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Start wooing my vote

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I get to vote in yet another school board by-election, my third in less than a decade.

Winnipeg school board will be setting a by-election date for sometime in June, just as soon as trustee Joyce Bateman, the new Tory MP for Winnipeg South Centre, officially resigns her seat on the board.

Bateman was re-elected in the south end Ward 1 back in October for another four-year term, when I don’t recall her having mentioned during that campaign anything about having federal ambitions.

Oh, well.

Bateman defeated Liberal incumbent Anita Neville last Monday night. Ironically, Bateman first became a trustee when she won a by-election to replace Neville, who’d left the school board in mid-term to become an MP.

I also got to vote in a by-election when John Orlikow left the school board during his term, running successfully for city council in a by-election, and being replaced on the school board by Rita Hildahl.

There’s a former school trustee in Pembina Trails School Division named Karen Velthuys, who has a provincial Tory nomination in the Oct. 4 provincial election. Velthuys retired from the school board last October, avoiding any possibility of a by-election. Winnipeg School Division says by-elections run about $70,000, but I digress.

School board by-elections tend to have pretty low turnout, unless there are other races on the ballot, such as Orlikow’s city council by-election coinciding with the by-election for the school board seat he vacated. Even then, turnout isn’t great.

One thing I’ve noticed in school board by-elections around the city over the past decade or so is that they not only tend to attract fairly large fields, but they draw overwhelmingly newcomer candidates who haven’t previously contested a school board election at the regular municipal elections. Hildahl was an exception, having served on Winnipeg school board before retiring in 2006.

And virtually without exception, those newcomer candidates in by-elections do not run in the next municipal election, no matter how well they’ve done, or what name recognition they’ve been able to establish. I was surprised that some of the candidates who made decent showings against Bateman and Hildahl in by-elections weren’t seen again at the next municipal election, when three seats were up for grabs in the ward.

Back in October, when Bateman, Hildahl, and Jackie Sneesby were all re-elected, there were six candidates in my ward. I tend to think of myself as an informed voter, but could get information about only one of the other three hopefuls. Two of them had no websites, did not come to my door when I was home, did not deliver any literature to my house, and did not respond to the extensive on-line school board candidates’ survey we conducted on the Free Press website. We’ll see if any of the three runs this time.

Meanwhile, excitement will grow exponentially as by-election day nears and candidates woo my vote, diverting the 43,000 or so voters in ward 1 away from thoughts of summer, the lake, safe grad, the Stanley Cup finals, and the Manitoba Marathon. I suspect our coverage of the race and the candidates will be far more extensive on our website than is possible in the dead trees edition, but I’ll let you know.

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About Nick Martin

Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.

He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.

Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.

Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.

Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.

Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.

Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.

A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.

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