Manitoba·Analysis

'Wow' is the word for Brian's win

Somewhere toward the middle of our broadcast on election nigh​​t a single word came out. And it's not a stretch to believe it was said in family rooms, basements and coffee shops across the city.

CBC Manitoba's Sean Kavanagh's retrospective on Winnipeg's 2014 mayoral election

Winnipeg's mayor-elect, Brian Bowman, celebrates his victory in the civic election on Oct. 22, 2014. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

Somewhere toward the middle of our broadcast on election nigh​​t a single word came out. And it's not a stretch to believe it was said in family rooms, basements and coffee shops across the city.

"Wow."

It was the moment when Brian Bowman pulled away from Judy Wasylycia-Leis, taking something like an ​eight​ per​ ​cent lead. A commanding lead. The type of lead from which there is little hope of recovery for the candidate being left behind.
The seven mayoral candidates with Information Radio's Marcy Markusa following the CBC's live election debate on Oct. 15. (CBC)

At the end of the night the word was still resonating and with even more emphasis. "Wow."

The late-in-the-game Insightrix poll for CJOB and Global News identified the trend toward Bowman, but it didn't get the scale of what was about to happen. Prime Minister ​John ​Diefenbaker once said "polls are for dogs," but no matter how that last survey wagged its tail, it was barking at Wasylycia-Leis. Something was going on out and it was going to be dramatic.

There were two moments in what was a very​,​ very long campaign that might speak to what happened ​with​ Judy Wasylycia-Leis.

The first was an exchange in early September between the candidate and reporters at the courtyard of City Hall. The topic, set by the candidate, was phase two, rapid transit expansion. The questions quickly went from general to specific, affable to hard-edged.
Supporters chat with Judy Wasylycia-Leis at her campaign headquarters Thursday after her defeat at the polls in her second attempt to become mayor of Winnipeg. (CBC)

It was clear Wasylycia-Leis wasn't sure how her administration would pay its share of the $590 million project. In fact, her command of the numbers was so weak she quickly dissolved into a stutter of “ums” and “ahs.” It exposed a whiff of a weakness in the former NDP MP and MLA's campaign​,​ and voters may have been getting the scent.

The second happened late in the race. The penultimate debate/forum was held on Brian Bowman's home court at a Chamber of Commerce lunch. But it was Gord Steeves that fired an ace at Wasylycia-Leis.

Steeves, who​se​ own campaign was by this time on life support, asked his opponent ​if ​she ​would ​stand “shoulder to shoulder” with him decrying the provincial government's move ​to raise the​ PST.

It was one of those gotcha moments, but it was the audience that pulled the trigger.

Wasylycia-Leis' non-answer provoked an angry backlash from a crowd normally prone to politely looking at the silverware when confronted with an uncomfortable moment.

The stutter of “ums” and “ahs” came back and Wasylycia-Leis looked like she knew she​ had ​blown it.

These two instances did not​ in themselves​​ create the two-to-one shellacking Bowman gave Wasylycia-Leis at the polls. But they were moments that shouldn't have happened to a career politician who had run and lost the race to be mayor in 2010​, and who had ​then prepared for the following four years for the next bout. There was talk out there that Judy wasn't “the one.”
Winnipeg mayor-elect Brian Bowman, left, shakes hands with Robert-Falcon Ouellette, who came in third place. Ouellette stopped by Bowman's campaign celebration to congratulate him on his election victory on Oct. 22, 2014. (Alana Cole/CBC)

Social media seethed with a debate over the week leading up to election day.

Some right-of-centre voters struggled briefly with a Gord versus Brian decision, but Steeves​'​ support had drained away faster than a Blue Bomber lead.

The real angst was among the left.

Robert​-​Falcon Ouellette was causing some of the pain. The upstart rookie politician​,​ who promised ideas for the city only the province could grant​,​ also spoke to a troubled soul in Winnipeg.

There is ​a ​constituency in the city that dreams of a healer to come and sew north and south, red and white together. Witty, confident, accomplished; Ouellette appeared to many to be that person.

He bled thousands of votes from the Wasylycia-Leis side, winning the “heart versus strategic vote” countless times.

In the end​,​ Brian Bowman also had something to do with the electoral licking he laid on Wasylycia-Leis.

Early on in the ​race​,​ he demonstrated a “paperless” campaign on his smartphone. His legion of hipster political neophytes ignored polls and editorial barbs and worked deep into the night, planning event after event to which they dragged the seemingly tireless Bowman.

He told me last year he was running and he told me last year he really believed he could win… and he did.

I will hold his promises to the test and watch his performance like a hawk, but I won't doubt his fortitude ever again.

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