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Wasylycia-Leis stresses clarity

Says having focused message is top lesson from last bid

Posted: 06/3/2014 2:03 AM | Comments: 0

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History will show Judy Wasylycia-Leis' 2010 bid to become Winnipeg's mayor was a tale of two campaigns.

There was early promise and momentum that brought with it the excitement that something really unique -- the defeat of an incumbent mayor -- might actually be possible.

Then, following that early surge, there was a series of muddy missteps followed by a deafening thud as Wasylycia-Leis' campaign came crashing back to earth.

When it was all said and done, the former NDP provincial cabinet minister and MP received more than 90,000 votes, a perfectly respectable result given her lack of experience with civic politics. Unfortunately, that was still 25,000 votes less than Sam Katz received.

Now, Wasylycia-Leis is back for a second shot at Winnipeg's top office. She filed her official nomination papers Monday and today will hold her first official campaign event at a pocket park at the corner of Ness Avenue and Linwood Street. This time, she's a little older, a little wiser and confident she learned some important lessons from the last election -- lessons she said will provide an edge going into this campaign.

Wasylycia-Leis said she was proud of that campaign, but admits she made some awful mistakes.

"I definitely learned last time that to win the hearts and minds of Winnipeggers, you have to be absolutely clear about your future direction," Wasylycia-Leis said Monday.

Wasylycia-Leis deserves credit for identifying, right off the top, the chief flaw in her last campaign: a chronic lack of policy focus that left her at the mercy of Katz and his team of hired political organizers.

Wasylycia-Leis' early momentum was secured with a masterful promise of predictable property-tax hikes to pay for infrastructure. Initial reaction was positive, and there seemed for a moment the very real possibility she could catch Katz.

That was until Katz launched a barrage of automated telephone calls suggesting, among other things, pensioners and other low-income Winnipeggers would lose their homes if Wasylycia-Leis' tax increases went into effect. The attack calls left her campaign muddled and panicked.

The robocall strategy may have been masterful campaigning, but it was disingenuous policy; between frontage levies and property taxes, Katz increased the burden on homeowners by a far greater margin than Wasylycia-Leis had promised to do.

"We were not prepared for the backlash on that hardline attack from the mayor," Wasylycia-Leis said. "We really needed to demonstrate how frozen taxes to that point had led to road problems and water-main breaks. And we couldn't do it."

This time around, Wasylycia-Leis has promised a tighter, more focused policy platform and better ground-level organization. This from what appears to be a strikingly similar campaign team.

As she did last time out, she will rely mostly on an inner circle of extremely experienced NDP and Liberal opinion leaders to guide her campaign.

The co-chairs of Wasylycia-Leis' campaign will be union leader Bob Dewar, former chief of staff to premier Gary Doer, and Bobbi Ethier, a longtime Manitoba Liberal organizer.

Her chief fundraisers are Helen Norrie, wife of the late former mayor Bill Norrie, and former NDP MP and provincial cabinet minister Bill Blaikie.

Former senator Sharon Carstairs will, as she did last time, be a vocal supporter, while an advisory committee will be chaired by ex-Liberal MP and lieutenant-governor John Harvard and chocolatier Constance Popp.

Although there are few surprises, Wasylycia-Leis has nonetheless assembled an experienced cadre of organizers. That gives her an early advantage over her opponents, many of whom are either relying on enthusiastic but inexperienced campaign teams or who have no campaign team to speak of.

It's not clear Wasylycia-Leis will get a second shot at Katz, who has yet to indicate whether he will run for re-election this fall. Running second to Wasylycia-Leis in two pre-campaign opinion polls is doing little to encourage him to enter the race and run the risk of becoming only the second incumbent Winnipeg mayor to lose an election.

For now, Wasylycia-Leis has the upper hand. In the first go-around, she was the newcomer to municipal politics, an upstart who entered the race well behind a popular incumbent.

This time around, she enters the race as the presumptive front-runner who may, or may not, have to fight the potent presence of an incumbent.

Still, all that does not add up to an election victory in a race that will see some old familiar faces, and some new, intriguing ones. Wasylycia-Leis will still have to produce a campaign substantially better than in 2010 to win this time.

Although she has owned up to mistakes in 2010, Wasylycia-Leis still had several built-in excuses, from her own inexperience to Katz's switch-and-bait on property taxes.

This time around, none of those excuses exist. She will either win this race or confirm that voters made the right decision in 2010.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

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