Splitting the vote

Left-liberals ran themselves out of city council

  • Aranda Adams

In spite of Calgary’s turn to the left with the election of Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Toronto’s move to the far right with the election of Mayor Rob Ford, Winnipeg maintained the status quo on Wednesday, Oct. 27.

Change was simply not in the air in spite of an increase in voter turnout from the municipal election of 2006. No doubt Judy Wasylycia-Leis’s energetic, grassroots campaign increased the voter turnout to 48 per cent, but the last time an incumbent mayor was defeated was in 1956.

Change in Winnipeg is hard to come by.

Sam Katz’s focus on crime – an issue on every citizen’s mind these days – probably played a role in Wasylycia-Leis’s defeat.

Another reason why she didn’t win is that she started working on her campaign too late. In order to overcome an incumbent, preparation for a campaign is needed at least one year in advance of the election. Wasylycia-Leis declared her candidacy in May and didn’t really start her campaign until after Labour Day.

The ideological outlook of city council in 2010 remains the same as before – one loss for the left by the liberal coalition in Elmwood-East Kildonan (won by Thomas Steen) and one gain for that coalition in the Mynarski Ward (won by Ross Eadie).

There is one major reason why this happened. Left-liberals are simply unable to learn the lesson that you can’t run two left-wing candidates against one right-of-centre candidate and expect to win. 

For example, take Elmwood-East Kildonan, which has traditionally been the strongest municipal NDP seat. In fact, there was an old joke that you could have a dog run for the NDP in Elmwood and it would win.

This time around, there were two left-leaning candidates running against each other (the NDP-endorsed Shaneen Robinson), and they split the vote.

Left-liberals are simply unable to learn the lesson that you can’t run two left-wing candidates against one right-of-centre candidate and expect to win

This allowed Thomas Steen – a federal Conservative candidate in 2008 – to take the ward seat. The situation was similar in Daniel McIntyre, except that Harvey Smith – who lost the NDP endorsement to Keith Bellamy – managed to win after the other left candidates split their votes. 

Interestingly, the same scenario occurred in 1992 when the WIN (Winnipeg into the Nineties) slate was in the position of winning the majority of council seats.

However, because of two left-of-centre candidates running against each other in many wards, the right-wing wound up dominating city council. 

The most disturbing aspect of this past civic election was the Winnipeg Citizens’ Coalition (WCC) and NDP’s inability to come together in some form of an alliance that would have ensured only one left-wing candidate ran in each of the wards against right-of-centre candidates. 

Instead, the WCC, determined not to endorse any left-liberal candidates, decided to educate the public by issuing a “Candidate Report Card.” These report cards assessed the performance of all the incumbent councillors – as well as Katz – over the past term. 

On the other hand, the NDP has had significant difficulty functioning as a civic party. Democracy has been significantly eroded to the point where NDP officials can decide who receives the endorsement of the party, which led once again to two left-wing candidates running against each other in many constituencies. 

The one positive outlook for the left-liberals is that their candidates would have nearly formed the majority on city council, if not the mayoralty, had it not been for vote splitting. Because of their inability to ensure that only one left-liberal candidate ran in each ward, the city will continue to run like a business. 

Significant social issues, such as poverty, violence, transparency and accountability, will again remain inadequately addressed over the next four years.

Nick Ternette is a community and political activist, freelance writer and broadcaster who lives with his wife in McFeetors Hall at the University of Winnipeg.

Published in Volume 65, Number 10 of The Uniter (November 4, 2010)

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