Finally, former NDP MP and MLA Judy Wasylycia-Leis is considering a second run for mayor, presumably in the absence of any other notable name on the left considering it.
Conspicuously absent from a potential race right now is an urbanist in the mould of Calgary's Naheed Nenshi. After nine years of Katz's minimalist caretaker style of governing, you would think Winnipeg would be extremely receptive to an activist candidate, bursting with ideas about the city.
Even in a crowded field, somebody with actual policy ideas could still claim this race. But they better get going soon -- or risk losing to the candidate with the catchiest slogan and cheapest promise. Remember, all Rob Ford needed to get elected was to promise to end a mythical locomotive. It sounded great until he wound up going off the rails.
What impact does the manic mayoralty of Rob Ford have on the mayoral field for Winnipeg’s civic election in the fall of 2014? Join the conversation in the comments below.