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This article was published 4/10/2018 (404 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
How and why has incumbent Mayor Brian Bowman accumulated such a large lead over challenger Jenny Motkaluk?
A Free Press-Probe Research poll of Winnipeggers shows Bowman out in front with the support of 61 per cent of decided or leaning voters. Motkaluk trails with 28 per cent, while the other six hopefuls together could only muster the support of 12 per cent of respondents.
At first blush, the lead seems larger than the tenor of the 2018 municipal election campaign, to date, would suggest.
Motkaluk has mounted a professional effort. She is well-organized and, obviously, has some financial resources at her disposal. She has been active, responsive and engaged on most major issues. In debate or at the podium during news conferences, she has been articulate and thoughtful.
Taken together, these qualities quickly established her as the clear front-runner among those challenging Bowman’s bid for a second term.
However, a deeper examination of her campaign, and comparison with the tactics employed by the incumbent mayor, reveal some fundamental flaws in strategy that have limited her support from voters.
Consider last Saturday night. Downtown Winnipeg was packed with thousands of residents at Nuit Blanche events, the annual celebration of all forms of local art and culture. Last year, organizers estimated some 20,000 people visited the more than 100 live events, exhibits and installations.
With so many people moving in and out of so many free and easily accessible venues, it was a must-do for a mayoral candidate. So where were our two front-runners?
According to social media channels, Bowman attended multiple Nuit Blanche attractions, engaging with the public and applauding the work of the organizers and artists. His Twitter feed was full of photos from the evening’s events, clear evidence he used the event to full political advantage.
Motkaluk also tweeted Saturday night. However, while Bowman was pounding the pavement, Motkaluk was at home playing the Winnipeg edition of Monopoly with her family.
Playing "Winnipeg Monopoly" tonight with my family. Bought Portage & Main so I can prevent the re-opening! Lol. Hotels & free parking all good! Darn potholes. Gonna' pay for fixing them without raising taxes! It can be done! #wpg18 #WpgPoli pic.twitter.com/vZ1OBmjqw9— Jenny Motkaluk (@JennyMotkaluk) September 30, 2018
Family time is important for everyone, even politicians. But when so many potential voters gather in one place at one time, it’s essential mayoral candidates put an oversized campaign button on their lapel, contact anyone they know who is involved, and wade into the crowds.
These are opportunities to not only be seen, but also to be seen supporting something that has become an enormous source of pride for a good number of Winnipeggers. Motkaluk has no doubt been out meeting smaller groups of voters in more discreet events, but she seems to be absent from some of the more high-profile events.
With this one example, we can see why experience often trumps aggressiveness in political combat.
Since she launched her campaign, Motkaluk has been nothing if not aggressive. She has directly challenged Bowman on many of his signature policies and pulled few punches in her effort to portray the incumbent mayor as intellectually and ethically lacking in almost all respects.
At various times, she has accused the mayor of fibbing about the size of the street-repair budget, illegally using money donated to the Team Open referendum campaign to support his re-election bid, driving businesses out of the city, and spending too much time getting his picture taken at public events to take care of pressing business at city hall.
Negative campaigning can be effective if two conditions are in effect: first, the allegations are truthful and defensible; second, if voters have developed an appetite for change.
On the first precursor, Motkaluk has often allowed campaign hyperbole to triumph over fact. The roads budget is the roads budget, and Bowman never skimmed money from the Team Open campaign. On some allegations — such as the criticism he spends too much time at community events — Motkaluk has miscalculated the value of that kind of politicking, and has hurt her campaign by deriding the events he attends.
Every public appearance for a politician is a chance to connect with citizens. The more appearances, the greater the connections. The people who invite the mayor to these events put a high value on seeing the mayor in the flesh, supporting their cause.
On the second, an appetite for change, Motkaluk appears to be the victim of some bad luck.
Bowman didn’t have a flawless first term. At times, he was objectively messy, disorganized and muddled. But he also got some stuff done. Along with his tireless commitment to community outreach, it appears voters aren’t pining for change.
It also didn’t help Motkaluk that progressive forces that endorsed mayoral candidates in the last two elections did not show up this year. A traditional conservative, Motkaluk would have benefitted greatly from the presence of a third, viable, big-tent candidate.
It’s important to note there are three weeks left in the campaign and nearly one-third of the Winnipeggers surveyed by Probe Research claim to be undecided. That may not be enough to catch Bowman, but it suggests there is room for Motkaluk to grow.
Rumour has it Motkaluk will go on an all-out policy offensive after Thanksgiving. She has yet to present policies on property taxes and development fees — two issues where Bowman could potentially be vulnerable.
There is time for her to change the trajectory of this campaign. Time for her to release powerful ideas, level more effective criticisms and, perhaps most importantly, get out and meet more voters before they go to vote.
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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