Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

What's your civic game plan, Judy?

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So Judy Wasylycia-Leis takes the plunge. She didn't declare her mayoral candidacy Tuesday when she announced she's quitting federal politics, but it's just a formality now.

But what does she want to do for us? Aside from denying Sam a cakewalk back to city hall, that is.

She's got some explaining to do.

Last weekend, I dropped in to hear Wasylycia-Leis address a meeting of the Council of Winnipeg Women, where she was asked to speak about encouraging women to run for public office.

Which she did, repeating the valid reasons for seeing half the population robustly represented at all levels of government, an elusive goal 92 years after women won full federal suffrage.

She also gave her best advice, I think, when she got out the manual on playing hard -- be politically strategic and ruthless. Wasylycia-Leis ran three times as an NDP sacrificial lamb in Ottawa until, on her fourth bid, she got serious and smart. She looked at the electoral map and found her best odds of winning in an NDP provincial stronghold in north Winnipeg where an incumbent was ripe for some rear-guard action.

She joined the riding association and amassed enough support to take the nomination before her predecessor knew what was happening. She won public office in 1986 in St. John's.

Regardless of body parts, there is only one game, even if some of the keys to success -- networking and campaign financing -- still favour men.

But the reason Wasylycia-Leis offered for running was that if women don't get elected, they concede the agenda to the other half of the population. That's compelling on the national and provincial level, where policies affecting issues that traditionally break along gender lines are decided.

But what of municipal issues? Are women and men after different agendas at city hall?

I suspect not, but I still don't know if Wasylycia-Leis thinks that.

Without announcing her candidacy -- she assured the women and two men present she hadn't made up her mind, when it's clear now she had -- Wasylycia-Leis said she wants to change the way city hall is run, she wants to change the culture of politics and policy in a place where critical decisions -- private partnership in a water utility, for example; funding to a Christian youth centre on Main Street -- hit city committees and council all but decided.

A place where the mayor's "cabinet" controls the agenda, where citizens get short notice and consultation on the blueprint for spending.

It is a boy's network at city hall and somehow we have to change that reality, Wasylycia-Leis declared.

But then what? Change the process to do -- what?

Are taxes on property too low or too high? Do you think education levies on property are stifling Winnipeg's ability to pry more out of ratepayers so we can start making progress on the pot-holed roads and crumbling bridges? What do you think of the fact Winnipeg has no consumption tax that can produce revenue growth? Light rail or rapid transit? How would you fix community centres that are decaying, having been built primarily as a hockey hub and in an era when most kids could afford to play the game?

Winnipeg should be the tail wagging the provincial dog, but right now Sam seems to be happy with Broadway's handouts.

The big things get done in pieces, forcing him to stand in the trickle-down line with the many scattershot priorities of a transfer-dependent provincial government.

Is it realistic to hope Wasylycia-Leis will turn this city from a constant lapdog of her NDP cousins on Broadway and into a muscular, modern Canadian city, safe for all and attractive to the mid-careerist with big ideas?

Nothing I heard last weekend spoke to that. I think this is what women and men will want to hear from our latest transfer from Ottawa.

Women, like men, should not enter politics without a clear idea as to why they should be in public office and what they want to get done once there.

I like ambition; I expect candidates for public office to want to wield power.

But I want to know that a political wannabe has an ambitious to-do list, too.

Let's hear it, Judy.

catherine.mitchell@freepress.mb.ca

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

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