Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 2/10/2018 (382 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman is a busy guy. Always has been.
As many civic political watchers can attest, since he was elected in 2014, Bowman has a very traditional work ethic when it comes to fulfilling his mayoral duties.
In stark contrast to his predecessor Sam Katz, who spent long stretches of time while in office either visiting his Arizona vacation property or watching his beloved Goldeyes play baseball, Bowman is a politician who is seemingly always on the move, meeting citizens, cutting ribbons, shaking hands and kicking off any manner of community events. His social media accounts have, over the last four years, shown an incredible dedication to public appearances that may be unparallelled in this city's mayoral history.
But what happens to Bowman's schedule when it is election time? Does he still keep a full slate of mayoral duties even while he is running for re-election?
Boy, does he.
A summary of his mayoral calendar from September shows Bowman is fully embracing the advantages he has as the current mayor. Over that one month, Bowman made no less than 55 public appearances at events that were not campaign related. That is nearly two every day of the month.
Unlike the suffocating blackout that precedes by-elections and general elections at the provincial level, there are no strict rules prohibiting an incumbent mayor or councillor from continuing their official duties right up to election day.
The Winnipeg Charter, the provincial legislation upon which the city was founded, states that the official election period runs from May 1 of the election year. After that date, candidates are allowed to register, raise and spend money, and campaign. (Candidate signs cannot go up before Sept. 1.)
However, mayors and councillors do not stop serving in their roles just because an election is coming. In fact, the mayor doesn't stop being the mayor until Nov. 1 after the October election. This is a stark difference from federal and provincial elections, where governments are dissolved once the official campaign period begins.
A motion was adopted this past summer at council to prohibit incumbent councillors from announcing new funding from the Land Dedication Reserve or ward budgets for the 60 days prior to election day. Although the mayor's office was not included in that motion, Bowman agreed to abide by the terms in the current campaign.
That still leaves lots and lots of room for Bowman, and members of council, to use their positions to garner media attention and grab the spotlight at events attended by huge numbers of citizens. Just the kind of thing that helps a would-be incumbent seeking re-election.
A quick look at Bowman's events calendar from September shows the wide array of events that are at the incumbent mayor's disposal as he gears up for a shot a re-election.
The events ranged from extremely high profile and newsworthy — the official openings of True North Square and a new Canada Goose factory — to more discreet, community-level events that wouldn't have qualified for news coverage but did provide the mayor with lots of exposure to potential voters.
Bowman brought greetings, or made opening remarks, to dozens of different events, from a salute to freshmen students from the Class of 2022 at the University of Manitoba, to a meeting of the Canadian Association of Finance Officers, the Manitoba Palliative Care conference and the Manitoba Metis Federation's annual general assembly.
Charities also benefitted significantly from the mayor's appearance. He brought greetings to events hosted by the United Way, Terry Fox foundation, FASD awareness day, Cops for Kids, Peace Days, Manitobans for Human rights, the Indigenous Arts Public Art Project, and March for Mental Health.
Any time a local dignitary was being honored, you could bet Bowman was there. He helped fete Stephano Grande upon his leaving the Downtown BIZ, oversaw the opening the Marilyn and Monty Hall retrospective at the U of M, and attended receptions to honour the Honorary Consul of France in Winnipeg and fashion mogul Peter Nygard's 50th anniversary as a garment maker.
And then there were the more commercial endeavours that the mayor helped celebrate. He was somehow able to find time in his schedule to open a new Porsche dealership, the combined HomeSense/Winners at Polo Park, celebrate the Winnipeg Realtors Citizens Hall of Fame, and judge entries at the Burger Week competition at Brazen Hall Kitchen and Brewery.
It's certainly an advantage for the mayor to be allowed to continue fulfilling mayoral duties during an election campaign. It's also quite legal. But is it fair?
Jenny Motkaluk, the most likely candidate to challenge Bowman, has been understandable frustrated by Bowman's continuing mayoral appearances.
"Blurring the lines between campaign and mayoral announcements is a classic incumbent campaign tactic and it's what we get when we do not impose campaign black-out periods for civic elections," she said via email statement. "Fair? Not a chance. But certainly not unexpected."
Moving to a complete blackout, as the province has done, is likely not the best way of levelling the electoral playing field. Blackouts tend to stop governments from undertaking otherwise innocent actions and communication with citizens. However, some sort of amendment to provincial legislation is surely needed to curb this undeniable power of incumbency.
Many of the events Bowman attended last month, and will likely continue to attend right up until election day, come at the request of various organizations and individuals, all of whom want the gravitas that a mayor brings to a public event. However, it may be necessary to turn over those duties to a member of council who is not running for re-election to ensure that invitations cannot be used as an unfair political advantage.
Regardless of who wins the mayoral election, one of the first orders of business once the votes have been counted should be to contact the province and request an amendment to the Winnipeg Charter to limit the duties of mayors during election periods.
Just to be fair.
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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