The Winnipeg electorate is a finicky bunch.
When a mayoral race comes along, we’re prone to sticking with incumbents. No sitting mayor has gone down to defeat in Winnipeg since 1956, when George Sharpe lost the chain of office to Stephen Juba.
But when a wide-open race comes along, we like to choose outsiders over candidates with any form of political experience. This happened in 1992, when Susan Thompson slipped by three veteran city councillors, and again in 2004, when Sam Katz absolutely crushed four well-known political names.
The 2014 race is unusual, however. It will either be a wide-open race or multi-candidate free-for-all that includes a profoundly unpopular incumbent. In the latest credible poll, Sam Katz’s support was down to a remarkable 12 per cent.
For some clues as to how 2014 may play out, here’s what happened during five of the most momentous races in Winnipeg’s 141-year history:
1874: The fixing of Winnipeg’s first race
Although the City of Winnipeg was incorporated in 1873, the residents of the new Manitoba capital would have to wait until January 1874 to elect their first mayor.
The city’s first mayoral race pitted William F. Luxton, the Liberal founder of the Manitoba Free Press — the forerunner of this newspaper — against Francis Evans Cornish, an Ontario protestant who agitated against the city’s sizable Catholic, francophone Métis population.
By modern standards, Cornish would be considered a drunken, violent racist. In frontier Winnipeg, his lack of ethics would serve him well.
When the ballots were counted, Cornish defeated Luxton 383 to 179, even though a scant 388 people were registered to vote in Winnipeg. A loophole in the election law allowed property owners to vote anywhere in the city where they possessed a parcel of land.
Cornish would only hold on to the mayoralty for one year; William Kennedy knocked him off in 1875. Cornish returned to city council as an alderman in 1878 but died later the same year of cancer.
Next: 1912: The campaign for a Winnipeg water source
1912: The campaign for a Winnipeg water source
At the turn of the 20th Century, Winnipeg was a rapidly growing railway-boomtown with no reliable source of water.
Poor North End residents who were forced to draw water from the Red River — which served as an open sewer — ran the risk of contracting typhoid. Wealthier residents drew water from artesian wells, but more than 1,000 wound up with typhoid after the pipes were flooded with river water in 1904 to douse the Ashdown Hardware fire.
In 1906, former mining engineer Thomas Russ Deacon was appointed to Winnipeg’s Water Supply Commission, which was tasked with finding the city a sustainable source of clean drinking water.
The Winnipeg River was identified as one option. But Deacon preferred more pristine Shoal Lake, which straddled the Manitoba-Ontario border at an elevation that would allow its waters to be carried by gravity to Winnipeg — if only someone devised a way to build a pipe that long.
A pipe from the Winnipeg River was considered a cheaper and easier engineering project. But Deacon didn’t like the idea and pushed for a water-pipe that would serve Winnipeg for decades to come.
In 1912, he ran for mayor on a promise to build the Winnipeg Aqueduct at a then-astronomical price of $13.5 million. His opponent, alderman J.G. Garvey, preferred the Winnipeg River option.
Deacon was victorious and served as mayor for two years. The elegantly designed Winnipeg Aqueduct, completed in 1919, continues to meet the city’s needs.
In a city infamous for short-term planning, it was a rare triumph of vision over expediency.
Next: 1956: The end of Anglo-Saxon hegemony
1956: The end of Anglo-Saxon hegemony
For more than 70 years, every single one of Winnipeg’s mayors was of British descent. It would take a very unusual politician to break the pattern.
In the 1950s, Urkrainian-Canadian businessman Stephen Juba had made a name for himself as an independent MLA who campaigned against a ban on yellow colouring for margarine — yes, that was a thing — and arguing in favour of more liberal liquor laws.
Juba made a run for council in 1950 and 1952 and lost both times. He ran for mayor in 1952 and 1954 and also lost both races — first to incumbent Garnet Coulter and then to alderman George Sharpe.
When the 1956 mayoral race rolled around, Juba was a sitting MLA who had denied any further interest in leading Winnipeg. But three weeks before the election, he announced his plan to challenge Sharpe, the more etablishment pro-business candidate.
Juba was no leftie by any stretch of the imagination. But he was a populist outsider who managed to connect with ordinary people.
During the campaign — which saw Sharpe spend $15,000 while Juba spent only $850 — the challenger made plenty of political hay out of Winnipeg Hydro’s $10,000 annual entertainment budget, which was the equivalent of lavishing $87,000 in 2014 dollars on tours for city officials.
The city’s political establishment, including Manitoba Premier Douglas Campbell, attempted to quash Juba’s candidacy. Both the Free Press and Tribune campaigned against him as well.
On election night, the city voted along ethno-geographic lines: Anglo-Saxon southern neighbourhoods voted for Sharpe, while the Eastern European North End supported Juba.
The challenger nonetheless squeaked in by a mere 1,931 votes. Juba would spend the next 21 years in office and still stands as Winnipeg’s longest-serving mayor.
Next: 1992: The first woman takes the reins
1992: The first woman takes the reins
After Juba, the second-longest-serving mayor was Bill Norrie, who toted around the chain of office from 1979 to 1992.
His retirement from public life inspired 17 would-be successors to run for office, including colourful characters such as cable TV host Natalie Pollock and James (Pin The Elder) Miller.
There were also serious candidates in the form of city councillors Dave Brown, Ernie Gilroy and Greg Selinger, who loosely represented the right, centre and left, respectively.
But it was a political outsider, Birt’s Saddlery owner Susan Thompson, who managed to capture the electorate’s imagination, promising a change from politics as usual.
In what was essentially a four-way race, Thompson beat the second-place Selinger by 14,000 votes. Selinger would wait almost 17 years before he would become leader – of the province.
Thompson would serve for six years and still ranks as the only woman ever elected Mayor of Winnipeg. She also takes all the credit and the blame for a municipal reorganization that wrested power away from senior bureaucrats and placed it in the hands of city council.
Next: 2004: The byelection battle royale
2004: The byelection battle royale
Ten years ago this May, Winnipeg Mayor Glen Murray resigned after less than six years in office to make an ultimately unsuccessful run as the Liberal candidate in federal riding of Charleswood-St. James.
Murray’s departure created a vacuum, which both nature and politics abhor. Five high-profile candidates stepped into the breach.
St. Boniface Coun. Dan Vandal and River Heights Coun. Garth Steek both resigned to make a run for mayor. So did provincial NDP cabinet minister MaryAnn Mihychuk, while former St. Vital councillor Al Golden re-entered politics.
All four were sidelined by the last-minute candidacy of Winnipeg Goldeyes owner and former concert promoter Sam Katz, who was riding wave of popularity following the construction of riverfront baseball stadium now known as Shaw Park.
A small-C conservative with a populist streak, Katz obliterated the busy field. Katz wound up beating runner-up Vandal, who was seen as the urbanist Murray’s ideological successor, by 43,000 votes.
Katz proceeded to cancel what would have been one of Murray’s legacy projects: the construction of the Southwest Transitway. By resigning, Murray helped elect his ideological opposite.
Additional sources: Free Press files, Manitoba Historical Society and Your Worship: The Lives of Eight of Canada’s Most Unforgettable Mayors, by Allan Levine.
Next: Key issues mayoral and council candidates can’t ignore
Key issues mayoral and council candidates can’t ignore
If Sam Katz decides to run for mayor again, he’ll try to convince voters everything is hunky-dory in Winnipeg.
The city has a new football stadium, a new police-headquarters under construction and the beginning of a rapid-transit network, all of them approved during the latter part of the Katz administration.
There’s an Ikea on Sterling Lyon Parkway and a Super-Target under construction on St. James Street. Unemployment is moderate, crime hasn’t spiked for several years and the modest revitalization of downtown Winnipeg continues.
The question is whether any voter would buy the idea Sam Katz is solely responsible for what’s going right in Winnipeg, if you accept the idea all these amenities are beneficial.
A bigger question is whether Katz is aware the electorate appears to be in a surly mood, thanks to a winter of watermain breaks and frozen pipes, a spring full of potholes and lingering anger over rising taxes and over-budget capital projects.
Municipal elections usually aren’t about what’s going right in a city. They are very often about what is going wrong.
What follows are the issues any mayoral and council candidate must address — or ignore at their peril:
1. Anger over infrastructure
If you comb through the comments section of this newspaper, you’ll find some unusually engaged voters capable of reciting the fine details of the 2008 Riverside Park Management affair or the 2012 fire-paramedic station scandal.
(imagetag)Most Winnipeggers are annoyed about less esoteric stuff, such as the prevalence of potholes on the roads, the ice ruts during the winter and the remarkable number of properties still waiting for their pipes to thaw out.
No mayor and no public service can be blamed for an unusually cold winter. But an electorate already primed to be skeptical about the city — for very good reason — can be excused for failing to offer the City of Winnipeg the benefit of the doubt for the municipality’s many infrastructure woes.
Any mayoral candidate that does not come up with a credible and understandable plan to renew the city’s roads will lose the election. Pothole-patching gimmicks may attract attention, but will not solve the problem.
If Katz runs again, he can correctly claim the city now spends more money than ever on road repairs and rehabilitation. But the city is only beginning to see the benefit of the additional investment and an impatient electorate may not buy the promise of better roads to come.
Next: Not-so-rapid transit
2. Not-so-rapid transit
St. James-Brooklands Coun. Scott Fielding, who will likely run for mayor, has already established himself as the man who would kill the completion of the Southwest Transitway. In doing so, he’s pulled a page from the 2004 Sam Katz election playbook, which saw the current mayor differentiate himself from his urbanist predecessor, Glen Murray.
To a certain type of motorist, the idea of any cash being spent on mass transit is unconscionable while potholes remain on streets. This is a commonly held belief, even though more efficient mass transit is required to create the sort density that will reduce the cost of road maintenance — and ultimately improve the state of city streets.
Conversely, the slow pace of rapid-transit construction has become a severe annoyance to younger Winnipeg voters who are most likely to yearn for life in a more pedestrian-friendly city, especially one with a more vibrant inner core.
Other voters may simply be annoyed by a rapid-transit debate that began in the late 1950s, never mind the construction of a mere 3.6 kilometres of dedicated busway over a five-decade span that saw other Canadian cities build entire networks of subways, busways and light-rail lines.
Adding to the confusion is concern about the route of the second phase of Southwest Transitway, which would zig-zag through Fort Garry instead plunging straight south toward the University of Manitoba.
Mayoral and council candidates alike will find it difficult to navigate the rapid-transit question without alienating some segment of the electorate.
Next: The revenue crunch
3. The revenue crunch
In 2014, Winnipeg will spend a total of $968 million on services that include policing, fire protection, snow removal and mosquito killing. That number rose from $923 million the previous year, mainly because of rising salaries.
The city also plans to spend $379 million on capital projects by spending its own cash, borrowing money and forking over grants from the province and Ottawa.
The operational spending is only bound to increase, as the city does not have complete control over the salaries of emergency workers, who do not have the right to strike but can wind up with contracts settled by an external arbitrator.
The capital spending must increase to prevent more infrastructure problems in the future — and more operational spending to patch over those headaches in the short term.
The danger is the city is about to enter a spiral of increasing costs and declining services and amenities. This is the same issue facing almost every city in Canada.
Winnipeg is approaching a self-imposed limit on how much money it can borrow. Ottawa and Broadway are both unlikely to vastly increase the cash they already spend on the city.
Winnipeg will face continuing internal pressure to raise property-taxes as well as public demands to hold the line. Candidates must decide where they stand on revenue, as cutting spending may involve cutting services some voters continue to demand as well.
During elections, it’s rare to see candidates discuss revenue and spending in an honest and detailed manner. Candidates who do may be punished for telling voters what they do not want to hear.
Candidates must make an ugly choice between two hated outcomes: property-tax hikes or service cuts. The political holy grail is a convincing way to avoid or at least minimize both.
Next: Poverty, structural racism and crime
4. Poverty, structural racism and crime
Every mayoral and council candidate will pay lip service to improving Winnipeg for all of its citizens, including the vulnerable impoverished population.
Pay no attention to what they say, as they will do almost nothing to address social inequality between elections.
The City of Winnipeg spends a pittance of its annual budget on social housing — $1 million — and carves out a narrow slice of its community-liveability budget for social programming. Otherwise, it leaves social services to the province and Ottawa.
The new Winnipeg Police Board, meanwhile, oversees Winnipeg Police Service policy and has the power to fire its chief, Devon Clunis.
Keep this in mind when politicians raise crime and safety on the campaign trail. Even when their intentions are good, their ability to affect change is minimal.
Next: The elephant in the room
5. The elephant in the room
It’s actually more like an Amphicoelias, the largest dinosaur that ever lived.
Throughout the Sam Katz administration, voters have steadily lost trust in municipal government. Questions of ethics have dogged Katz personally since 2004, when he declined to place his personal assets in a blind trust, and continue to swirl around the businessman mayor.
In 2005, Katz voted in favour of a payout to Walker Theatre creditors who bought him out six months previously.
In 2008, council effectively erased a $223,000 bill for unpaid rent owed by Riverside Park Management, a non-profit organization that sublets city land to the Katz-owned Winnipeg Goldeyes.
In 2010, Katz held a city-financed Christmas party in a restaurant he owned, eventually earning the scorn of a sitting judge for exercising "poor ethical and political behaviour."
In 2011, he lobbied fellow members of executive policy committee to select his friend Phil Sheegl to become Winnipeg’s chief administrative officer.
In 2012, he purchased an Arizona shell company from Sheegl and sold it back. He also purchased a Scottsdale home from the sister-in-law of a developer who used to be a Goldeyes business partner – and declined to state the value of the purchase.
City hall, meanwhile, became embroiled in serious problems of its own, ranging from a fire-paramedic station scandal that inspired a scathing audit, real-estate transactions that spawned a separate audit and wildly over-budget and possibly unnecessary police-headquarters renovation that will eventually be audited, as well.
All of this does not fall entirely on Katz’s head. All incumbent councillors, including staunch Katz critics, could feel the wrath of electorate that could be justified in feeling no elected official was looking out for their interests.
Next: This year's mayoral race
The mayor’s race
On May 1, candidates may register their campaigns, a move that allows them to raise and spend money. This does not require them to fill out nomination papers in September, something they must do to appear on the Oct. 22 ballot. The following seven candidates are expected to run for mayor or are considering a run:
BRIAN BOWMAN: Privacy lawyer Brian Bowman, former chair of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, is mulling a run. His name was once uttered as a potential provincial Progressive Conservative leader.
SCOTT FIELDING: After serving as councillor for St. James-Brooklands since 2006, Fielding is eyeing up a run as a right-of-centre candidate who would kill the second phase of Southwest Transitway and redirect that cash toward roads. The conservative has pledged not to run again as a councillor.
PAULA HAVIXBECK: The councillor for Charleswood-Tuxedo since 2010, Havixbeck is also eyeing a mayoral run but has not ruled out running as a councillor again. She too is a conservative.
SAM KATZ: Katz has served as Winnipeg’s mayor since 2004 and has not declared whether he will run again. He recently hired a new policy adviser, a new communications director and hired a new executive assistant who used to work for his 2010 campaign manager.
GORD STEEVES: Lawyer Steeves served as councillor for St. Vital from 2000 to 2011. He ran provincially as a Liberal in 1995 and as a Progressive Conservative in 2011. He has declared he will run for mayor.
MICHAEL VOGIATZAKIS: The owner of Voyage Funeral Home has declared he will run for mayor.
JUDY WASYLYCIA-LEIS: The former NDP MP and MLA finished second to Katz in the 2010 mayoral race. She is the only prospective left-of-centre candidate.
Next: Council wards in play
Council wards in play
Council candidates can only begin registering June 30. But three wards are expected to be wide open, while another three are shaping up to be real races:
DANIEL MCINTYRE: In what could be the most crowded field so far, at least four people are hoping to challenge veteran Coun. Harvey Smith this fall. In 2010, NDP staffer Cindy Gilroy and Winnipeg Folk Festival development manager Keith Bellamy effectively split the anti-Smith vote and handed the councillor a fourth consecutive term. Both are slated for a rematch. Former NDP MLA Marianne Cerilli, a poverty activist, is also considering a run. There’s also talk former Winnipeg Blue Bomber Dave Donaldson might be eyeing a run in the neighbourhood where he has run an inner-city football program.
ST. JAMES-BROOKLANDS: Even if Coun. Scott Fielding doesn’t run for mayor this year, he favours term limits and pledged to serve only two stints as the rep for St. James. That leaves the ward up for grabs. Scott Gillingham, a pastor and former provincial conservative candidate, is expected to run.
ST. NORBERT: Coun. Justin Swandel, first elected in 2005, faces a serious challenge from East India Company owner Sachit Mehra, who has the backing of key Liberal and NDP organizers and has already plastered his face around the ward with bus benches and flyers advertising his restaurant. Organic farmer Louise May, who ran an unexpectedly strong campaign in 2010, is also planning another run.
ST. BONIFACE: Coun. Dan Vandal is stepping down after 17 years in office to run for the federal Liberals. Matt Allard, Vandal’s former assistant and the current CEO of the Chambre de commerce francophone de Saint-Boniface, has already declared his plans to run.
ELMWOOD-EAST KILDONAN: Another relatively crowded field, especially on the left. Two veteran New Democrats — Darryl Livingstone and Jason Schreyer — are expected to run against Coun. Thomas Steen, who enjoys the backing of the right. Steen was first elected in 2010.
CHARLESWOOD-TUXEDO: If Coun. Paula Havixbeck runs for mayor, her seat will be wide open. Luc Lewandoski, an assistant to North Kildonan Coun. Jeff Browaty, plans to seek the seat if Havixbeck runs for mayor.
Next: Quiet council wards, so far
Quiet council wards, so far
So far, no obvious challengers or hot races are percolating in the following nine wards:
ST. VITAL: Brian Mayes, a lawyer and EPC member first elected in 2011, plans to seek a second term.
TRANSCONA: Once rumoured to be interested in the mayor’s chair, Coun. Russ Wyatt is staying put. The council finance chairman has served Transcona ince 2002.
NORTH KILDONAN: Coun. Jeff Browaty, who chairs council’s property committee, is seeking a third term. He was first elected in 2006
POINT DOUGLAS: No left-of-centre challenges have materialized to take on Coun. Mike Pagtakhan, first elected in 2002. If he wins, it will be Pagtakhan’s fourth term.
MYNARSKI: Coun. Ross Eadie, first elected in 2010, is expected to seek a second term in the North End ward.
ST. CHARLES: Coun. Grant Nordman is expected to seek a third term. The wild card is NDP MLA Jim Rondeau, who is said to be toying with a federal or civic run, now that he’s been dropped from Premier Greg Selinger’s cabinet. If Rondeau runs, St. Charles becomes a riding to watch.
FORT ROUGE-EAST FORT GARY: Though she’s been rumoured to be interested in a provincial or federal bid, Coun. Jenny Gerbasi is expected to run again. First elected in 1998, she’s seeking her fifth term.
OLD KILDONAN: Coun. Devi Sharma, who serves as speaker of city council, is expected to seek a second term.
RIVER HEIGHTS-FORT GARRY: Before Coun. John Orlikow pulled out of the mayoral race, there was a flurry of political speculation about who might run for the vacant seat. Take Pride Winnipeg’s Tom Ethans said he’s thinking about running, while food and wine retailer Tom De Nardi didn’t return a call for comment.
—Mary Agnes Welch