Eight months before Winnipeg elects its next mayor, Sam Katz is no longer the candidate to beat.
Two successive polls about voter intentions have placed Judy Wasylycia-Leis at the top of a crowded field of potential mayoral candidates. The former NDP MP and MLA, who finished second in Winnipeg's 2010 mayoral race, now appears to be the frontrunner in 2014.
An Insightrix Research poll commissioned by Global News and CJOB and released Monday suggested Wasylycia-Leis would have enjoyed 42 per cent of the vote, had the election been held in late January. Former St. Vital councillor Gord Steeves ranked second, while Katz, Charleswood-Tuxedo Coun. Paula Havixbeck, St. James-Brooklands Coun. Scott Fielding, River Heights-Fort Garry Coun. John Orlikow and lawyer Brian Bowman trailed behind.
This result was similar to the findings of a Free Press-commissioned Probe Research poll that suggested Wasylycia-Leis had 45 per cent support in December. That poll didn't include Orlikow, who hadn't yet gone public, or Katz, who's sporting disastrous numbers for an incumbent.
While polls merely serve as snapshots of voter intentions at a particular point in time, the large spread between Wasylycia-Leis and the rest of the potential field suggests it's time for other candidates to work harder at establishing their identities.
To be frank, since none of Winnipeg's potential mayoral candidates has said much about anything so far, any opinion on any subject would make for a good start.
Officially, Winnipeg's mayoral race begins on May 1, when candidates are allowed to register their campaigns and begin raising and spending money. But there's nothing preventing candidates from getting their ideas out and trying to increase their profile even when they're not allowed to spend money.
Unlike in Toronto, where mayoral candidates such as Rob Ford and David Soknacki have already attended one public debate, Winnipeg's slate of would-be candidates have been extremely quiet, both on social media and in front of reporters' microphones.
The entire field is playing it safe while they work behind the scenes, meeting with small groups of potential supporters, putting together volunteer networks and trying to cobble together a platform.
Wasylycia-Leis, who neither works at a law firm nor is burdened by elected office, has been particularly busy at these tasks. It's fair to say she started working on her 2014 campaign the day after she lost to Katz in 2010.
On Monday, Wasylycia-Leis said she was encouraged to see two polls place her ahead of the competition, but insisted favourable polls are just one factor to consider before she confirms she will in fact run.
"It's certainly an important piece of information," she said during a telephone interview on Monday.
But in the next breath, she conceded it's highly unlikely anything could arise over the next few months to prevent her from running for mayor again. "I can't think of any," she said.
Wasylycia-Leis said she's learned from 2010, when she waited too long to unveil what she would do if elected mayor. "I know from the last election I need to be out earlier, and I need a concrete set of ideas," she said.
But don't expect to hear any of those ideas before May. Wasylycia-Leis said she's going to "complete a discussion with Winnipeggers" before she lets any ideas loose. Over the weekend, she held a meeting with 200 supporters in her own home for this purpose.
Steeves has adopted a similar strategy. On Sunday, for example, he tweeted out a call for ideas to improve recreation in Winnipeg.
Steeves, Wasylycia-Leis and Orlikow have all made suggestions about snow-clearing, but that's about it in terms of policy announcements. Katz hasn't raised new ideas and Bowman has been almost silent.
Havixbeck has been her usual visible self at city hall, while Fielding has promised to begin unveiling at least two policy planks per month.
But overall, Winnipeggers don't know what their would-be mayoral candidates stand for, beyond the vague outlines of their ideological orientations. The only common theme, for everyone other than Katz, is city hall needs to be fixed.
"People are concerned about an open and accountable government, an efficient administration and a credible plan to deal with our infrastructure problems," said Wasylycia-Leis, pretty much stating the obvious.
Only eight months before a momentous decision, Winnipeg deserves specifics. If Toronto's mayoral candidates can begin fleshing out ideas, so can the many would-be mayors of Winnipeg.