December 8, 2019

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Questionable ethics mar civic campaign

Unfounded allegations about Portage and Main kickbacks another low 

Opinion

It was a low point in a campaign full of them.

Coun. Jeff Browaty issued a news release earlier this week, alleging there may be a secret deal between Mayor Brian Bowman and the owners of properties at Portage Avenue and Main Street to buy their support for re-opening the intersection to pedestrians.

It's complicated, but in short, Browaty alleges as of 2019, the City of Winnipeg could be on the hook for repairs to all portions of the area's underground concourse, which is leaking and in need of major rehabilitation. Currently, the city is only responsible for one part.

Coun. Jeff Browaty alleged without proof that there may be a deal between Mayor Brian Bowman and the owners of properties at Portage Avenue and Main Street to buy their support for re-opening the intersection. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)</p>

Coun. Jeff Browaty alleged without proof that there may be a deal between Mayor Brian Bowman and the owners of properties at Portage Avenue and Main Street to buy their support for re-opening the intersection. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

The allegation was completely unfounded. Private landowners have not struck a deal with the city to cover their portion of concourse repairs. In fact, the companies that own property and manage the buildings have already paid for their own engineering studies and are on the record as being committed to paying for their share of the concourse upgrades.

Browaty's allegation is a masterpiece of the "I'm-not-saying-it's-true-but-I-can't-prove-that-it's-false" style of political attack.

"Brian Bowman needs to come clean and let Winnipeggers know if taxpayers will be paying millions more for the refurbishment of the concourse because he has been trying to ram through the opening of street-level pedestrian crossings," said Browaty, who is running for re-election in the North Kildonan ward.

Come clean about something Browaty himself could not prove... Fascinating.

If this were the only instance of questionable ethics and integrity.

The 2018 civic election — Winnipeggers go to the polls Oct. 24 — may go down as one of the lowest, most ethically challenged campaigns in the city's history.

In no particular order, consider some of the other incidents competing for the title of low point.

Grant Nordman started advertising on bus benches prior to registering as a candidate, which is a violation of civic election laws. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press files)</p>

Grant Nordman started advertising on bus benches prior to registering as a candidate, which is a violation of civic election laws. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Former councillor Grant Nordman is trying to make a comeback in Charleswood-Tuxedo after losing in 2014. Someone noticed Nordman had signage posted on bus benches mere hours after registering as a candidate; paying for that signage before registering is a clear violation of civic election laws.

Nordman's reaction: "At the end of the day, we’ve got bigger fish to fry than what hour a sign went up."

He likely knew, despite allegedly breaking the rules, no one was going to try and punish him. True to that theory, no action has been taken against him.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS </p><p>Mayoral candidate Don Woodstock wearing his 'Order of Canadians' medal. </p>

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Mayoral candidate Don Woodstock wearing his 'Order of Canadians' medal.

Then, there is mayoral candidate Don Woodstock, who was rarely seen in public without a gleaming medal and ribbon on the lapel of his dark business suit.

Asked about the medal, Woodstock initially suggested it was a lower tier of the Order of Canada. That was proven to be untrue, and later established that it was a reward from a community organization that promotes public safety.

That group indicated he shouldn't be wearing the medal, and asked for it back.

Early in the campaign, mayoral challenger Jenny Motkaluk issued a news release, accusing Bowman of illegally skimming money from the crowd-funded "Team Open" campaign advocating for a return of pedestrians to Portage and Main.

Mayoral challenger Jenny Motkaluk issued a news release accusing the mayor of illegally skimming money from the crowd-funded "Team Open" campaign. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)</p>

Mayoral challenger Jenny Motkaluk issued a news release accusing the mayor of illegally skimming money from the crowd-funded "Team Open" campaign. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

She suggested, coyly, the incumbent was having trouble raising money, and the money flowing into Team Open coffers from an online crowdfunding website would be at his disposal.

There was no evidence to support the allegation.

Although he has been the target of a variety of dirty tricks, Bowman has not been free of concerns.

The incumbent has kept up a relentless schedule of mayoral appearances during the 2018 campaign, which he's allowed to do under current election laws. The fact that it's not illegal does not, however, make it right.

Mayor Brian Bowman has been busy with mayoral appearances during the campaign, which provide him with an advantage over his competitors. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press files)</p>

Mayor Brian Bowman has been busy with mayoral appearances during the campaign, which provide him with an advantage over his competitors. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Those mayoral events provide him with a clear advantage over his competitors, which makes it an ethical issue.

Those are all fairly obvious signs of ethical shortcomings. However, integrity and ethics have also come into play in other, more subtle ways in this campaign. Such as with the decisions candidates make about where they run.

Incumbency is a pretty devastating advantage in a civic election campaign. So much so, hopefuls vying for council seats tend to flock to wards where there is no incumbent.

In this election, there are five such wards, averaging 5.8 candidates each. Compare that with the 10 wards with an incumbent — and the reworked St. James ward, where two incumbents are facing each other — the average number of candidates is 2.5. That includes Waverley West, where incumbent Janice Lukes was acclaimed when no one stepped up to challenge her.

Where do all those additional candidates come from? The city has no requirement for candidates to reside in the ward in which they run. Which means candidates come from all over the city, and even outside the city, to take a shot at four years' work at city hall.

Consider the race in Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry, as an example. The ward was vacated when veteran councillor Jenny Gerbasi announced she would not run for re-election. Now, there are seven candidates on the ballot, but only three live in the riding. (Stephanie Meilleur, whose principle residence is in Warren, rented an apartment in the ward in the spring to establish her bona fides.)

Harry Wolbert (St. Vital), Peter Koroma (North Kildonan) and Sherri Rollins (River Heights) seem to have been attracted to the riding mostly because of the absence of an incumbent. Had all three run where they live, they would have faced off against incumbents Brian Mayes, Browaty and John Orlikow, respectively.

It is not illegal to run in a ward where you don't live, and there is an argument it can be an risky political strategy, particularly if longtime resident candidates decide to make it an issue of ethics.

Politics at any level can be messy, and it's not unusual to see emotionally charged debate, unfounded allegations, and ethically compromised tactics. It's just unfortunate it comes at a time when politicians really need to prove they are worthy of a vote.

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.

Read full biography

History

Updated on Friday, October 19, 2018 at 3:10 PM CDT: Clarifies time issue with Nordman's bus bench advertising.

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