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Right-of-centres jockey for position

Just 2 left-leaning mayoral hopefuls

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Gord Steeves speaks at the Conservative Club of Winnipeg luncheon Tuesday.


Gord Steeves speaks at the Conservative Club of Winnipeg luncheon Tuesday. Photo Store

At the start of a lunch-hour address before the Conservative Club of Winnipeg, Gord Steeves walked up to the podium and noticed someone placed a box of Kleenex next to his microphone.

"Not sure why these are here," said Steeves, one of seven high-profile Winnipeggers mulling a run for mayor this year. "Hopefully, this isn't going to go that poorly."

Steeves, the former city councillor who was a federal Liberal before he made an unsuccessful run as a provincial Progressive Conservative, didn't have to reach for any of those tissues during a speech before a friendly audience of right-of-centre Winnipeggers.

For about 25 minutes, Steeves spoke of the need for the City of Winnipeg to focus on the delivery of core services, avoid overtaxation and improve downtown safety to the point where hotel bellboys no longer tell visitors to avoid going out at night.

Everything was going according to pre-campaign script until the question-and-answer period after the address.

That's when retired lawyer Barré Hall raised the concern on the mind of every right-of-centre Winnipeg voter: How can Steeves expect to become mayor when five out of seven prospective candidates sit on the right side of the political spectrum?

Two recent polls have placed Steeves in a respectable position -- No. 2 in a field of seven prospective candidates, but well behind former NDP MP and MLA Judy Wasylycia-Leis.

As Hall pointed out, incumbent mayor Sam Katz, lawyer Brian Bowman and Couns. Paula Havixbeck and Scott Fielding may also run on the right. Wasylycia-Leis only faces left-of-centre competition from Coun. John Orlikow.

If voter intentions remain the same and all seven potential candidates run for mayor, the result may be an easy victory for Wasylycia-Leis, Hall said.

"I hope we don't end up with that at the end of the day," said Steeves.

The problem for Steeves is Havixbeck, Fielding and Bowman are all out making the same appeal, while Katz hasn't confirmed speculation he won't seek office again.

At this stage in the race, the right-of-centre field is engaged in a poker game, waiting to see who will blink first and drop out of the race.

"I don't think all of those people will be on the ballot at the end of the day," said Havixbeck, who sat in the audience during her rival's speech. "My supporters continue to urge me to run."

Regardless of how many names are on the ballot on election day, Hall said he will vote for the right-of-centre candidate most likely to defeat Wasylycia-Leis. Right now, that person is Steeves, based on the results of two recent polls, but that isn't set in stone.

"I'm willing to switch my vote if it means ensuring fiscal sanity," Hall said.

Wasylycia-Leis, however, does not portray herself as a left-of-centre candidate, despite her many years as an elected member of the NDP. In an interview earlier this week, she said she has support from members of all parties.

Likewise, Havixbeck has attempted to build a broad base of support, particularly by courting the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 500 and the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg.

Steeves has also tried to portray himself as a moderate. When asked by former Winnipeg mayoral candidate Peter Kaufmann whether he was ready for a fight with unions over wages and pensions, Steeves said he was -- but only in a manner where both sides can negotiate respectfully and agree.

Only Fielding appears to have staked out the territory on the hard fiscal right. Bowman has offered few hints about the nature of his campaign.

As the right-of-centre field jockeys for position, the gloves are beginning to come off.

"I don't know if Paula being here means she supports me 100 per cent, but I hope it does," Steeves joked during his speech.

That wasn't the case. "I didn't hear a lot of substance in what he was presenting," Havixbeck said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 12, 2014 B1


Updated on Wednesday, February 12, 2014 at 6:59 AM CST: changes photo

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About Bartley Kives

Bartley Kives wants you to know his last name rhymes with Beavis, as in Beavis and Butthead. He aspires to match the wit, grace and intelligence of the 1990s cartoon series.

Bartley joined the Free Press in 1998 as a music critic. He spent the ensuing 7.5 years interviewing the likes of Neil Young and David Bowie and trying to stay out of trouble at the Winnipeg Folk Festival before deciding it was far more exciting to sit through zoning-variance appeals at city hall.

In 2006, Bartley followed Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz from the music business into civic politics. He spent seven years covering city hall from a windowless basement office.

He is now reporter-at-large for the Free Press and also writes an outdoor-recreation column called Offroad for the Outdoors page.

A canoeist, backpacker and food geek, Bartley is fond of conventional and wilderness travel. He is the author of A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada’s Undiscovered Province, the only comprehensive travel guidebook for Manitoba – and a Canadian bestseller, to boot. He is also co-author of Stuck In The Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg, a collaboration with photographer Bryan Scott and the winner of the 2014 Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award.

Bartley’s work has also appeared on CBC Radio and Citytv as well as in publications such as The Guardian, explore magazine and National Geographic Traveler. He sits on the board of PEN Canada, which promotes freedom of expression.

Born in Winnipeg, he has an arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and a master’s degree in journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University. He is the proud owner of a blender.

On Twitter: @bkives


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