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This article was published 22/10/2010 (3278 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
WHILE party politics may not exist officially at city hall, the ideology of Winnipeg’s mayor and 15 city councillors does, in fact, determine the direction of this city.
The 2010 civic election campaign can be seen as a massive chess game being played out between the Conservative and Liberal candidates who comprise council's existing centre-right majority and the NDP and Liberal candidates who wish to replace it with a centre-left majority.
Mayor Sam Katz and incumbent councillors Gord Steeves (St. Vital), Scott Fielding (St. James-Brooklands), Justin Swandel (St. Norbert), Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan) and Grant Nordman (St. Charles) make up the existing centre-right majority.
Seeking to join them are Paula Havixbeck and Jarret Hannah in Charleswood-Tuxedo, Michael Kowalson in River Heights-Fort Garry, Ian Rabb in Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry, Thomas Steen in Elmwood-East Kildonan, Lito Taruc in Daniel McIntyre and Jenny Motkaluk in Mynarski, among others.
Incumbent councillors Jenny Gerbasi (Fort Rouge), Dan Vandal (St. Boniface), Russ Wyatt (Transcona), Harvey Smith (Daniel McIntyre) and John Orlikow (River Heights) are members of the existing centre-left faction. Seeking to join or unseat them are Ross Eadie in Mynarski, Cindy Gilroy-Price and Keith Bellamy in Daniel McIntyre, Shaneen Robinson and Rod Giesbrecht in Elmwood, Deanne Crothers in St. James and Louise May in St. Norbert, among others.
What's at stake is nothing less than control of city council, as Katz has hinted many times since his State of the City address in January.
All councillors say they put their city and their wards before ideology. Some may even mean it. And some councillors — most notably Steeves, Wyatt and Mike Pagtakhan in Point Douglas — would be comfortable as part of a governing alliance on either a left-leaning or right-leaning city council.
But there are only four possible outcomes to the game. How to deal with these scenarios will be the first task for Katz or challenger Judy Wasylycia-Leis after the dust settles from the Oct. 27 election.
1. Right-wing mayor, right-wing council
Under Winnipeg's existing centre-right majority, Katz can usually count on nine other votes on the floor of council, which means he can pass any legislation he desires.
All the give-and-take between him and council takes place behind closed doors at "IEPC," or informal executive policy committee, where Katz and the six members of council's executive policy committee hash out ideas before they are discussed in public. Previous mayors have operated the same way.
As a result, council itself is little more than political theatre, where opposition councillors such as Gerbasi and Vandal state their case.
This is not an ideal situation, suggests University of Winnipeg political studies Prof. Chris Adams.
"We've only had a few people committed to serving as opposition councillors," Adams said. "In any legislative assembly, it's always healthy to have an opposition — not to get their way, but express their views."
The re-election of Katz and a right-of-centre council will perpetuate the existing dynamic at city hall. Very little will change in terms of the kinds of policies council approves.
"That would be a re-election mandate from the people," said Donald Benham, a former Murray staffer and two-year River Heights councillor. "That would be voters saying, 'Yes. Jolly good. Carry on.' "
2. Right-wing mayor, left-wing council
With the exception of his first few months, when he inherited an EPC appointed by former mayor Glen Murray, Mayor Sam Katz has not had to govern by consensus.
If Katz is re-elected but a council shifts to the left, Winnipeg should expect a more conciliatory Katz during his final term.
"If it's Mayor Sam and a council that swings to the left, where he can't count on nine allies, he will have to reach out," said former St. James Coun. Jae Eadie, who sat on EPC under three mayors during 26 years on city council. "It would create a different dynamic and Sam would have to do a little schmoozing."
In this instance, Katz may choose to place former opponents such as Vandal on EPC in an effort to keep dissent out of the public eye. He would otherwise face defeat on the floor of council.
The situation is akin to the dynamic in American federal politics, where U.S. presidents have been forced to work with ideological opponents in Congress.
"That's what makes civic politics so interesting. It's like the separation of powers in the U.S., where the White House needs Congress to get legislation passed," Adams said. "There will be more give-and-take, more bartering, much like we see in Congress."
Benham said he would see this scenario as a good opportunity for Katz.
"This would give the right-wing mayor a chance to build some bridges," Benham said. "In fairness to the current mayor, he has done a bit of that, when he placed Jenny Gerbasi on the rapid-transit task force."
3. Left-wing mayor, right-wing council
The election of Judy Wasylycia-Leis and the re-election of a right-wing council would create a similar dynamic: A mayor and council at ideological odds.
The difference in this instance is Wasylycia-Leis' inexperience at the municipal level of government. She will be forced to spend the beginning of her term learning the ropes, much the same way Katz and Susan Thompson did at the beginning of their terms as mayor.
"I think the first couple of years will be a really interesting time. I don't know how much would get done," said Eadie of this scenario.
"She would really have to reach out and find some people willing to work with her. She'd have to do it issue by issue, I think."
But if a right-wing council simply defeats anything Wasylycia-Leis wants to do, it would create a public backlash, Eadie predicts. Some councillors who opposed Susan Thompson during her first term, which began in 1992, wound up being defeated in 1995, Eadie noted.
"Susan found it really difficult to reach out and find the nine votes when it really mattered," Eadie said. "But the public elects the mayor. Their patience is limited."
4. Left-wing mayor, left-wing council.
If Wasylycia-Leis is elected mayor and council shifts to the left, the City of Winnipeg would enter political terra incognita: A centre-left majority in charge at city hall.
In this instance, Liberals such as Steeves and Swandel or even a Conservative such as Fielding may be asked to remain on EPC to provide balance with a Wasylycia-Leis-led government. Or the new mayor could choose to assemble her cabinet out of ideological allies on the left, much the way Katz has done on the right since late 2005.
"There needs to be checks and balances," said Benham, recalling that Murray worked closely with right-of-centre opponents such as the late Charleswood Coun. Bill Clement, and for a while, former River Heights Coun. Garth Steek.
"Every now and then, one of them would blast Murray in public. But that was OK," Benham said. "I'd look to Glen and he'd say 'It's all part of the plan.' "
This year, there are enough close races in the 15 city wards to make any of the four outcomes a possibility.
Let's start with the most wide-open races:
Until the last decade, getting a seat at city hall was like trying to join the Jedi Council. The power of incumbency created an exclusive club, dominated by seemingly all-powerful, age-old beings.
But council opened up dramatically in 2006, when four incumbents went down to defeat and a fifth new face arrived in a wide-open St. Charles ward race.
Even more change is expected this year, as four out of 15 wards are wide open and three out of 11 incumbents are fighting to retain their seats.
Here's what's happening in every Winnipeg ward:
The death of 30-year councillor Bill Clement in May paved the way for the most crowded race on city council.
The nine-candidate list in the city's most affluent ward is led by Tory-backed Tuxedo resident Paula Havixbeck and Tory-affiliated Charleswood resident Jarret Hannah, who bills himself as an independent.
The other five candidates are not chopped liver. Timothy Martin is a lawyer. Steve Szego, a retired Air Canada employee, has an endorsement from True North boss Mark Chipman. Dashi Zargani is an entrepreneur. Livio Ciaralli ran against Clement in 2006. Wendy Lenton has also registered.
Bottom line: Havixbeck and Hannah are the top contenders, but nothing is certain in a seven-candidate field.
With 30-year council veteran Harry Lazarenko out of commission due to a brain aneurysm, six candidates are vying to replace him.
The Lazarenko family has endorsed Jenny Motkaluk, a nominal conservative. The NDP has given its blessing to the legally blind Ross Eadie, who twice came close to defeating Mike O'Shaughnessy in Old Kildonan. Greg Littlejohn attracted almost 1,500 votes in the 2006 Mynarski race.
Also running are Trevor Mueller, John Petrinka and David Polsky.
Bottom line: Eadie, Littlejohn and Motkaluk appear to be front-runners.
The retirement of 21-year councillor Lillian Thomas has spawned a five-candidate race in the left-leaning ward.
Former CTV reporter Shaneen Robinson appeared to be the front-runner after she won an NDP nomination battle. But her slow start has allowed school trustee Rod Giesbrecht — who's been a member of all three mainstream political parties — to become the candidate to beat.
Giebrecht is running an organized campaign featuring NDP-orange signs, even though he was kicked out of the party for opposing Robinson. Former Winnipeg Jets legend Thomas Steen — who ran as a federal Conservative in Elmwood-Transcona in 2008 — has a chance of sneaking up on the right if voters get confused by all that orange.
Also running are Gordon Warren and Nelson Sanderson, who has championed more crime cameras and better park maintenance.
Bottom line: Looks like a three-way race between Giesbrecht, Sanderson and Steen.
The retirement of Mike O'Shaughnessy after 30 years on council has paved the way for another wide-open race. But there have been few fireworks so far.
Devi Sharma served as O'Shaughnessy's executive assistant and has his blessing, if not his formal endorsement. Casey Jones finished third in the ward in 2006. Also running is Robert Chennells.
Bottom line: Organizationally, Sharma appears to have the upper hand.
Next, we have two wards where there is an incumbent councillor facing a stiff challenge:
The most imperilled incumbent in Winnipeg is 18-year city council veteran Harvey Smith, who's been fighting to hold onto his inner-city seat since late last year.
After NDP organizer Keith Bellamy wrested the party's nomination away from Smith, the veteran councillor promised to retire but then changed his mind.
Meanwhile Cindy Gilroy-Price, a school trustee and Liberal party member who served as one of the first co-chairs of the Winnipeg Citizens Coalition, also entered the race, leaving the left split.
On the right side of the crowded ballot sits Lito Taruc, a Filipino community leader who lives in Tuxedo and has signs up on many of the same lawns that sport Mayor Sam Katz's re-election placards.
Also running is insurance broker John Cardoso, a bigwig in the Portuguese community.
Bottom line: Nobody knows, though one of the three lefties will likely prevail.
River Heights-Fort Garry
The hardest-fought race in Winnipeg has rookie councillor John Orlikow, a Liberal-affiliated former school trustee, struggling to hold on to the River Heights seat he won in a byelection last year.
The left-of-centre rookie is fighting for his political life against self-described Red Tory Michael Kowalson, a Subway franchisee who strongly supports Mayor Sam Katz.
Against a backdrop of anger over active-transportation upgrades, Orlikow accused Kowalson's camp of mobilizing a phony "concerned citizens group." But Orlikow also invited criticism by taking credit for late predecessor Brenda Leipsic's efforts to build an overpass where the CN Rail line crosses Waverley Street. After Leipsic's family complained, Orlikow apologized.
In 2009, Orlikow dispatched broadcaster Geoff Currier with a superior get-out-the-vote effort north of Taylor Avenue. Kowalson, who has added "Linden Woods" to his River Heights-Fort Garry campaign signs, must get out the vote in the ward's conservative southwestern quadrant to stand a chance of winning.
Bottom line: Picking a winner is more daunting than entering a traffic circle.
Then we have five wards where it would take an upset to unseat the incumbent:
As a staunch ally of Mayor Sam Katz who represents a conservative, suburban ward, Justin Swandel appeared to be a lock to win his third term on council as recently as July. But the ongoing University of Manitoba football stadium saga has created a pool of anti-incumbent sentiment in University Heights and Fort Richmond.
Just like in River Heights, the stadium backlash has provided fodder for a well-organized challenger: Louise May, the daughter of philanthropist/entrepreneur Bill Loewen and the director of the St. Norbert Arts Centre.
The presence of NDP organizer Geof Langen in the ward suggests the left believes it can pick up the ward. If Swandel goes, there's a very good chance council's centre-right majority will be eliminated.
Single-term incumbent Grant Nordman is in a rematch of sorts with Shawn Dobson, who finished third in the ward in 2006 with a very respectable 2,500 votes. Lloyd Finlay is also in this race, preventing the possibility of a zero-sum game. But the absence of Kelly de Groot — who captured 2,700 votes here in 2006 — gives Dobson an opportunity, based on numbers alone.
Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry
As one of Sam Katz's most vocal critics in a relatively bohemian ward, Jenny Gerbasi used to be considered the safest incumbent on city council.
This year, anger over the Assiniboine Bikeway has affected the 12-year councillor's reputation in the Broadway-Assiniboine neighbourhood. She also faces challenges from both the left in the form of dissident NDP member Shane Nestruck and on the right from Ian Rabb, a property manager and ally of Mayor Katz.
Rabb has signs up all over most of the properties managed by his firm, Winpark Dorchester. As a former cocaine user and prostitute who started running addiction-treatment centres, Rabb also has an intriguing back story. But primarily, he gives conservative voters in an otherwise-safe NDP ward a reason to come out and vote for Katz.
Popular conservative incumbent Scott Fielding, the only rookie councillor on executive policy committee, faces an left-of-centre opponent in Deanne Crothers, an NDPer who's working with limited heavy party machinery. Also running is Fred Morris, who finished fourth in the ward in 2006, and is attempting to marshall the support of voters opposed to active-transportation upgrades.
Another single-term incumbent, Jeff Browaty faces little in the way of controversy outside of the vicinity of Whellams Lane, where residents oppose the expansion of an apartment complex.
Browaty is up against school trustee Brian Olynik, who's made allegations of dirty tricks against Browaty, and Wendy Pasaluko-Plas, who opposes the Chief Peguis Trail extension.
And finally, there are four wards that are virtually locks:
Back in June, it looked like eight-year councillor Mike Pagtakhan would be in trouble if Tim Bednarski took a third crack at him. But the NDP-affiliated challenger didn't register. Look for Pagtakhan to fight off third-place 2006 finisher Dean Koshelanyk and two-time council contender Herman Holla.
Thirteen-year council veteran Dan Vandal should have little difficulty dispatching Chris Watt, who lives in Daniel McIntyre.
Ten-year council veteran Gord Steeves could have been a mayoral contender if he threw his hat into the ring. He should be able to withstand a left-of-centre challenge from Harry Wolbert.
Eight-year council veteran Russ Wyatt, the "Mayor of Transcona," should stave off a challenge from Vlad Kowalyk.
— With ward-assessment files from Mary Agnes Welch.