Winnipeg's mayoral race is about to lurch into a new phase, with the first gathering of every candidate under the same roof.
Over the lunch hour, St. Boniface's francophone chamber of commerce plans to host an all-candidates forum that should offer a glimpse into the campaign readiness of Winnipeg's seven mayoral wannabes.
The 2014 vote is starting to sneak up on the electorate. Winnipeggers go to the polls Oct. 22, which is only four months and four days away.
Since two of those months happen to be July and August, when a large portion of the voting population is too busy beach-going and barbecuing burgers to pay attention to municipal policy, there actually isn't that much of a mayoral race left.
To date, the four mainstream candidates have been extremely cautious when it comes to making campaign promises. Former councillor Gord Steeves was the first to announce and register but has yet to make a pledge. Fellow lawyer Brian Bowman held a campaign launch and made one package of promises about openness at city hall.
Former NDP MP and MLA Judy Wasylycia-Leis has made a similar municipal-reform pledge and also unveiled a loose infrastructure pledge that included a specific promise about taxation. Charleswood-Tuxedo Coun. Paula Havixbeck rattled off a trio of promises right after she registered but has been quiet ever since.
As the first third of the race comes to a close, the electorate has been left with only a broad idea of what these people would do if they were elected.
"The race has been oddly developing. It's been disjointed thus far. It feels like people are just getting their feet underneath them," Steeves said Tuesday. "This is going to be a strange election. Candidates are going to have to be extra careful what they say."
In separate interviews Tuesday, Steeves, Havixbeck and Bowman all pledged to conduct a heck of a lot of research and internal vetting before they unveil their ideas. Since the public is in an ornery mood and won't put up with empty platitudes, the candidates figure they better come up with promises they can actually deliver.
"I want to make sure when we're releasing policy, we're putting out something thoughtful," Bowman said.
"I want to have sound, sensible stuff," Havixbeck echoed.
"I want whatever I'm proposing to be doable and make sense," Steeves added.
The candidates insist they are not just playing turtle until Labour Day, when the campaign enters the home stretch. In fact, they promised to unveil their platforms throughout July and August, when conventional wisdom holds voters don't pay attention.
"I think a lot of people go to the lake, but they still read the paper and talk about it," offered Havixbeck.
"I hope they will pay attention," added Bowman. "All I can do as a candidate is to give them a reason to be interested."
Adding to the distraction is the impending release of an audit into major Winnipeg real-estate transactions conducted over a five-year period that ended in 2012. That document has the potential to be as explosive as the fire-paramedic station construction review that rocked city hall last fall.
Another distraction will come when Mayor Sam Katz announces whether he plans to retire from public life, as many expect him to do, or seek a fourth term.
"There are some challenges getting messages out there for every candidate in the short term," Steeves said.
Wasylycia-Leis, who plans to make a small-business policy announcement this morning, was not available to comment Tuesday. But she will attend the noon-hour forum, along with Steeves, Havixbeck, Bowman and lesser-known long shots Mike Vogiatzakis, Robert-Falcon Ouellette and Michel Fillion.
At today's sold-out forum at the Norwood Hotel, each candidate will be given two minutes to make opening and closing statements. They will also be asked two questions. They won't have the opportunity to question each other.
"The format is not supposed to allow for that, but they do have live microphones in front of them," organizer Matt Allard said. "Through events like this one, their messages and their character will start to trickle out."
At least that's the hope. With four months to go before a momentous vote, the sooner we get to know these people, the better.