Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Judy lives to fight another day

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We have not seen the last of Judy Wasylycia-Leis. That I can say for sure.

It was in the waning minutes of the mayoral candidate's meeting with the Free Press editorial board last week, when we asked some "exit" questions, that I got the true measure of the woman whose heart lies firmly in the public life.

These queries are soft lobs that can have a nasty rebound on politicians who let their defences down as the conversation takes on a chatty tone, while reporters purposefully snap their notebooks shut and pop the lid on the pen.

But not for Judy. Her experience showing, she returned fire and dodged the minefields, refusing to take bait on whether she would kill the Veolia contract, whether she would water down executive policy committee's influence.

And what if she lost?

Rest assured, she would stay in Winnipeg. She said she would not run for federal office (nor provincial) again. Would she run again as mayor? She never said 'never say never,' but she said as much.

She's enjoyed her run this time, even though she has never felt the intensity of scrutiny -- voter anger, in fact -- she endured since she resigned as MP to challenge Sam Katz.

She looked a bit withered. Something, one might wryly note, that could be predicted for a mayoral candidate whose most memorable slogan was "Vote for me, I'll raise your taxes."

But before we taxpayers, naysayers and pundits jump to crow, let's also note that this, too, was the measure of the woman. Political to the core -- it's true, she has made her career pursuing and serving in public office -- Judy Wasylycia-Leis could not be said to have shied from standing on her principles.

She believed that a tax hike was due and she put it out there, right up front. She boxed in Katz, who eventually conceded he would not raise taxes. Not this year, anyway. Heads up, Winnipeg.

What will Wasylycia-Leis do? She was quick to reply to that question: I'll dive into social activism, volunteering with community groups, she said. And she looked as determined as I've ever seen her, having watched her since 1986 when she was first elected to the Manitoba legislature, those days when she scandalized the honourable members by breastfeeding her baby boy at committee meetings, when she stared down the sexist hectoring of members opposite and took control of the newby nerves that at times threatened to tie her tongue.

She was something to watch, even back then.

And what a race she gave voters to watch. How often did cool-hand Sam wipe his brow as the opinion polls rolled over his low-profile campaign? He deserved the fight he got and I wonder if he knew, initially, all of what was about to hit him.

Her rise to office was no fluke. There's been no such thing as luck on this campaigner's side.

Indeed, having lost three times in a run at a federal seat in Ottawa from 1977 to 1981, her story goes, the student of politics and right-hand aide to Ed Broadbent sat down and studied the Canadian electoral map, zeroed in on a safe NDP riding with a soft incumbent and painted the bull's eye on Manitoba St. John's MLA Don Malinowski, a nice guy who failed to see her coming at him.

She joined the riding association, worked the ground and made friends, curried favour. When the nomination opened in 1986, she challenged with such force Malinowski dropped out of the running.

She was strategic, astute and determined.

Sam Katz won this election after a good, honest fight, and deservedly takes the helm again. Winnipeg has been reinvigorated. There's nothing more deadly to civic engagement than a sleepy stride to the polls for the incumbent.

But he is not rid of this watchdog. Judy Wasylycia-Leis is not one to let go of the bone that fast. She said she has work to do in Winnipeg and we can expect much of that will draw a bead on city hall. That will be good for all of us. Her theme was of building a better city, and there's work there to be done yet.

One other thing: This is not a politician who is easily discouraged or deflected by defeat. It is that humming and hawing she did a week ago on the question of whether she had another run at the mayoralty in her that makes me think planning for her next campaign for city hall starts today.

Indeed, as Sam's lead ran away from her, campaign co-chair and Liberal Sen. Sharon Carstairs graciously conceded the fight to the incumbent.

And then had this to say on CBC radio: "We will go on to have another day I suspect."

Me too.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 28, 2010 A14

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