Going into this week, Gord Steeves was the mayoral candidate to beat on the centre-right in Winnipeg.
The lawyer and moderate Tory, who spent 11 years on city council, enjoyed the support of 17 to 22 per cent of Winnipeg voters in the only two credible mayoral-race polls conducted in this city thus far. Only the lefty Judy Wasylycia-Leis posted better numbers in those surveys.
Hundreds of people filed into the Qualico Family Centre in Assiniboine Park last fall, when Steeves announced his intention to run for mayor. A veritable parade accompanied his trip to city hall to sign his registration papers earlier this month.
Given this momentum, it was almost mind-boggling to see the scene at Canad Inns Polo Park on Monday night, where Steeves stood inside a meeting room to elucidate a campaign vision to a mere 19 other people, including Free Press reporter Geoff Kirbyson.
When you're running an election campaign, perception is everything. So the presence of pretty much nobody at a campaign event is a veritable disaster, as it suggests pretty much nobody cares about the candidate.
It's also stunning considering the experience of Steeves' campaign advisers, whose ranks include Marni Larkin, who served as Sam Katz's campaign manager in his successful run for mayor in 2010.
According to a Steeves campaign worker, speaking under condition of anonymity, Monday's event was not intended for the general public. This is why media were not alerted or invited, the campaign worker claimed.
The event was supposed to be a forum where Steeves could speak to targeted supporters and spell out the five so-called pillars of his campaign: accountable governance, downtown, transportation infrastructure, the economy and safe communities.
And this brings up an even bigger problem than the very stupid decision to hold an event without telling anyone it was happening.
In the fall, at the campaign announcement, Gord Steeves said nothing specific about what he would do as mayor. When he registered his campaign, he also said nothing specific.
Then, at mayoral event No. 3, Steeves also chose not to say anything specific about what he would do as mayor. Policy announcements will come later in the campaign, the Steeves worker promised.
With all due respect to the very affable Gord Steeves, this isn't cool at all. Winnipeggers go to the polls in a mere five months. They deserve to have some sort of inkling about what Steeves stands for, beyond the meaningless campaign slogan "mayor for a new day."
In Toronto, also a mere five months away from a vote, mayoral candidates have been offering up meaningful ideas and complex policy positions on a variety of issues for months. In Winnipeg, however, we have little more than political vapour to inhale.
Aside from Steeves, the only mainstream mayoral candidate to register so far is Brian Bowman. Like Steeves, he's a likable human being, a moderate Tory and a lawyer.
And just like Steeves, he hasn't said anything of substance to date.
Bowman's campaign slogan is "for Winnipeg," as if other mayoral candidates are somehow against this city. His campaign video online refers to "bold, actionable plans" to ensure Winnipeg becomes a "world-class city." Hello, Springfield.
Also like Steeves, Bowman is promising to unveil policy positions at a later date.
"We're looking forward to sharing them over the course of the campaign," he said via email last week. "We'll be setting out a forward-looking policy platform with short-term actionable initiatives that tie into a long-term vision for Winnipeg."
You're killing me, Brian Bowman. You're the new guy, the outsider, yet you've already mastered the art of bland, political nothingness. I beg you to provide some form of concrete policy direction when you address your supporters tonight at your Winnipeg Art Gallery campaign event.
To be fair, Winnipeg is not Toronto. In this city, where voters seem to be less engaged in politics, it's entirely reasonable for candidates to hold off on major policy announcements until election day nears.
But it's also entirely reasonable at this stage of the campaign to demand mayoral candidates do more than utter meaningless nonsense. The challenge, should you possess the barest modicum of bravery, is to tell us who you really are and what you would actually do as mayor.
Until then, you're not a serious candidate. You're simply trying to market yourself to a populace that should have no more patience for such fluff.
In 1992, Susan Thompson got elected on the basis of "time for a change." In 2004, Sam Katz was ushered in with "I like Sam."
In 2014, the electorate deserves a mayor who respects its intelligence enough to actually talk about the issues, lay out a few ideas -- and back them up.