The fix is in – Manitoba election date now set

- January 5th, 2015

It’s official. Under the province’s fixed election-date law, Manitobans are scheduled to go to the polls April 19, 2016. It doesn’t come as any surprise. But as of Jan. 1, 2015, the election originally slated for this fall has been pushed back to April of next year.
Under Manitoba’s fixed election-date legislation, the province is supposed to hold a general election every four years on the first Tuesday of October, following the October, 2011 election. That would have put the next election at Oct. 6, 2015.
But there’s a caveat. Under Sec. 49.1(3) of Manitoba’s Elections Act, if the election period conflicts with a federal election, the Manitoba vote gets pushed back to the third Tuesday of April in the following calendar year. Right now, a federal election is scheduled for Oct. 19 of this year, under Ottawa’s fixed election-date legislation. That could change if Prime Minister Stephen Harper calls an early election. However, under Manitoba law, if the federal vote is scheduled for October and Ottawa has not signalled a change to that date by Jan. 1 of this year, then the provincial vote is automatically pushed back to next year.
Oswald, Altemeyer, Selby
Judgment day for NDP MLAs will come April 19, 2016

The April, 2016 election date comes as no surprise since no one expected Harper to change the federal election date before Jan. 1. He might still call an early election this year, which he can legally do. Nothing in federal or provincial law precludes prime ministers or premiers from calling elections whenever they want. It’s an unavoidable flaw in all fixed election-date statutes. Under our parliamentary system, the governor general – or in the case of the provinces, the lieutenant governor – must have the ability to dissolve the legislature and call an election in case a government is defeated. But since the GG and the LG normally act on the advice of the prime minister or premier, it means first ministers are free to call elections whenever they please. Under fixed election-date laws, nothing prevents a GG or an LG from dissolving the house and calling an election, no matter what the circumstances.
Which means Harper could call an election this spring, for example, if he feels dropping the writ immediately following a good-news budget would help get his government re-elected. Even if that happened, opening up October 2015 for a Manitoba election, it would be too late for a fall vote locally. The Manitoba vote would still be held in April, 2016 because we passed the Jan. 1, 2015 deadline.
In the convoluted world of fixed election-date legislation, there is greater certainty around when elections are scheduled to be held. But the very nature of Canada’s constitutional democracy still allows opportunistic premiers and prime ministers to skirt those dates. Barring sweeping changes to Canada’s constitution, there’s not much any government can do to change that.
In the meantime, April 19, 2016 is now officially the next fixed election date in Manitoba.

Voter turnout a bust

- October 27th, 2014

It had all the makings of a record municipal election turnout. But for an open race with no incumbent mayor seeking re-election, turnout for last week’s civic election in Winnipeg was the worst since 1979.
Only 50.2% of eligible voters cast a ballot in the election. And while it was higher than the 47.1% turnout in 2010, historically it was a bust.
Turnout in Winnipeg civic elections is almost always higher when there’s no incumbent mayor seeking re-election. There’s some logic behind that. Incumbent mayors in Winnipeg are almost never defeated. It hasn’t happened since Stephen Juba took out George Sharpe in 1956. If people believe the incumbent is going to win anyway, there’s less incentive to vote.
mayoral candidates
As a result, voter turnout is normally below 50% with an incumbent in the race.
By contrast, when it’s an open competition without an office holder seeking re-election, voter turnout is typically above 50%. In those cases, people feel their vote matters more, especially if it’s perceived as a tight race.
When outgoing Mayor Sam Katz won office in a byelection in 2004, for example, voter turnout was 58.8%. When Glen Murray won office for the first time in 1998 to replace outgoing mayor Susan Thompson, who left on her own volition, turnout was 53.6%. You have to go back to 1979 to find a voter turnout below 50% when there was no incumbent in the race. That year, Bill Norrie won his first term in office in a byelection. Turnout was a paltry 36.4%.
Last week’s election had all the elements of a record turnout. I predicted a 59% turnout, which would have been the second best turnout since Unicity, when Winnipeg and surrounding municipalities amalgamated in 1971. Turnout for the inaugural election was 60.7%. But alas, I was wrong. And I still don’t understand it.
There was no incumbent in the race. The campaign was perceived as competitive, presumably giving people more incentive to vote. Indeed, a poll released two days prior to the election showed frontrunners Judy Wasylycia-Leis and Brian Bowman neck-and-neck in popularity. That’s usually good for voter turnout.
Even the weather was nice for most of the day, with unseasonably high temperatures and no rain until early evening. Bad weather often keeps voters away, particularly elderly ones.
Despite all that, voter turnout was only 50.2%, the lowest turnout in a non-incumbent race since Norrie’s 1979 cakewalk.
The only conclusion I can draw is voter apathy is growing, at least at the municipal level. Which is disappointing.
Meanwhile, Winnipeg’s City Clerk’s office in its election results report released last week stated that voters “responded enthusiastically” to the election with a 50.2% turnout.
Enthusiastically?
First of all, why is the clerk’s office editorializing on voter turnout? Their job is to report information and results in an independent, dispassionate manner. To characterize voters’ response as “enthusiastic” or not is entirely subjective.
Besides, a 50.2% voter turnout is hardly an “enthusiastic” response.
I expected much better than that.

Judy: 3 X 4 = 12

- October 10th, 2014

It may come as no surprise to some, but it appears mayoral candidate Judy Wasylycia-Leis doesn’t know how to count.
Caught in an embarrassing moment during Thursday’s mayoralty debate, Wasylycia-Leis said her competitor Gord Steeves was “fearmongering” because of his claims that the former NDP MP was planning to raise property taxes by 12%.
Wasylycia-Leis has pledged to increase property taxes by 3% a year over the next four years.
However, it appears she needs some work on her times tables. Wasylycia-Leis couldn’t seem to figure out that a 3% property each year over the next four years results in a 12% tax hike.
judy
“My good friend Gord here is doing a Sam Katz and he’s out there fearmongering,” said Wasylycia-Leis sitting next to Steeves and waiving her arms frantically.
“I drove here tonight, there was this huge billboard suggesting Judy’s going to raise your taxes by 12%,” said Wasylycia-Leis.
Um, yeah. That’s what you’re promising Judy.
“It’s dishonest and it’s fearmongering and I’d like to know why he’s engaged in these kinds of tactics that only produce cynicism among our young people and the electorate,” she said.
Oh, boy.
Just when you thought you’d seen the Full Judy, she does this.
Steeves couldn’t contain his laughter. But he did respond.
“I’m not an actuarial but what I did is I took the 3% and I multiplied it by the four years and I came up with the 12%,” said Steeves, prompting howls of laughter from the candidates and the studio audience. “I could run it again on my calculator if you like.”
An honest guffaw by Judy, or does she just have trouble with basic arithmetic?
Because last time I checked, 3 times 4 is 12.
“If it’s wrong I blame my campaign manager,” said Steeves. “But I’m pretty sure it’s right.”
Actually, Wasylycia-Leis’ original tax pledge when she kicked off her campaign in the summer was to raise property taxes at the combined rate of inflation and population growth. The media panel Thursday reminded her that under that calculation, a property tax increase would be about 3.5%, or 14% over four years.
“Wait a second, is it three and half?” said Steeves to more laughter. “I gotta change my billboards.”
The truth is, we don’t know how high taxes will go under Judy because she doesn’t even know that 3 times 4 is 12.
And she doesn’t appear to care. Her solution to city hall’s financial troubles is to jack up property taxes every year. She’s not interested in finding savings within city hall, including from its bloated bureaucracy. She just wants to dig deeper into taxpayers’ pockets.
She’s a New Democrat and that’s what NDPers believe in. That’s why when she was a cabinet minister in the 1980s her government jacked up the PST to 7%. And it’s why her government on Broadway increased that tax again to 8% last year.
I just wish Judy could work on her math a bit.

Video: Wasylycia-Leis’ (Every voter should watch this)

- September 5th, 2014

Speed limits in school zones: How it happened

- August 31st, 2014

Four years ago I was on a media panel during a 2010 televised mayoral debate and I asked candidates if they would bring in reduced speed limits for school zones if elected mayor.
Winnipeg was the only Western Canadian city that didn’t have reduced speed limits in school zones and it seemed like a no-brainer that we should bring them in. So I raised it as an issue. And both frontrunner candidates Sam Katz and Judy Wasylycia-Leis agreed it was a good idea and that it should be pursued. Story here.

The issue continued to gain momentum after the election. We followed up with Katz on his pledge.
We then had to get the province to agree because an amendment to the Highway Traffic Act was required. So we started with Premier Greg Selinger and got him on board during the 2011 provincial election.
We continued to push the idea at the provincial level.

We got success on Broadway.

And enabling legislation to reduce speed limits in school zones became law in September, 2013.

school zones
This week, motorists will have to slow down in marked school zones or face hefty fines. I find most motorists already drive with caution around elementary schools when kids are around. This new law is for those who don’t.
It took four years to get this done. But Mayor Sam Katz, Premier Greg Selinger and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton can take credit for finally making it a reality. Who knows, maybe it will save a kid’s life one day.