This election cries out for voter involvement
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“No clear front-runner.”
If ever there was a combination of words that should motivate members of the voting public to commit the rather modest time and effort required to cast their ballots in Winnipeg’s mayoral election, surely this would be it. With Brian Bowman stepping away after two terms in office and a field of than 11 candidates vying for his job, there’s every reason to believe this, more than any other municipal election in recent memory, is one in which every vote counts.
In early polling, former mayor Glen Murray emerged as a favourite to reclaim the job he held from 1998 to 2004. But later revelations about his short-lived tenure as head of an Alberta-based think-tank — including allegations of inappropriate behaviour and descriptions of an unfocused and disorganized leadership style — brought Mr. Murray’s approval rating back down to levels that make winning the mayorality seem a realistic possibility for several of his rivals.
A poll earlier this month showed Mr. Murray as the preferred choice of 28 per cent of decided voters (down from a seemingly unsurmountable 40 per cent in September), with Scott Gillingham garnering 19 per cent (up from 15 per cent last month) and candidates Kevin Klein and Shaun Loney also receiving double-digit support.
“I think the Winnipeg mayoral campaign right now is still a competitive race,” said political studies professor Christopher Adams.
He’s right. If Mr. Murray’s trend line has continued its downward trajectory and another candidate (or more) receives a sudden surge of voter support, the outcome of this election could be moved in a number of different directions. This should, no matter how you view it or which candidate’s views best align with yours, be a very interesting day in local civic politics.
And yet … past history of municipal elections suggests large swaths of Winnipeggers simply won’t bother to vote at all. Voter turnout in the 2018 civic vote was 42.33 per cent, down from 50.23 per cent in 2014.If Glen Murray’s trend line has continued its downward trajectory and another candidate (or more) receives a sudden surge of voter support, the outcome of this election could be moved in a number of different directions.
If there’s a glimmer of encouragement to be found in past voting patterns, it’s that more Winnipeggers tend to participate in years in which there is no incumbent mayor on the ballot. Turnout was 58.4 per cent when Susan Thompson ascended to the mayoralty in the wake of Bill Norrie’s retirement in 1992, and 58.8 per cent when Sam Katz won the byelection called after Mr. Murray decided to take his (unsuccessful) run at federal politics in 2004.
Still, having less than 60 per cent turnout — in other words, more than 40 per cent of eligible voters opting not to venture to the polling station — is hardly a ringing endorsement for civic engagement (on the other hand, Toronto’s municipal election this week, which produced a third term for Mayor John Tory, had a woeful 29 per cent turnout , so things could be worse).
If there’s a glimmer of encouragement to be found in past voting patterns, it’s that more Winnipeggers tend to participate in years in which there is no incumbent mayor on the ballot.
What’s puzzling about this chronic civic-vote apathy is that this is the level of politics at which some of our most basic needs are addressed: water and waste, recreation facilities, road construction and maintenance, snow clearing, garbage collection, protection of our urban tree canopy. Not to mention the ground-level education decision-making that is handled by the school trustees whose names appear on the same ballots.
Without a clear mayoral front-runner, this is an election whose outcome will have profound consequences for our city. The candidates have spent weeks articulating — with varying degrees of clarity and success — their visions for what Winnipeg can or will become. Which of those plans is given a chance to be put in motion is completely up to us.