With the 2014 municipal election quickly fading from memory, it is worth noting there were some significant winners and losers on election night. Some were apparent, others not so much. Either way, this was an election for the history books to be sure.
Brian Bowman. Okay, this was an easy one. Bowman won the election. He’s Mayor Bowman now. However, saying he simply won doesn’t quite capture the fullness of his victory: Bowman thoroughly trounced his main competitor Judy Wasylycia-Leis. Despite polls throughout the campaign putting Wasylycia-Leis well ahead, come election day Bowman not only closed the gap, but raced past it with a shocking plurality. He inherits the mayor’s chair with a solid mandate that will surely delight his friends at the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce and in Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative Party. More to the point, who else can claim to have added a new word to the lexicon? Bowmentum indeed.
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Robert-Falcon Ouellette. By any measure, Ouellette’s campaign was impressive. Written off early in the election by the Winnipeg Free Press as a “fringe candidate,” Ouellette managed to secure a solid third-place finish on election night that none of the pundits would have predicted when he started his mayoral run this summer. Indeed, Ouellette netted nearly 16% of the popular vote. Moreover, he finished well ahead of established politicians and former councillors Gord Steeves and Paula Havixbeck both. He would have likely done even better had there been a preferential ballot.
Students in the Louis Riel School Division. Students? Yes, students. For having been spared the oversight of a trustee whose political and philosophical views are the anathema to the purposes of and values inherent in public education. Candace Maxymowich, 20-year-old candidate for trustee in LRSD’s Ward 4, generated a lot of buzz (mostly negative) for her antediluvian views on evolution and sex-ed. An outspoken advocate for the “pro-life” movement and fan of brawling former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, she proudly took to Twitter to document her volunteer experiences campaigning for the Texas Republican Party; a party that, as it relates to education, promised in its 2014 platform to prevent “critical thinking” from being taught in Texas’ public schools because it might challenge students’ “fixed beliefs” and undermine “parental authority.” Yes, students in the Louis Riel School Division definitely won on election night.
Incumbents. With a few notable exceptions, every incumbent councillor was re-elected. So too were the majority of incumbent school trustees. Indeed, the power of incumbency remains strong in Winnipeg. Undoubtedly, many of the incumbent candidates were helped by our antiquated first-past-the-post system, which rewards a simple plurality instead of an outright majority. Some, charitably, were no doubt helped by actually working hard. Still, had voters been able to rank order their preferred council and school board candidates, the outcomes might have been quite different. The mandates councillors and trustees received would have certainly been stronger. However, unless or until the provincial government amends the requisite legislation incumbents can continue to sleep—and win–easily.
Concrete companies and Wireless carriers. Whether or not the 111,504 people who voted for Brian Bowman know it, they elected the candidate with the most ambitious rapid transit plan. Yes, during the campaign Bowman pledged to not only complete the southwest rapid transit corridor, but construct every corridor outlined in the city’s transit master plan by 2030, a veritable spider’s web of dedicated bus lanes, and a fleet of buses equipped with WiFi, too. The costs will be staggering, and the amount of concrete required immeasurable. To be able to surf the net from a smartphone while being whisked to and from the downtown core to the farthest reaches of our city without breaking the law: priceless.
Judy Wasylycia-Leis. Like Bowman, this one’s also easy. Wasylycia-Leis, who ran a spirited and far more successful campaign against Sam Katz four years ago entered this mayoral race with tremendous name recognition, a sizeable campaign team and the NDP’s infrastructure. Early polls had her well ahead. Even the final poll before election day showed her neck-and-neck with Bowman. However, within the hour of polls closing on election night, every major news outlet had declared her a loser. Worse, her share of the vote from four years earlier was nearly halved. While there will always be losers in every election, it’s not often candidates lose so spectacularly. No doubt she and her team will be doing much soul-searching right now.
Greg Selinger. Speaking of soul-searching, our embattled and incredibly unpopular premier must surely be doing a lot of his own right now. Bowman’s victory in Winnipeg (and Wasylycia-Leis’ failure) will surely be used by those members of Selinger’s caucus and even cabinet as further proof the New Democrats have lost Fortress Winnipeg with him at the helm. True or not, Selinger has been under siege for months from within his own caucus and even cabinet to resign. Winnipeg’s election results won’t help his cause. The worm has turned, so to speak, and the cancerous notion Selinger is a loser has firmly planted itself within the minds of a growing number of his followers. While he may not have faced a Thatcher-esque putsch if he’d flown to China this week, the writing is on the proverbial wall. Selinger is done.
The Winnipeg Jets. More accurately the team’s version 1.0. Despite having his jersey hanging from the rafters of the MTS Centre, former Winnipeg Jet and incumbent councillor for Elmwood—East Kildonan Thomas Steen was decisively beaten by newcomer Jason Schreyer. Indeed, Schreyer managed to outscore Steen by over 20 percentage points in the popular vote. That Steen had been embroiled in a well-publicized domestic assault dispute surely didn’t help his re-election hopes. Neither, evidently, did a robocall from fellow former Jet, Bobby Hull.
Race-baiting Rob Ford-style politics. Early in the mayoral campaign, former councillor and sometimes lawyer Gord Steeves raised eyebrows with a number of questionable campaign promises that, in conjunction with his wife’s racist rantings on Facebook, painted a very ugly picture of Steeves’ own views about Winnipeg’s inner-city and many of its residents. Worse, despite serious and legitimate criticisms about his platform and his handling of his wife’s comments, Steeves doubled-down, careening his campaign rightward in what could only be construed as a shameless bit of small-minded populism similar to that employed by Toronto’s Ford brothers. Voters rejected Steeves and his basket of backward promises in droves.
Winnipeggers. More accurately, approximately 50% of those eligible to vote in this municipal election. On the heels of a term of council reeling from a series of problematic audits, questionable real estate transactions and appaling infrastructure snafus, and after a lengthy campaign that offered voters some very clear choices about how they wished their city to be governed and grown, approximately half of those Winnipeggers eligible to vote stayed home. Worse, before the results had even been declared official, cries were coming from certain corners about what Mayor Bowman’s priorities should be. As if he and his competitors hadn’t just spent months talking about just that! On a day when our nation’s capital and the very foundations of our democracy that underpin it were threatened by a vile, murderous monster, 234,167 Winnipeggers couldn’t be bothered to exercise one of their most fundamental human rights. Perhaps the campaign was lacklustre, perhaps the candidates less than inspiring, perhaps the 20 minutes it might take to cast a ballot too time-consiming. Only losers use that as an excuse to stay home.