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Party politics advances on civic vote

Tory MP Fletcher throws support behind Katz re-election campaign

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It's not the first endorsement to come Sam Katz's way but federal Tory cabinet minister Steven Fletcher's decision to jump on his bandwagon is a sure sign Winnipeg's mayoral battle is heating up.

On Friday, the junior cabinet minister raised eyebrows when he issued a statement saying Mayor Katz has been a key supporter of justice reforms, that "the federal NDP have opposed, obstructed and watered down at every opportunity."

Political experts such as Jared Wesley said the move shows party politics have become more explicit because of the "highly charged" race between Katz and challenger, former NDP MP and MLA Judy Wasylycia-Leis.

Wesley said this typically happens every 10 years or so, or when voters sense there is a contentious race.

"When that happens party politics creeps in and plays a larger role because people are looking for cues," said Wesley, an associate political science professor at the University of Manitoba. "Voters are looking for something to make sense of what seems to be a very interesting race."

Katz's campaign staff downplayed the role party politics plays in endorsements and said the mayor is accepting support from various political backgrounds. Katz was unavailable due to the Jewish holiday, Rosh Hashana, but his campaign manager Marni Larkin said she doesn't think it's unusual for Fletcher to throw his support behind Katz.

"We're accepting endorsements from all kinds of groups," Larkin said, noting Winnipeg police and firefighters have also endorsed his campaign.

Fletcher said he did not think it was strange or inappropriate for him to weigh in on the mayoral race, saying he supported Katz in 2006 and feels "quite comfortable doing it again." While he denied his declaration would cause conflict between Winnipeg and Ottawa if Katz were to lose the election, Fletcher said he has concerns about the federal NDP's "philosophy."

"I think people do endorse candidates at various levels (of government) all the time," he said.

Wasylycia-Leis said it was not a shock to see a Tory MP endorse Katz, though she doesn't know how common it is for MPs to endorse candidates in a civic election. "I guess it's not surprising to have a Conservative member of Parliament support a conservative mayor," she said, noting she voted for anti-crime and anti-gang initiatives in the House of Commons.

Retired U of M political professor Paul Thomas said Winnipeg is gradually abandoning the myth that party politics doesn't exist at city hall and is an integral part of organizing an election campaign. Thomas said Winnipeg may one day see a slate of candidates running on the same mandate -- which happens in other cities such as Montreal and Vancouver -- that may make it easier to accomplish initiatives at city hall.

However, he said there may be reasons candidates want to perpetuate the myth that party politics are absent.

"There are still some gains to be made by trying to say there is no place for party politics in city government," Thomas said. "Sam Katz kind of got into politics by saying he was above the partisan fray, unlike Glen Murray who made no secret of the fact that he might trade in his role as mayor some day to run for the Liberals."



Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 11, 2010 B1

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