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Looking back at loss: what defeat meant for also-ran mayoral candidates

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/8/2015 (1396 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

For all but one of the seven candidates who ran for mayor last year, Oct. 22 marked a day of defeat.

While Brian Bowman toasted his landslide victory that night, an almost decade-long quest went up in flames for one candidate.

For another, it meant the complete retreat from public life.

And for the Charleswood-Tuxedo councillor who gave up her seat to run for the mayor’s chair, it meant waking up the next morning without a job.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/8/2015 (1396 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

For all but one of the seven candidates who ran for mayor last year, Oct. 22 marked a day of defeat.

While Brian Bowman toasted his landslide victory that night, an almost decade-long quest went up in flames for one candidate.

For another, it meant the complete retreat from public life.

And for the Charleswood-Tuxedo councillor who gave up her seat to run for the mayor’s chair, it meant waking up the next morning without a job.

The Free Press recently caught up with the six losing candidates to find out where they are now, their thoughts on the campaign and how they feel about Mayor Bowman’s performance.

***

Judy Wasylycia-Leis photographed at her home. (Melissa Tait / Winnipeg Free Pres)


All seven candidates had entered the race by last August. The campaign was in full swing, and former NDP MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis held a commanding lead in the polls.

Sitting at her North End home, Wasylycia-Leis reflected on how the past year has been one of recovery and painful goodbyes. Looking back at the race — one many would argue was hers to lose — she has no regrets but admits she still hasn’t gotten over her defeat.

"I’ve been on a recovery journey," she said. "When people ask me what I am doing, I say, ‘I am a recovering politician.’ "

Wasylycia-Leis describes herself as her own worst critic, questioning where she went wrong during the final weeks of the campaign.

"I am getting pretty close to accepting it and moving on, but I am still not quite there," she said. "I’ll still wake up thinking about a certain debate and what I could have done differently if we had tried this tactic or that."

For the first time in three decades, Wasylycia-Leis isn’t a sitting politician or planning to run for office. Between her failed attempt to oust Sam Katz in 2010 and last year’s election, she spent nearly a decade working toward becoming Winnipeg’s mayor.

She travelled to North Africa following the defeat, where she helped observe the Tunisian presidential election with the National Democratic Institute, a non-profit organization. She returned to Tunisia two more times this year. In-between, she lost two of the most important people in her life — her parents. Her 92-year-old mother passed away in January, followed by her 96-year-old father in April. However, she was able to spend a final Christmas in southwestern Ontario with both of them.

"I would have missed a lot," she said, when asked how she would have dealt with their deaths if she was mayor. "It would not have been possible to spend that kind of time with them, and I would have missed that connection."

What’s next for Wasylycia-Leis? She isn’t sure, but don’t expect to see her name on the ballot in 2018.

"I’ve closed that chapter of my life," she said.

***

Winnipeg Centre Liberal candidate Robert-Falcon Ouellette photographed at the Broadway Liberal office (Melissa Tait / Winnipeg Free Pres)


For Wasylycia-Leis, the mayoral election was the final curtain in a long political career. For Robert-Falcon Ouellette, who rose from obscurity to finish third, it launched his bid for federal office.

Ouellette came out of the race with political capital to spend, speaking out on issues concerning racism and poverty in the city. Soon afterward, he was being courted by the Liberals and NDP to run for their party federally.

In the end, he chose the Liberals and to take on New Democrat MP Pat Martin in Winnipeg Centre, a riding from where his strongest support came in the mayoral election.

Speaking from the Liberal headquarters in West Broadway, the Cree university administrator said he entered the municipal race because of a desire to change how the city was run, and to expose the city’s great divide based on race and socioeconomic status.

"I think, to the larger extent, I am very happy with the outcome of the election, because a lot of the politicians when we started the debates, such as with Brian Bowman, it was much more business-based," he said. "By the end of it, I think, not only himself, but many other politicians, such as Gord Steeves, had a great awareness of the challenges that were facing the city."

Besides door-knocking and glad-handing with federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, Ouellette taught a Canadian history course at the University of Winnipeg this summer and hopes to start an indigenous post-secondary institution by partnering with a Winnipeg school.

Ouellette said if he again finds himself in the loser’s circle come Oct. 19, his next step will be simple — he’ll have to get a job so he can support his five children.

"Academic jobs are quite hard to get. They are few and far between, so my main focus will be to try and ensure I pay the bills before I get to my next project," he said.

***

Profile of Gord Steeves at city hall )Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press files)


There are few who would have predicted former city councillor Gord Steeves would finish a distant fourth, garnering only nine per cent of the vote after a roller-coaster campaign.

He declined to be interviewed for this story, saying he had "left politics," when reached by phone.

At the race’s onset in May, Steeves was an early favourite, and most pundits were predicting a two-way race between Wasylycia-Leis and Steeves.

However, his campaign struggled from the beginning, from his poorly attended launch party to a series of controversial announcements, including a pledge to have intoxicated people forcibly removed from downtown.

Yet, nothing hurt his campaign more than a leaked Facebook post from 2010 by his wife Lorrie Steeves, complaining about "drunken natives" downtown.

On election night, in the warehouse connected to his campaign office in south Winnipeg, Steeves officially announced his retirement from politics.

As a lawyer at D’Arcy & Deacon LLP, Steeves’ last high-profile appearance was when he represented Speedway International and its owners, who were fined $4,800 and had to pay $25,000 in restitution to the City of Winnipeg for the 2012 explosion at its site in St. Boniface.

He changed offices this month, and is now a lawyer at Antymniuk Van Der Krabben Schaan LLP. 

***

Former councillor/mayoral candidate Paula Havixbeck reflects about the mayoral race in her home in Winnipeg. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)


For another former city councillor, life after the mayoral race has been a ‘blessing.’

Former Charleswood-Tuxedo councillor Paula Havixbeck left her job as a consultant to run for council in 2011. After giving up her seat to run for mayor last year, she says she was able to pick herself up and return to private life.

A tenacious woman, Havixbeck spent the better part of her final year on council challenging Katz and the administration on issues such as the over-budget new police headquarters and controversial fire hall swap.

"I look back at my time on council and think I was a voice that was needed, and it was needed for our city," she said.

Havixbeck remains steadfast her decision to give up her seat and run for mayor was the right call, despite coming second-last.

"I said I was going to do something, and I did it. Polls and media, went in a different direction and there was no recovery from it," she said.

Speaking from her Charleswood home, Havixbeck said she doubts she’ll venture back into public life.

"Never say never, but I have no imminent plans to run for anything," she said. "I can’t see running again. It took a toll. It took a toll on my kids and my mom."

Instead, she is enjoying having more free time. She will teach an introduction to business class at the U of W this fall.

Looking back, Havixbeck said she wished she had ramped up her campaign announcements in May and June instead of waiting for July, noting she felt it impacted the polls and media coverage of her campaign.

***

Mayoral candidate David Sanders looks back on the election and forward in his life in Winnipeg on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015.   Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press


David Sanders may have lost the mayoral race, but he remains a frequent figure at city hall.

"If things were going well, (I wouldn’t)," he said. "I have many more crusades to go on. I don’t need to be there at all."

The property tax consultant and chairman of the province’s taxicab board, who is sometimes referred to as a gadfly at city hall, was a surprise late entry into the race in early August after making regular appearances at council meetings as a private citizen questioning the Katz administration.

With Bowman at the helm, Sanders continues to question how the city is governed, most notably finding fault in the city’s southwest rapid transitway. He refers to it as the "billion-dollar boondoggle."

Most recently, he was one of the witnesses in the public inquiry into the expropriation of land needed for the completion of the transitway. He openly criticized the city’s decision to chose the dogleg route for the project.

If Sanders had been elected mayor, he said all his meetings would have been conducted in public. At a coffee shop near his office in the Richardson Building, he holds up a heavily redacted cost-benefit analysis for the $590-million project.

"I’m disappointed. I am very disappointed," he said. "They have censored every number, and that is what openness and transparency means this spring, under this mayor."

***

 Former mayoral candidate Michel Fillion, Friday, August 21, 2015. (TREVOR HAGAN/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)


He’s the only losing candidate who says he is eyeing running in 2018.

Michel Fillion, arguably the most entertaining candidate in the race, had some of the most creative methods of getting Winnipeggers attention, whether it was a lemonade stand on Portage Avenue or lip-synching YouTube videos. His ideas included "broom Sunday," where residents clean their own facades or face a property tax fine, and his campaign featured a night where exotic dancers wore "Vote Fillion" during a rally held at Teasers in St. Boniface.

"It brings a human part to the campaign; you are not a robot," he said. "When you are always in a suit and tie, people, after awhile go, ‘Boring,’ and they don’t listen. Therefore, if you do something comical, people listen."

Speaking from the ‘White House’ former bank building on Portage Avenue, which doubles as his office and home, Fillion said it wasn’t the people that were the problem, it was the media.

"Media focused more on my profession than my thoughts towards the city, which I hope the second time around will change," he said.

Fillion remains in the entertainment booking industry. He has also been spending his time renovating the Oxford Hotel/Solid Gold, a hotel and adult entertainment club in the Exchange District in which he is a partner.

As for 2018, don’t be surprised if you see Fillion’s name on the ballot again.

"You haven’t heard the last of me yet," he said.

kristin.annable@freepress.mb.ca

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