Ranking: Winnipeg’s mayoral candidates

I have decided to post my impressions and rankings of each candidate. Warning: some of my impressions may be misguided. I have not been following every debate or reading every news release. However I know the names of all the candidates, and a few things about where they stand. I even live tweeted a debate a few weeks ago!

Three of the candidates have released policy documents. While the vast majority of voters will never read them, it is helpful to have the details of a candidate’s platform all in one place for those who are interested, but more than that: it shows a level of commitment that I like to see in a candidate. It is no coincidence that my top three picks have all released comprehensive platform documents like this.

On the specific issues, things I’m looking for include:
A) a commitment to improving transit that does NOT involve completing the ill-advised and misguided “dogleg” BRT route through the Parker wetlands. I support rapid transit, but if we’re going to do it we should do it right.
B) a realistic approach to taxation.
C) a rational plan for tackling the infrastructure deficit. (This ties into taxation.)
D) specific commitments regarding reforming EPC and the functionality of City Hall
E) encouraging growth in Downtown Winnipeg
F) opening Portage and Main to pedestrians

I will not give a candidate any credit for unoriginal or universally accepted ideas like asking the province for more PST, requiring tenders to be issued earlier, or using TIF to subsidize development.

I am also looking for less tangible character traits that I believe a mayor should have. Christopher Leo sums these up nicely in a recent blog post:

“To be effective, a mayor needs a persuasive tongue and a strong presence, to entice others into seeing things his or her way, and to overawe waverers. S/he must be a skilled dangler of carrots and brandisher of sticks, have the judgement to distinguish between the doable and the impossible, and the willingness, when necessary, to compromise.”

So, without further rambling, here are my rankings:

1 —   DAVID SANDERS

Sanders is a lesser known candidate, but he’s been around forever and probably knows more about city hall than any other candidate, except perhaps Havixbeck. He is highly educated, very rational and by far the most sensible of any of the candidates in this election.  His experience is unparalleled, and he even has a real-life connection to Winnie The Pooh!  He also, of course, has no chance of winning.

Sanders has (or seems to have) an in-depth understanding of city finances, and spends a good chunk of his policy book explaining our financial problems and his proposed solutions.

Of the candidates, David’s view of rapid transit improvement is closest to my own. He agrees that the “dogleg” route is wrong. He would cancel that, and pursue something more direct and effective. He has also spent considerable effort digging into what he calls the “boondoggle” of the Southwest Transitway, seeking out analyses that have so far been kept from the public.

There are a few minor things that I don’t agree with him on, including keeping Portage and Main closed to pedestrians, but the majority of his ideas seem reasonable.

Sander’s failing is that he’s soft-spoken and not as polished as some of the other contenders. He is more of an administrator than a natural born leader. Perhaps whoever is elected will give Sanders some consideration for a senior administrative role at city hall.

 

2 —    ROBERT FALCON OUELLETTE

There was a good story in the Saturday Free Press about Ouellette. He’s a man who has experienced poverty and overcome obstacles on his journey through life. He is an intelligent individual and passionate about his quest. He is also the best able, among the candidates, to understand and begin to address some of the social issues that plague our city.

I understand, given his background, why he may feel that anything is possible, but some of his promises are long shots at best. His idea to move rail line and rail yards outside of the city and use existing corridors for LRT is a nice concept but it won’t happen. Ouellette is underestimating the costs of moving and rebuilding all of that infrastructure, not to mention decontaminating all of the rail yard land, and compensating the rail companies for the inconvenience.

Likewise, his Land Value Tax is a pretty good idea in principle, but it is unlikely to come about. I am also skeptical about his plan to issue “Save Lake Winnipeg” bonds to fund water treatment plan upgrades.

A few things that I like about his platform:
1. I like his position on photo radar and engineering roads for safety, as opposed to revenue generation. He acknowledges that there is a problem here.
2. He plans to cancel the next (crooked) phase of BRT.
3. He is not shutting the door to property tax increases, but will use them only as a last resort. (Note: he will have to use them, but at least he will try not to.)

To summarize, I like Ouellette more because of who he is than what he’s promising. He seems genuine and would bring a fresh perspective to city hall.

Read his Purple Book HERE.

 

3 —     BRIAN BOWMAN

Brian is a bit of an enigma. He’s youthful in appearance and a proficient user of social media, yet he’s bombing with the younger demographics in the polls. He’s viewed as a right wing candidate, yet he’s not really right wing. He’s a strong advocate of transparency, yet he has not disclosed all of his campaign donors, or the amounts they gave.

Brian ranks well on the intangibles: he’s a good speaker (though I dare not say “orator”). He has good presence within a room and commands attention when he talks. He has relevant experience working with business and community groups, and I expect that he would be decent at building relationships between the city, business and other stakeholders. Maybe that’s what his BuildWINNIPEG Partnership is all about. I don’t know. I haven’t read it. At least I get the sense that, regardless of his platform, he is reasonably well suited to the job of mayor.

Unfortunately there are many parts of his platform that I don’t like, and raise questions about his judgement. For example:
1. He is proposing a tax scheme to replace traditional property taxes. I like the thinking outside of the box, but like Ouellette’s Land Value Tax, this scheme cannot happen without the Province’s cooperation, and therefore it will not happen. Perhaps that’s why he is downplaying it in his recently released platform document.
2. His plan also relies quite a bit on recovering a “fair share” of the province’s PST increase. This is the opposite of thinking outside the box. It’s not a new idea and I have no idea what makes him think the Province will grant his request. Furthermore, if the PCs get elected in a year the PST increase may not exist much longer.
3. He plans to complete the crooked “dogleg” stage 2 of BRT.
4. Some of his plans to increase efficiencies may require upfront costs that he doesn’t seem to take into account.
5. There are a lot of nebulous “seek out” type promises. What if you seek and do not find?

There are also things I do like. For example:
1. his plans for EPC reform and the over haul of City of Winnipeg pension plans.
2. specific plans to increase transparency, including publishing council votes, budgets, etc.
3. an open data pledge that I am somewhat inclined to believe, given that Bowman attended — and actually paid attention to — an open data seminar this summer.
4. support of opening Portage and Main to pedestrians

To summarize, I think Bowman has some personal qualities that would be useful in a mayor, and some proposals that are good on the surface, but I don’t like his BRT stance and I’m skeptical of his ability to implement much of what he is promising.

 

4 —    PAULA HAVIXBECK

Paula was an early frontrunner in my personal pecking order, with her promise to eliminate the EPC. Since then, though, I have found her campaign to be pretty uninspiring. Perhaps it’s just how she’s presenting things, but very little jumps out at me. For example her “Paula’s Plan” web segment is sparse, and links only to an unorganized list of new releases.

On the subject of rapid transit, she supports completing the planned route — which I’ve already said I don’t support — but “not at cost of proprty constructed roads”. Even on this topic she’s not direct. Also note, the spelling mistake (“proprty”) on this direct cut-and-paste from her web site.

Her involvement with the current dysfunctional council is a mixed blessing. She knows how things work, and was a vocal opponent of the mayor as many of the problems unfolded on Main Street, but she was also part of the dysfunction.

I think she has potential to be a decent mayor, but she seems to be mailing it in, and I’m finding it hard to support her.

 

5 —    MICHEL FILLION

How on earth does an exotic dance promoter with quirky YouTube videos make it to number 5 on my list? By showing up to debates and having some reasonable positions on issues. In fact, one could argue that his position on transit — to scrap BRT and improve bus service — is the most realistic of any of the candidates. Once you look past the weirdness, he actually seems like a fairly pragmatic individual.

 

6 — GORD STEEVES

I believe that if the field were smaller, for example if Brian Bowman were not running, Gord’s platform would look much different. My impression is that Gord felt the need to differentiate himself with policies that were less centrist, but in doing this he has limited his appeal.

I am not a fan of much of what Gord has put forward this election. I don’t buy his plan to sell and lease back capital assets including the police headquarters. I don’t believe that his commitment to freeze taxes is realistic, given our infrastructure deficit. Even his promise to sell golf courses doesn’t sit well with me.

This last point might surprise those who have seen me advocate selling golf courses in the past, but I don’t think it should be done indiscriminately, and I don’t agree with all the courses on his hit list.

As mayor, Gord is a person who could get things done at city hall, but more through force than through consensus-building. I have spoken with people who have been in committees and boards with Steeves, and have heard that he can be a bit of a bully. Whether this is true or not, I don’t know, but it seems plausible. In any case, I’m not sure he’s the man for the job, and he didn’t reply to my email questions last month so he gets no points for that either.

 

7 –JUDY WASYLYCIA-LEIS

The likely winner of the election this week is dead last on my list because I do not believe she would be a good mayor. Although she has had little to do over the past four years but prepare for this election, she has difficulty answering specific questions about planning documents and financial issues. Like Steeves, she is one of the more divisive figures in the race, but I’m not as convinced that she will be effective at getting things done because I question whether she will command the respect of council.

Judy wants to complete the “dogleg” BRT just to get it done. She seems vaguely aware that there is a lack of analysis to justify that route, but does not seem to care.

Her plan to increase property tax increases (at the rate of inflation + population growth of Winnipeg, if I’m not mistaken) may not be unreasonable, but also may not be necessary. I am quite certain that she will not be as aggressive at containing costs as other candidates, particularly when much of those costs are personnel-related.

That’s not all: I don’t like that Judy has been vague and talks more in meaningless turns of phrase like “making Winnipeg a city that works” than in actual substance. In the debate that I attended, Judy EMPHASIZED EVERY WORD THAT SHE SPOKE, both verbally and with hand gestures, even though the vast majority of it was frivolous nonsense. Not only is this annoying, but it’s a sign of a career politician who’s primary goal is simply to get elected.

I may be judging her harshly, but it’s not because she’s a member of the NDP. My number 1 candidate is a member of the NDP (I think) and my number 2 is left-leaning. I just don’t believe that she has the demeanor, the acumen, or the fortitude to be an effective mayor.

 

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