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‘Still a competitive race’

Political experts say there’s no clear frontrunner for mayor just days before election

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With election day quickly approaching, mayoral candidates are making their final push for support, but political observers say there is no clear frontrunner in the race — warning anything could happen.

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With election day quickly approaching, mayoral candidates are making their final push for support, but political observers say there is no clear frontrunner in the race — warning anything could happen.

And, they say, the final stretch of campaigns — and even election day itself — can be a tumultuous time for reasons out of candidates’ control, making it easier to blow up a campaign with days to go than it is to convince many more people to vote in their favour.

Regardless, Wednesday’s election should be an interesting one.

“I think the Winnipeg mayoral campaign right now is still a competitive race,” said Christopher Adams, adjunct professor of political studies at the University of Manitoba.

Adams points to a Free Press-CTV Winnipeg poll conducted by Probe Research that put Glen Murray leaps and bounds ahead of other candidates in September — 40 per cent of decided voters said he was their top choice — and an October Leger survey that suggested the gap is closing. The Leger survey, commissioned by mayoral candidate Scott Gillingham’s campaign, found 28 per cent of decided voters choose Murray, while 19 per cent support Gillingham.

Still, anything could happen in the coming days to sway the remaining masses.

Adams offered possible scenarios that could change the course of an election: a spate of violence and crime right before election day that leads voters to favour tough-on-crime candidates; a snowstorm that deters would-be voters from venturing out to cast their ballot; or Mother Nature throwing a curveball that prompts voters to prefer a candidate equipped to tackle climate change.

Meanwhile, many voters have already made up their minds. On Friday, the city announced a record number of Winnipeggers participated in advance voting — 41,895 — which is a 5.1 per cent increase from 2018, when the previous record was set with 39,840 advance voters.

Adams said this could be due to strong get-out-the-vote mobilization on the part of local candidates. It could also be that there is no incumbent for mayor, he said, which tends to drive up competition and interest. The city may also have done a good job advertising advance voting options, or the pandemic spurred people to vote early to avoid crowds on election day, he added.

A close race is likely to keep momentum going, he said.

“When voters feel that their vote counts, there’s a higher chance of them turning out to vote,” he said.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Political observers say there is no clear frontrunner in the mayoral race — warning anything could happen.

Paul Thomas, professor emeritus of political studies with the University of Manitoba, is also watching the race closely.

He suspects Gillingham is closing in on Murray.

“If true, this likely reflects the disturbing stories regarding Mr. Murray’s troubles during his short tenure at the Pembina Institute, as well as the fact that Mr. Gillingham exceeded general expectations in presenting his ideas and himself in the televised CBC debate,” Thomas said, referencing allegations against Murray of bullying during his time at the Alberta-based think tank in 2017 and 2018.

Narrowing the race to two frontrunner may give others a leg up, Thomas said.

”In a fragmented contest, with the perceived front runner losing ground, there is the possibility that one of the top five could come up the middle and achieve a surprise victory,” he said. “This could be Kevin Klein, a well known opinionated critic on council, or more of a long shot Shaun Loney, who has imaginative ideas but is not well known.”

”There is the possibility that one of the top five could come up the middle and achieve a surprise victory.”–Paul Thomas

On Sunday, Murray put out a release reintroducing his platform and reiterating his commitment to making Winnipeg a leader in the green innovation economy.

Jenny Motkaluk, who was runner-up in the 2018 election but has trailed in polls, put out a statement Sunday voicing criticism of the police board’s handling of her September complaint about Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth. The complaint involved comments Smyth had made about recent incidents of violent crime being “nothing new,” which Motkaluk deemed “dismissive.”

Adams, meanwhile, said his advice to candidates at this stage in the race is to focus on addressing perceived weaknesses in their campaigns, stay the course and, otherwise, just try to avoid major missteps.

katrina.clarke@freepress.mb.ca

Katrina Clarke

Katrina Clarke
Reporter

Katrina Clarke is an investigative reporter with the Winnipeg Free Press.

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