Winnipeg’s election campaigns are long enough, thank you very much

It doesn’t take very long to figure out an incumbent is a no-good scumbag who isn’t worthy of re-election

WINNIPEG, MB, Apr 6, 2014/ Troy Media/ – It appears that Winnipeg is a rather special place when it comes to the amount of time candidates can spend being elected to civic office.

This places what some people feel are severe restrictions on the number of billboards and lawn signs that will cover city streets and lawns, mailboxes that will be stuffed with brochures and other “campaign literature” and, most important, the amount of space a candidate can occupy on television, radio and newspapers to get the voters’ attention or, as they say, build name recognition and a public profile.

According to the Charter and by-laws of the City of Winnipeg, no candidate may raise or spend money, or receive donations in kind, until they are officially registered as a mayoralty candidate, which is not permitted until May 1st, or 174 days before Winnipegers cast their ballots this year. Candidates for City Council have even less time – 114 days.

Some people decry these rules because they say it doesn’t provide enough time to mount an effective campaign against incumbents who already have name recognition (not always a good thing, by the way) and access to staff and an organization which are already in place.

Winnipeg’s voting history certainly favours people getting re-elected. It has been almost 60 years since an incumbent Mayor was upset by an upstart when Steve Juba squeaked by Gordon Sharpe by a couple of thousand votes. Those results may have been skewed from the norm because Juba, who had run for everything but dog catcher in the decade prior to the 1957 civic election, had plenty of existing name recognition and managed to unify Winnipeg’s ethnically-diverse north end into a singular force against a slightly divided Anglo-Saxon south Winnipeg.

Mayor Juba was unbeatable for a record 20 years and was followed by the city’s second-longest-serving mayor, Bill Norrie who retired. Mayors Susan Thompson, Glen Murray and Sam Katz all won without having to face an incumbent, and the first two left office undefeated while Katz has breezed through two re-elections. We can’t speculate officially on whether or not Katz will run or be undone until May 1, but previous history overwhelmingly favours the Mayor in the chair. It’s the same thing for most city councillors.

But this is not because it takes more than six months for a new candidate to get his face and positions known. We only get what we deserve, because we get what we elect. A fresh face can overcome the supposed advantages incumbents have if voters are paying the least amount of attention.

New candidates shouldn’t have to sneak around raising money and putting together a campaign organization in secret for the year or so they claim is needed to effectively challenge an incumbent. These unofficial campaigns are often illegal and they certainly violate the spirit of Winnipeg’s campaign laws.

It should be apparent to voters if an incumbent is a no-good scumbag who isn’t worthy of re-election, and those incumbents who have failed to deliver on their promises can face rigorous analysis, too. A fresh face who offers a viable alternative should be able to make his or her credentials and track record and campaign platform well known with information that can be distributed over and over again in a period of four to six months.

All it takes is voters paying just a fair amount of attention.

We certainly don’t want the alternative; the extreme of which we see down south where elections never end, with primaries and mid-terms and political party-run “citizen PACs” running political ads pretty much any time they want.

Do we even want to be like our Canadian counterparts in Toronto, which allows a year-long run-up to their civic vote, or Alberta, where candidates can pretty much start running after the ink is dry on the ballots from the previous election?

Troy Media’s Eye on Manitoba columnist Don Marks is a Winnipeg-based writer.

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