Manitoba·Analysis

Winnipeg 2018: The mayoral race where no one campaigns

Incumbent mayoral candidate Brian Bowman suggested this week he has no plans to make policy pronouncements until the final weeks of the campaign. If his challengers follow suit, he may already have won the race.

Thanks to the Winnipeg Jets, no candidate vied for attention in May. And that serves Brian Bowman just fine

For incumbent mayoral candidate Brian Bowman, campaigning took a back seat to cheering on the Jets this spring. (Pat Kaniuga/CBC)

Thanks to the Winnipeg Jets and their remarkable playoff run, May 2018 will forever be recalled as one of the most exciting months in the history of professional sports in this city.

Nothing of the sort could be said for the first month of this year's mayoral race, which has been duller than Armenian opera, sleepier than a sloth on Ambien and more sluggish than a mass of ants marching through molasses.

To say Winnipeg has been consumed with the question of who will become mayor this fall would be a complete and utter lie. And this is partly by design.

Although the mayoral campaign period began on May 1, incumbent candidate Brian Bowman suggested this week he has no plans to make policy pronouncements until the final weeks of the campaign.

To date, Bowman has said absolutely nothing specific about his plans for the next four years, should Winnipeggers choose to grant him a second term on Oct. 24.

More to say in the fall: Bowman

"I'll have much more to say in the formal writ period in the fall and I'll keep you posted in the interim if I have more to say," Bowman told reporters Thursday, after CBC News inquired as to when he might lift the curtain on his re-election platform.

The incumbent mayor was then asked how Winnipeggers will survive at the lake this summer without learning about his platform.

"I'm sure they'll be able to find much more invigorating material to read at the cabin," said Bowman, who registered his re-election campaign on May 11.

In other words, Winnipeg's incumbent mayor is prepared to offer voters in this city no clear indication of his plans for property-tax hikes, infrastructure renewal, public safety, urban revitalization or really anything — at least until the kids are back from summer break and the leaves that only recently budded are falling from the trees.

To be fair, Bowman can be forgiven for saying bupkis about his re-election platform when the Jets were still in Stanley Cup contention. While much the city only cared about playoff hockey, vying for attention versus a Winnipeg Jets whiteout would have been sheer stupidity.

That's likely why Winnipeg's other mayoral candidates — Umar Hayat, Jenny Motkaluk, Doug Wilson and Don Woodstock — have also been exceptionally quiet during the month of May.

That said, the Jets were defeated nearly a week ago. Winnipeg's mayoral wannabes nonetheless remained silent.

A stark contrast with 2014

And while it's true mayoral campaigns don't really heat up until September, there is no recent precedent for the somnolence of the 2018 race so far.

You only have to look back to the first month of Winnipeg's last mayoral race, in 2014, to see the stark contrast.

In May 2014, future Winnipeg Centre MP and then-mayoral candidate Robert-Falcon Ouellette was arguing a city council led by outgoing mayor Sam Katz had no authority to approve the second phase of the Southwest Transitway.

In 2014, Robert-Falcon Ouellette was among the mayoral candidates who campaigned actively during the spring. He finished third and is now a Liberal MP. (CBC)

Bowman, former Charleswood councillor Paula Havixbeck and former St. Vital councillor Gord Steeves were all opining about pedestrian-vehicle accidents — albeit at the behest of the Winnipeg Free Press — and every mayoral candidate that season, including funeral director Mike Vogiatzakis (who failed to make it onto the ballot) and former NDP MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis offered their thoughts about taxation policy.

Steeves also made headlines of the less fortunate kind in May 2014 by failing to attract voters to an open house.

Was that a month to remember in municipal politics? No, but at least the candidates were actively engaging in some form of public campaigning.

Challengers quiet

This month, mainly because of the Jets, Winnipeg's would-be mayors have done next to nothing in terms of telling the public what they're all about.

Business development consultant Jenny Motkaluk got the jump on her fellow mayoral candidates but has yet to say much about her platform. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Motkaluk, a business-development consultant who got out ahead of the pack of challengers, invited media to her May 1 campaign registration but declined to answer questions from reporters.

All she revealed about her platform is her opposition to a pair of Bowman priorities: reopening Portage and Main to pedestrians, and building more legs of rapid transit.

Wilson, the former mayor of Morden, Man., held one media availability where he entertained questions but could not answer most. Woodstock and Hayat have not made any announcements.

While there's plenty of time left for mayoral candidates to unveil their platforms, time is running out — if it hasn't already — for challengers to make an impression on a voting public that is very familiar with the public persona known as Brian Bowman.

The incumbent mayor enjoys huge name recognition, is adept at garnering conventional media publicity and is more active on social media than the vast majority of humans.

Defeating Bowman would require both time and effort. There are really only three months left in the 2018 race, if you buy the notion the summer cabin and camping months of July and August are writeoffs.

Waiting until September to engage in policy debate appears to be a wise strategy for the incumbent mayor, if indeed his challengers are unwilling or unprepared to engage the public sooner.

About the Author

Bartley Kives

Reporter, CBC Manitoba

Reporter Bartley Kives joined CBC Manitoba in 2016. Prior to that, he spent three years at the Winnipeg Sun and 18 at the Winnipeg Free Press, writing about politics, music, food and outdoor recreation. He's the author of the Canadian bestseller A Daytripper's Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada's Undiscovered Province and co-author of both Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg and Stuck In The Middle 2: Defining Views of Manitoba. His work has also appeared in publications such as the Guardian and Explore magazine.