Messy mayoral-race mayhem just what city needs Seven candidates already registered, more likely to come will make for a chaotic, compelling campaign
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Oh, what a glorious hot mess the Winnipeg mayoral campaign has become.
Even though election day is almost six months away, the campaign to replace Brian Bowman — who is not running again — began officially on Sunday. And less than a week in, the field is filling out and promising to create a fascinating and fiery race.
On Wednesday, entrepreneur and policy analyst Shaun Loney registered his name, keeping a promise made last year. Former Liberal MP and mayoral candidate Robert-Falcon Ouellette confirmed speculation and threw his hat into the ring on Tuesday. Coun. Scott Gillingham (St. James) and Wilderness Supply owner Rick Shone entered the race Monday.
They were all passed on the way to the starting line, however, by consultant and former mayoral challenger Jenny Motkaluk, business owner Don Woodstock and Chris Clacio, a grocery-store worker. That trio of eager candidates registered Sunday.
There are others lurking in the tall grass.
Former mayor Glen Murray, who spent a decade in Ontario provincial politics, is back in town and doing all the spadework for a potential run. Murray is playing his cards very close to vest; over the past few months he has made no definitive statements on whether he will run. He could simply be enjoying the attention that comes with being a “potential” candidate, but informed political watchers believe he is building a campaign.
Coun. John Orlikow (River Heights) has been promising to register for some time. Tory cabinet minister Rochelle Squires has also reportedly been testing the waters to see if there is support for a run.
With seven already registered and a few more likely to come, what can Winnipeg voters expect? Lots of promises, some of which will be completely unrealistic, and general mayhem when it comes time to hold debates and forums.
That chaos is a reflection of the fact that in many ways, a mayoral election — particularly when there is no incumbent on the ballot — is the most accessible political campaign in the country.
The financial hurdles are pretty low, particularly if you’re not spending money on polling, signs, buttons and campaign offices. And many of the candidates in this year’s field will be running bare-bones races that rely mostly on earned media coverage. Which is to say, free publicity provided by news organizations.
If you’re a long-shot candidate relying heavily on earned media coverage, then you have to do whatever you can draw the attention of cameras and reporters. Candidates facing that predicament could do worse than to study Don Woodstock’s 2018 campaign.
The irrepressible Woodstock was a constant source of energy during the race, even if that energy sometimes boiled over into incomprehensible blather. At one time or another, he was complaining about being left out of mayoral forums and debates or, when he was allowed to participate, storming off the stage when he didn’t like the answers provided by the other candidates.
At one point, Woodstock proudly displayed an “Order of Canadians” medal given to him by the Urban Knights, a group that advocates for the homeless, to recognize his work organizing a community safety patrol. However, three days later, after a Free Press story about the medal, the Urban Knights requested its return, claiming the group no longer worked with Woodstock and he was not allowed to use the medal as a campaign prop.
No matter how you look at it, Woodstock’s courageous decision to enter the race again is an interesting development.
Just as interesting as, say, the expected showdown between Gillingham and Motkaluk for support from the business community and right-of-centre voters.
Both are well known in conservative politics at both the federal and provincial level, and both are hoping their profiles — Gillingham’s at city hall and the one Motkaluk garnered during the gruelling 2018 campaign — will give them an edge. Both, however, will be shopping for support from the same constituency, and if neither stumbles they may knock each other out of the race.
Similar problems exist for Ouellette if Murray enters the fray. Both would be trying to position themselves as progressives and both have maintained deep networks of support.
In many ways, the wildest of the wild cards is Ouellette, who exploded on the Winnipeg political scene in 2014 when he finished a surprising third to Bowman and runner-up Judy Wasylycia-Leis. The youthful and charismatic Ouellette did so well, he drew the interest of the federal Liberal party.
The four years he spent in Ottawa did not translate into re-election in Winnipeg Centre, but it did give him an opportunity to hone his retail political skills, an area that he clearly struggled with in his first attempt to capture the mayoralty.
Take the seven registered candidates, add in a few more interesting personalities, and you have the potential for a frenetic race, the result of which will be virtually impossible to predict.
After eight years of Bowman, who won two elections with extremely comfortable margins, a little uncertainty is just what this city needs.
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.
Updated on Thursday, May 5, 2022 10:00 PM CDT: Corrects spelling of Clacio.