Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

NDP to field council candidates

Veteran Coun. Harvey Smith facing challenge from within party

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Manitoba New Democrats plan to nominate candidates in Winnipeg's next civic election, formalizing a process that's been informal in the past.

Senior NDP officials say the party may hold nomination meetings in Winnipeg wards where more than one party member wants to run for office in the 2010 general election.

In March, the party amended its constitution to change the way politicians in some Manitoba municipalities are endorsed by the NDP. The move allows candidates to seek support from community groups that are not tied to the party.

A meeting was slated to be held Thursday night to work out the details of the nomination process, said Ellen Olfert, the party's regional vice-president for Winnipeg.

"We've always had the opportunity to endorse council candidates," she said. "The party has historically focused on provincial elections and federal elections and stayed out of municipal elections."

The NDP has always been involved in civic politics, albeit in an informal way, said Lorraine Sigurdson, president of Manitoba's NDP.

While party politics have no official role at city council, most sitting members have affiliations to one of the province's three major parties. Five have formal ties to the NDP: Couns. Jenny Gerbasi (Fort Rouge), Lillian Thomas (Elmwood), Dan Vandal (St. Boniface), Harvey Smith (Daniel McIntyre) and Russ Wyatt (Transcona).

At least one NDP member has already declared his intention to wrest the party nomination away from a sitting city councillor. Keith Bellamy, a constituency assistant for Winnipeg Centre MP Pat Martin, is seeking the NDP nomination for the Daniel McIntyre seat occupied by Smith.

Bellamy, who ran River Heights Coun. John Orlikow's successful byelection campaign in March, is backed by former Manitoba NDP secretary Wayne Copeland, former MLA Becky Barrett and the campaign managers behind Sharon Blady and Erin Selby's respective provincial election victories in Kirkfield Park and Southdale in 2007.

"Harvey has worked for many, many years in service to this community. But it's time for someone with more energy and a stronger voice," Bellamy said.

Smith reacted to Bellamy's declaration with nonchalance. "There's always someone coming after you and I accept that," said the council veteran. "I'm sure I'll get the nomination."

Because political parties have no formal standing at the civic level, there is nothing preventing the loser of a nomination process from running for city council. But left-of-centre candidates have avoided running against each other.

In this year's River Heights byelection, left-leaning Liberal Paul Hesse declined to run to allow Orlikow a better chance of defeating nominal Conservative Geoff Currier.

Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz, meanwhile, said he's happy to see the NDP formalize its involvement with municipal politics.

"Good for them for doing it and telling the world they're doing it," said Katz, who has described council's unofficial opposition -- Gerbasi, Thomas, Vandal, Smith, Wyatt and often Orlikow -- as an NDP bloc.

"I've said many times: Party politics should not exist at city hall. But it does," said the mayor. "They (the NDP) no longer have to live the lie."

Katz also accused the NDP government of meddling in civic politics by introducing campaign-finance reforms that ban both union and corporate donations.

"By eliminating corporate donations, they now make it more difficult for people who are right of centre," said the mayor. "It won't affect me, but people should give them credit for being a lot smarter than they thought they were."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 11, 2009 B1

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