Circle your calendars folks, Winnipeg’s next civic election will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2010.
Although municipal elections don’t normally get a lot of attention, this one is destined to receive plenty. A lot is at stake here in sleepy Winnipeg, and whether you care about sustainability, taxes or privatization, the upcoming showdown should have something for everyone.
To date, only two people are confirmed candidates for mayor – the incumbent, Sam Katz, and longtime city councillor Lillian Thomas. However, you can be certain that in the seven months, there will be more names added to that list. Already, those publicly considering a run include Winnipeg MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis and Transcona councillor Russ Wyatt.
Normally, I would be overjoyed to hear that Judy Wasylycia-Leis is even considering a run for mayor. Having met her on a few occasions, I know that she is unbelievably qualified to run this city. But as history shows, anyone taking on the incumbent faces an uphill battle. Only once in Winnipeg’s history has a sitting mayor been defeated, and in the last election Katz won by more than double the vote of his nearest rival.
If a new mayor is to be elected, raising the voter turnout (from just 38.2 per cent in 2006) will be essential. Mayor Katz currently has the benefit of voter apathy, as the people most likely to vote are the people most likely to vote for him. Therefore, any challenger with a hope of winning must engage the disenfranchised, especially youth and those with lower incomes.
Most importantly, Katz has the added benefit of a disorganized opposition. There is no clear alternative candidate and most of his competition comes from the left. Considering history and the current political landscape, there is almost no way that anyone can beat Katz if the left vote is split. So, for the sake of Winnipeggers, the candidates must sit down and just choose one person to run against Katz.
Under Katz’s direction, Winnipeg has privatized garbage collection, taken a step closer to selling off our water, delayed rapid transit by five years and demolished community centres in areas that need social programming the most. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the shortlist. To be fair though, he is bringing us an IKEA.
This election will also decide who represents us on city council and, based on the city’s organization, this may well be more important than the mayoral race. Anyone who observes city politics will tell you that it’s not necessarily the mayor who governs, but those on council. Katz has been able to implement a “privatize everything” agenda largely because he has the support of a majority of councillors.
But if he loses just one of his allies – I’m looking at you Jeff Browaty – then Katz will no longer have a majority of votes at City Hall, and the goal of privatization will hit a wall.
This city is in desperate need of vision. If there was ever a time to commit to one, the time is now… Or at least in October.
Paul Figsby is fed up with municipal politics, as usual.