November 19, 2018

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Opinion

Mayoral battle dominates campaign so far

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Mayor Brian Bowman</p>

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Mayor Brian Bowman

They’re at the post.

Although the Winnipeg civic election campaign has been in a steady trot for several months now, the period immediately after Labour Day is typically when things start to heat up. By the end of this month, campaign intensity should break into a full gallop that should be maintained all the way to election day, Oct. 24.

What exactly can we expect? First and foremost, a final rush by candidates to register.

Currently, three council seats — St. Boniface (Coun. Matt Allard), St. Vital (Coun. Brian Mayes) and Waverley West (Coun. Janice Lukes) — remain unchallenged. It is unlikely that all three councillors will be acclaimed to their seats; there hasn’t been an acclamation on Winnipeg city council since 2002.

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They’re at the post.

Although the Winnipeg civic election campaign has been in a steady trot for several months now, the period immediately after Labour Day is typically when things start to heat up. By the end of this month, campaign intensity should break into a full gallop that should be maintained all the way to election day, Oct. 24.

What exactly can we expect? First and foremost, a final rush by candidates to register.

Currently, three council seats — St. Boniface (Coun. Matt Allard), St. Vital (Coun. Brian Mayes) and Waverley West (Coun. Janice Lukes) — remain unchallenged. It is unlikely that all three councillors will be acclaimed to their seats; there hasn’t been an acclamation on Winnipeg city council since 2002.

In the race for mayor, 10 candidates are already registered, which equals the high-water mark for 2014. That doesn’t mean all will be on the ballot; only seven of the 10 candidates who registered in 2014 were able to meet all of the eligibility requirements and qualify to have their name on the ballot.

We can also expect some hotly contested council seats.

There are four candidates running in Charleswood-Tuxedo, where incumbent Marty Morantz is leaving municipal politics to try his chances in federal politics. There are also four candidates in Point Douglas, where veteran Mike Pagtakhan announced he would not seek re-election. Six hopefuls are in the race in St. Norbert-Seine River, a riding that has no incumbent after Coun. Lukes chose to run in the newly created ward of Waverley.

However, those ridings pale in terms of overall campaign activity to Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry, which is wide open after council veteran Jenny Gerbasi decided to leave municipal politics. Eight candidates are vying for that seat.

On the mayoral side of the equation, the headlines have been dominated by business consultant Jenny Motkaluk, who was the first candidate to register for the mayoral election. Motkaluk’s decision to go so strong, so early — she registered on May 1, the very first day possible — has been fascinating to watch.

She has released several significant planks from her platform, and in so doing garnered the gross majority of campaign media coverage. That has clearly established her as the chief challenger to Mayor Brian Bowman’s re-election aspirations.

In no particular order, Motkaluk has touched on Portage and Main (no to pedestrians) rapid transit (against Bus Rapid Transit but in favour of more and electrified buses), policing (more on buses and in schools), meth treatment (dedicated facility to divert drug users away from hospitals), traffic management (better signage in school zones) and infrastructure funding (P3s for road rehabilitation contracts).

That is a dizzying array of issues to unleash on city dwellers in months mostly dedicated to escaping the city for the cottage. In fact, Motkaluk’s go-big, go-early strategy could create two potential problems.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Mayoral Candidate Jenny Motkaluk </p>

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Mayoral Candidate Jenny Motkaluk

First, in making announcements early — some of them quite significant — Motkaluk runs the risk that they will be distant memories after Labour Day. That could be a problem given that Bowman hasn’t really campaigned so far and thus has the opportunity to dominate coverage in the lead up to election day.

The second problem has nothing to do with the pace of Motkaluk’s campaign, and everything to do with the tone.

Right out of the gate, Motkaluk made it clear she was on full-attack mode as far as Bowman is concerned, spending as much time criticizing the incumbent as discussing her own plans.

In the past four months, Motkaluk has repeatedly accused Bowman of being the "accidental mayor," a man who triumphed in 2014 because he was the lesser evil among all the candidates on the ballot.

She has also suggested Bowman attends too many public events and spends too much time preening on social media. At various times, she has suggested Bowman has hostile environment for local businesses and driving entrepreneurs from the province, that he doesn’t care about violent crime and that he wastes money on "pet projects" like re-opening Portage and Main.

At one low-point in the campaign last month, she issued a news release alleging Bowman was using money donated to the crowd-funded campaign to open Portage and Main - established after council decided to hold a referendum on the issue in union with the civic vote - to support his re-election bid. That would be a pretty big violation of campaign finance laws but there was absolutely no evidence to back up the accusation.

All is fair in love, war and local government elections but it is still hard to rationalize the early nastiness of the Motkaluk campaign.

Going hard and early is certainly a good strategy if nobody is quite sure who you are and you’re trying to knock off an incumbent mayor, which is almost never done. But a newcomer to politics should also remember that a mayoral election is among the most unusual, most challenging elections because it involves canvassing support from the largest number of voters.

Even though only about half of eligible voters turn out for a Winnipeg civic election, a successful mayoral candidate will still have to pull more than 100,000 votes, which is highest vote total for an elected official in Manitoba. In 2014, Bowman earned the support of 111,000 votes on his way to capturing the mayoralty.

A vote haul of that magnitude requires candidates to build a coalition of support across a wide swath of constituencies. We can safely conclude that Motkaluk has likely captured the hearts of the vehemently anti-Bowman crowd. She better hope there are more than 100,000 of those registered to vote because her appeal outside that constituency is unknown.

Bowman’s obvious challenge is that he has ceded four months of the campaign to Motkaluk while making little or no effort to compete. In fact, Bowman won’t be free to campaign full time until September 20, which is the last meeting of council before the election.

There is also a possibility that Bowman will have nothing seismic to announce when he does join the fray. Incumbents tend to focus on furthering promises they made in the first mandate. That leaves them open to criticism - sometimes well-placed - that they have run out of ideas.

The biggest question of all is whether four wide-open, incumbent-free council races, a nasty mayoral contest and a referendum campaign on whether to open Portage and Main to pedestrians is enough to boost Winnipeg’s typically pathetic voter turnout numbers.

Stay tuned.

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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History

Updated on Tuesday, September 4, 2018 at 11:40 PM CDT: Fixes typos

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