November 18, 2019

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Opinion

How not to run a campaign 101

Steeves losing ground as he does all the wrong things

Mayoral candidates Brian Bowman, Paula Havixbeck, Robert-Falcon Ouelette, Michel Fillion, David Sanders and Judy Wasylycia-Leis are fighting hard to win this election, some with more success than others.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Mayoral candidates Brian Bowman, Paula Havixbeck, Robert-Falcon Ouelette, Michel Fillion, David Sanders and Judy Wasylycia-Leis are fighting hard to win this election, some with more success than others.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/10/2014 (1872 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/10/2014 (1872 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It has been said before, but let it be said again: The specific numbers in any poll are less important than the trends.

On that basis, the latest Free Press/CTV Winnipeg poll conducted by Probe Research on Winnipeg’s 2014 mayoral race shows us the contest has a clear front-runner, a rising star in second place and a dead man walking.

Gord Steeves

KEN GIGLIOTTI / FREE PRESS FILES

Gord Steeves

There are, of course, other candidates in this race, but their inability to crack the double-digits in this poll makes it unlikely they will play a significant role in the outcome on Oct. 22.

Judy Wasylycia-Leis continues to be the front-runner. With support of more than four in 10 respondents, she already enjoys enough support to win this election. She will have to work hard to keep that support, but she is exactly where she needs to be to win.

More interesting is the separation of the rest of the pack. In August polls, former councillor Gord Steeves and lawyer Brian Bowman were locked in a tie for second place. This latest poll shows Bowman on a modest upswing and Steeves headed south in rapid fashion.

When Bowman started this campaign in the spring, few Winnipeggers knew who he was. He remains significantly behind Wasylycia-Leis, but thanks to a growing profile among voters, he has positive momentum. That is not something Steeves can say at this point.

Over the campaign, Steeves has been a consistently polarizing figure. And not just because of the fuss over his wife’s offensive Facebook post about "drunken native guys." Even when he wasn’t defending his wife’s social-media proclivities, Steeves was pushing some odd buttons.

Steeves offered, as a central plank in his campaign, a property-tax freeze. This in a city that has learned, the hard way, politically convenient tax freezes seriously undermine city services, including infrastructure.

Even more surprising is his decision to go pro-development. After suffering through an era of politics in which certain private developers pretty much had their way with city hall, Steeves offered to cut red tape for developers and limit the public’s right to object to their plans.

Even more odd, Steeves has called news conferences specifically to attack his two main opponents, a questionable strategy in a race like this. Any time you’re talking about your opponent, you run the risk of galvanizing his or her support. In other words, you really don’t want voters thinking about Wasylycia-Leis or Bowman. You want them thinking about you.

In review, Steeves has infuriated the aboriginal communities, offered a tax freeze to a city that has rejected it as a reasonable fiscal strategy, offered to reduce oversight for developers and limit the public’s right to object, and then spent half his time talking about his opponents.

It’s getting to the point where you have to wonder whether Steeves’ campaign team is playing a joke on him. He sincerely wants to be mayor. But this is not a winning strategy. In fact, he and his team are breaking many of the cardinal rules of big-tent campaigning, a must to win an election the size and scope of the mayoral race.

Instead of growing his support across communities, Steeves has hacked away at the electorate until he’s left with a very small niche: a pro-development, anti-tax, anti-labour crowd that is shaky on macroeconomic theory and irrationally afraid of aboriginal people.

The question now is not: Why is Gord’s support evaporating? It’s: What did they think was going to happen?

(Steeves’ declining support makes his suggestion in August that Bowman drop out to unite right-of-centre voters seem, well, a bit funny right now.)

All that said, there are still opportunities for some seismic shifts in this campaign. It’s a longshot, but there are examples of longshots coming from behind to win in the last week of a campaign. In Canada, this is known as the Nenshi Effect.

Naheed Nenshi’s victory in the 2010 Calgary mayoral election — in which he came from single-digits to win in the last four weeks of the campaign — was so stunning, it gave hope to every 30- and 40-something rookie politician with a youthful appearance and an above-average expertise with social media.

The truth is Nenshi’s incredible win was the result of a convergence of factors — mistakes by front-runners, a city that skews much younger than Winnipeg, a devastating strategy that combined social media and old-style coffee parties — that are not likely to be duplicated here.

Still, voters will be watching the mayoral candidates more closely than ever over the next few weeks. If anyone is going to pull victory from the jaws of defeat, this is the time to do it. But remember, "anyone" really means a candidate who is holding a significant level of support, or seeing an upward tick in their trend line.

Those with a south-facing trend arrow have no miracle in their futures.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

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.

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