Can you keep a secret? So can Winnipeg’s next mayor No obvious signs of interest in job with October election 275 days away

It may come as a bit of a shock to the pandemic-weary residents of Manitoba’s largest city, but in just nine months Winnipeg will be getting a new mayor.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/01/2022 (379 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It may come as a bit of a shock to the pandemic-weary residents of Manitoba’s largest city, but in just nine months Winnipeg will be getting a new mayor.

With COVID-19 still dominating most aspects of our day-to-day lives, most Winnipeggers can be forgiven for not paying attention to the municipal elections scheduled in October. But it’s likely to be quite a dynamic campaign.

Mayor Brian Bowman has already announced he will not be running for what would be his third term. And any time you take away the incumbent, you typically open the floodgates to a broad and colourful slate of candidates, many of whom start to make their presence known just after the holiday season.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Mayor Brian Bowman has announced he will not be running for what would be his third term.

This time around, however, we’ve seen no obvious signs of interest.

The pandemic might have something to do with the hesitancy to launch a campaign. The last two-plus years have, no doubt, squelched the enthusiasm of some potential candidates. With the Omicron variant of the virus still holding this province hostage, it’s also more difficult right now to raise money or hold in-person campaign-strategy meetings.

A deathly silence seems to have descended upon the upcoming race.

In 2014, the last time a Winnipeg mayoral race did not feature an incumbent, the first serious candidates started to appear in mid- to late January. For example, Judy Wasylycia-Leis announced on Jan. 14 she was launching a second bid to lead the city, months before candidates were officially allowed to register.

RYAN THORPE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Judy Wasylycia-Leis announced in 2014 she was launching a second bid to lead the city, months before candidates were officially allowed to register.

RYAN THORPE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Others publicly declared their intentions over the next few months. Most of the field rushes to enter the race near the beginning of May, when they are officially allowed to register, campaign and raise funds.

Potential candidates are being particularly cagey this year.

Council typically produces at least one candidate, and city hall insiders believe Kevin Klein (Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood), Markus Chambers (St. Norbert-Seine River), Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry) and Scott Gillingham (St. James) are considering a run.

Outside council, there has been speculation that Robert-Falcon Ouellette, a mayoral candidate in 2014 and a Member of Parliament from 2015 to 2019, is considering another attempt for the mayoralty. But there is no indication from his social media account that he’s doing the spadework for a comeback.

Others believe a viable candidate could come from within the caucus of the Progressive Conservative party of Manitoba. The Tories continue to languish in opinion polls and it’s quite likely that several Tory MLAs from Winnipeg ridings will contemplate a bid for the mayor’s office.

And then, there is Glen Murray.

JESSE BOILY / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Although Glen Murray is hardly a slam-dunk to win the race, his presence would likely discourage some others from making their way to the starting line.

Mayor of Winnipeg from 1998 to 2004 and a former Ontario cabinet minister, Murray’s social media accounts reek of someone about to launch a campaign.

From a return of streetcars to Portage Avenue, to snow-clearing, bike lanes and municipal fiscal challenges, Murray’s Twitter and Facebook offer a frantic commentary on all things related to the quality and orientation of local government. And many political observers know that since leaving Ontario provincial politics in 2017, he has given off strong signals he is desperate to get back into it.

Murray even launched a campaign in 2020 to become the leader of the federal Green party. He ultimately finished fourth.

He did not respond to an interview request, which should keep other potential candidates on edge. Although Murray is hardly a slam-dunk to win the race, his presence would likely discourage some others from making their way to the starting line.

It should be noted that being among the first to enter does not necessarily guarantee success. Bowman did not formally announce his 2014 bid until May and was thought to be trailing Wasylycia-Leis for much of the campaign.

Bowman did not formally announce his 2014 bid until May and was thought to be trailing Wasylycia-Leis for much of the campaign.

It should further be noted that unlike other elections at other levels of government, a mayoral campaign can be organized in fairly short order.

For example, a candidate for either federal or provincial legislatures, or city council, might have to start knocking on doors a year in advance of voting day to have a chance. In all those races, face-time with constituents serves as table stakes for any viable candidacy.

Mayoral elections, on the other hand, are fought largely through mass media. There is no door-knocking to be done; mayoral candidates will typically work big events (cultural celebrations, sporting events, community gatherings), and build their campaigns through news conferences at which they make key policy pledges. Candidate debates also draw intense media focus.

Bowman raised just over $200,000 and spent $187,000 in 2014, the first election he won.

The rest of the campaign really becomes a war of attrition between the candidates who can afford billboards, television ads and flyer drops. Bowman raised just over $200,000 and spent $187,000 in 2014, the first election he won. Although that sum may pale in comparison to the lofty price-tags associated with federal or provincial campaigns, it’s significant enough that it often sorts the contenders from the pretenders.

While the eventual field remains a bit of a mystery at this point, one thing is for certain: with only 275 days to go before Winnipeggers pick a new mayor, someone is going to have to step up to declare an interest in the job. And fast.

dan.lett@winnipegfreepress.com

Dan Lett

Dan Lett
Columnist

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.

History

Updated on Saturday, January 29, 2022 2:00 PM CST: Revises photo caption

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