Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Off to the polls... again

Fourth time for St. Vital voters

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If anyone in Canada has the right to complain about election fatigue, it's the citizens of St. Vital.

On Nov. 26, voters in Winnipeg's largest municipal ward will go to the polls for the fourth time in 13 months, thanks to the resignation of former St. Vital councillor Gord Steeves in August.

The byelection to replace the 11-year councillor -- along with trustee byelections in the Winnipeg and Louis Riel school divisions -- follows a municipal election in October 2010, a federal election in May 2011 and this October's provincial election.

As a result, not all of the 80,000 Winnipeggers registered to vote in the trio of byelections are excited about the prospect of exercising their democratic right once more.

"I'm fed up with politicians," Gilles Ouellet said Wednesday outside a St. Anne's Road convenience store, where he had just purchased the Globe & Mail. "I would be ashamed to be one of them right now."

Ouellet, who also reads the Free Press, said he is "dimly aware" of the Nov. 26 byelection but does not intend to cast a vote.

Historically, municipal byelections attract poor voter turnouts. Only 22 per cent of eligible River Heights-Fort Garry voters bothered to mark a ballot during the St. Patrick's Day byelection in March 2009.

In order to combat voter apathy this time, city officials chose to hold the 2011 byelections on a Saturday, when a larger proportion of the electorate is expected to have time to visit a polling station.

As far as candidates go, there has been no shortage of interest in the byelections, where 25 names are on the ballot for the trio of races.

Ten candidates are taking part in the wide-open contest to become the new St. Vital councillor, eight hope to fill a Ward 2 vacancy on the Louis Riel school board and seven are competing for a Ward 1 spot on the Winnipeg School Division board.

The stakes are highest in the St. Vital ward race, whose winner is guaranteed a salaried job at city hall until October 2014 and a position on council's public works committee. The victorious candidate also has the potential to affect the balance of power on council, as the departed Steeves was a staunch ally of Mayor Sam Katz.

Steeves, a longtime Liberal party member, resigned from council to make an unsuccessful provincial run as a Progressive Conservative. Most of the candidates hoping to replace him have political affiliations of their own, though all claim to be running as independents.

The political vacuum left behind by Steeves may explain the large field of would-be successors.

"It's tough to run against an incumbent, especially against someone with a name as big as Gord Steeves," said Beverly Watson, the only woman in the otherwise all-male field.

In an informal survey of all 10 candidates, transportation emerged as the top issue facing St. Vital, where recent population growth has led to complaints about traffic congestion, subpar transit service and poor road conditions. Not coincidentally, the ward is the most populous in the city, with more than 50,000 residents counted in the 2006 sub-census.

The St. Vital contenders also cited public safety and the need to improve community centres and recreational programming as serious issues facing the ward.

To learn more about the candidates in all three byelection races, visit our website (winnipegfreepress.com).

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 10, 2011 B1

History

Updated on Thursday, November 10, 2011 at 8:45 AM CST: Adds links to candidate bios, adds photos, adds fact box

8:58 AM: Corrects Beverly Watson's quote to "It's tough to run against an incumbent," not "as an incumbent"

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