Manitoba·Analysis

Mayoral race takes on slightly more fowl tone

Jenny Motkaluk's campaign is growing more aggressive in its messaging as Winnipeg's 2018 municipal campaign enters its most serious phase. At least one volunteer has quit as a result.

Motkaluk uses chicken to chide Bowman as campaign starts to ruffle feathers

The difference in tone between mayoral candidate Jenny Motkaluk's social-media messaging and in-person announcements is deliberate, her campaign manager says. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Over the weekend, mayoral candidate Jenny Motkaluk used an image of a chicken as part of her attempt to goad incumbent mayor Brian Bowman into a head-to-head debate.

"Why won't you debate me Mr. Mayor? Winnipeggers want to know," she stated in a Saturday afternoon Twitter post, repeating her criticism of Bowman's decision to only attend debates where all mayoral candidates were invited.

The chicken tweet came a day after Motkaluk began a policy pledge with a dig at the attendance at Bowman's campaign launch.

"In 2018, the incumbent mayor of the City of Winnipeg could not even fill a small room at the Winnipeg Convention Centre," she said at the start of a Friday noon-hour announcement about combined-sewer outflows.

Ballots will be set on Wednesday

Compared to the rhetoric in election campaigns south of the border, this sort of cheekiness may appear tame. During the 2016 U.S. presidential race, Donald Trump moved the goalposts of political discourse off the conventional playing field.

But there is no question the Motkaluk campaign is growing more aggressive in its messaging as Winnipeg's 2018 municipal campaign enters its most serious phase.

Tuesday is the deadline for candidates to register a mayoral run and submit nomination papers. The ballot will be set on Wednesday, the deadline for withdrawals.

Barring any surprises, Bowman and Motkaluk will enter the five-week campaign home stretch as the only mayoral candidates to enjoy the support of a significant percentage of Winnipeg voters. A CBC-commissioned Probe Research poll suggests Bowman was leading Motkaluk by a two-to-one margin at the end of August.

The Motkaluk campaign's tone is deliberate, especially on social media, said Keith Poulson, her campaign manager.

"If you're the [incumbent] mayor, you want to tone it down. But when you're a challenger, you try to create discussion," Poulson said Sunday in a telephone interview.

This may explain why Motkaluk's social-media presence may seem edgier than she is in person, where she typically exudes the persona of a professional businessperson, Friday's dig against the mayor notwithstanding.

"The campaign is the campaign. What you see in Jenny is what you would get when she's elected mayor," Poulson said. "Social media is used to create discourse and stimulate discussion."

Departing staff and volunteers

The change in tone led Motkaluk campaign's technology strategist, Rolly Perreaux, to resign from his volunteer position last week.

"I just cannot be involved with a campaign that is 'Going Trumpesque' in starting a mean, dirty and name calling campaign," Perreaux posted Sunday on Facebook.

"I am ashamed and embarrassed that I volunteered and supported you. Winnipeg deserves better."

Perreaux said via text on Sunday that he enjoyed working with Poulson, whom he described as a "true pro," but decided to resign after a Friday press release about combined-sewer outflows referred to Winnipeg as "Turdsville."

Motkaluk volunteer Rolly Perreaux's resignation post on Facebook. (Facebook/Rolly Perreaux)

Three other campaign staff and volunteers, all of whom guided Motkaluk during the initial months of her campaign, have left in recent weeks.

Fundraiser Alex Robinson, a former Winnipeg deputy chief administrative officer who has connections with the federal Liberal party, confirmed he is no longer soliciting donations on her behalf.

Brian Kelcey, a former Sam Katz policy advisor who turned against the former mayor after he left city hall, stopped providing policy advice at the end of August, when he took on a new position with the Toronto Board of Trade.

Dave Shorr, who served as Motkaluk's communications director, stated earlier this month he had left the campaign. He has been replaced by Dave MacKay, who worked on Katz's first re-election campaign in 2006.

Poulson dismissed the idea Shorr's departure played any role in a change in the Motkaluk campaign's tone.

Shorr left following an August Facebook post where Motkaluk mused she could buy every University of Manitoba student a car with the money spent on the Southwest Transitway.

"I did a little math," Motkaluk posted on Aug. 20.  "BRT was specially built for the University of Manitoba students. For the same price, we could have bought all 29,000 of them a 2017 Fiat 500. Think about that."

The Bowman campaign declined to comment Sunday. The incumbent criticized the tone of Motkaluk's campaign twice last week: Thursday, at his campaign launch, and then again on Friday after the challenger poked fun at his crowd size.

"I think it will remind a lot of Winnipeggers about what we saw at city hall in the previous term," Bowman said, trying to connect Motkaluk to the Katz era. "I don't think we should go back to that sort of negativity and that sort of toxicity in politics."

The first forum or debate featuring both Bowman and Motkaluk is slated for Tuesday evening at the University of Winnipeg, where mayoral candidates will be quizzed on environmental policy.

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