Provincial New Democrats will likely re-examine a controversial process for endorsing candidates after seeing two party-backed members go down to defeat in NDP-friendly wards, the party's president said Thursday.`
However, Lorraine Sigurdson dismissed the notion that the defeats and mayoral candidate Judy Wasylycia-Leis's loss to Sam Katz damaged the NDP brand or cast doubt on its chances in next fall's provincial election.
Sigurdson said the party's method of endorsing municipal and school board candidates -- which puts considerable power into the hands of small community endorsement committees and was hotly debated at last spring's NDP convention -- would have been reviewed in any case. It was used for the first time this year.
On Wednesday, incumbent Harvey Smith hung onto Daniel McIntyre despite losing his bid for the party nod to Keith Bellamy. Bellamy finished third in the race. Meanwhile, in Elmwood/East Kildonan, normally an NDP stronghold, Tory-affiliated Thomas Steen skated to victory over the NDP-endorsed Shaneen Robinson after Rod Giesbrecht (who had challenged Robinson for the party nod) sought office anyway, splitting the left-wing vote.
Sigurdson said while the party plans to review the endorsement process, it's not an immediate priority with the next civic vote four years away. "We've got bigger fish to fry," she said, referring to next fall's provincial vote.
Shannon Sampert, a University of Winnipeg political science professor, wondered Thursday if the NDP's recent decline in provincial polling support had not manifested itself in poorer-than-anticipated results in the civic race.
She said that in addition to the two ward losses, she believes that Mayor Sam Katz was vulnerable to defeat this time around, but Wasylycia-Leis failed to capitalize.
"Is this a bellwether for the future of the NDP provincially? That's the big question that has to be answered," Sampert said.
(Wasylycia-Leis, a former longtime NDP member of Parliament, did not seek the party's endorsement, but received considerable support from NDP members in her campaign.)
Sigurdson said that while she's "not happy" with the two ward results and is disappointed that Wasylycia-Leis didn't win the mayor's chair, she rejects the notion that there are any ominous signs in the civic election for the NDP.
"In the two situations where our endorsed candidate lost, people, I believe, were still voting for the NDP brand," she said. "Where we ran into trouble is where people chose not to respect the process."
While Giesbrecht and Smith refused to play by the rules (and lost their party membership as a result), others did, paving the way for the NDP endorsed Ross Eadie to win Mynarski, Sigurdson pointed out. And Wasylycia-Leis had considerable support -- highest for a New Democrat since one-time NDP member Glen Murray won the mayor's job.
Sigurdson also noted that Shari Decter Hirst, who defeated Brandon's incumbent mayor, is a former provincial NDP party president. Like Wasylycia-Leis, Decter Hirst did not seek an official endorsement from the party.