Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fast can win race... but not stupidity

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Some fables never lose their relevance, no matter how old or simple they may be. Like the fable of the tortoise and the hare.

The well-known moral of the story is how patience and persistence can win out over speed and arrogance. Right now in the Winnipeg mayoral race, we've got a classic tortoise-and-hare battle going on.

Playing the hare is former city councillor Gord Steeves, who has dominated headlines over the past month with a series of bold pledges that have included plans to sell city assets to fund infrastructure, a property-tax freeze and a plan to use more police cadets to control disorderly conduct downtown.

Steeves' campaign has been intense and interesting, but it has also been at times tactically foolish and mathematically challenged. As a result, he has been regularly criticized in the media.

The rough ride is unlikely to end for Steeves following revelations late last week his wife, Lorrie, had, four years earlier, posted a racist rant on Facebook about downtown panhandlers. She issued an apology the same day, but the controversy will likely continue in earnest this week.

Steeves is not expected to comment directly on his wife's rant until Tuesday. He also declined Sunday to accept an offer to hand out food to the homeless with Althea Guiboche, the so-called Bannock Lady, who has gained acclaim for her selfless devotion to the city's poor and hungry.

Rebuffing Guiboche and waiting until Tuesday to deal with this mess demonstrates a lack of judgment on Steeves' part. This fire needs to be put out right away, and forcing the media to embrace delayed gratification is a sure way to turn up the volume on his wife's preposterous comments.

Steeves has certainly done his part to inject some life into what is a typically quiet period of the campaign. Most mayoral candidates wait until after Labour Day to fire the big policy guns. Steeves and his team have bucked that tradition by trying to get out in front of the other candidates over the summer, command media attention and secure a place in the minds of voters he hopes will remain safe until October.

To date, none of the other candidates has matched the frequency or magnitude of Steeves' announcements. University administrator Robert-Falcon Ouellette has been steadily making pledges; however, the biggest headlines he has garnered were about how his name was misspelled in one of his own news releases and how his former manager overspent on an event, crippling his campaign finances.

Former MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis has run a very safe, very predictable campaign. She announced a formula to set future property-tax increases early in the campaign. Since then, it's been a whole lot of minor nips and tucks that have landed with a deafening silence.

Coun. Paula Havixbeck and lawyer Brian Bowman have also been slow, steady and unremarkable. Of greater concern, their announcements are disjointed, over-generalized and poorly costed. All in all, a bad effort by candidates with high hopes but low profiles.

Funeral director Mike Vogiatzakis has been intriguing, but for the wrong reasons. Entertainment booking agent Michel Fillion, silent since spring, and citizen watchdog David Sanders, who entered the race last week, haven't yet offered us much to criticize.

And that seems to be what last week prompted chatter on social media and on the comments section of the Free Press website. In other words, has Steeves been punished for being the only candidate to campaign with some intensity during the summer?

First, all the announcements by mayoral candidates have been covered by the Free Press. No one has been ignored. Having said that, only certain announcements by certain candidates received attention from columnists and editorial writers. Steeves has received more of this additional coverage than any other candidate.

It is also fair to say we commentators spend more time writing about the things we don't like than things we do like. So, it's true Steeves has taken more lumps than his fellow candidates, at least in this space.

However, this is a long campaign, and by the time voters are ready to go to the polls in October, every viable candidate has usually received his or her fair share of attention -- some positive and some negative. The Free Press will eventually endorse candidates based on the entirety of their campaigns, and not on whether they were quick out of the gate or more methodical.

Steeves has been very busy campaigning to divert attention from other candidates. This would have been a laudable tactic if he had shown some logic in his fiscal mathematics and steered clear of controversy.

In the fable, the tortoise always triumphs because, as mentioned above, slow and steady wins a long race. Still, a candidate can go hard early and win the race, as long as that candidate remembers one very important fact: Whether you're the hare or the tortoise, try not to say stupid things on Facebook.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 11, 2014 A2

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