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.

Winnipeggers want a vote on BRT

- June 24th, 2014

The vast majority of Winnipeggers want the democratic right to vote on Phase 2 of Bus Rapid Transit, according to a Probe Research poll conducted this month.
And if a referendum were held, a majority of Winnipeggers would vote against it, the poll found.
I wonder what the results would have been if politicians like mayor Sam Katz and Coun. Jenny Gerbasi actually told taxpayers the truth about this project — that the P3 Canada Fund money earmarked for it would not be lost if spent on other infrastructure and that the city has no evidence whatsoever that BRT, as proposed, would do anything to increase ridership.
If city council came clean with the public on those facts, the poll numbers in opposition to this hare-brained project would be even higher.
According to the poll, 71% of respondents want a referendum on BRT. In fact, many of those who support the project still believe taxpayers have a democratic right to vote on it.
If a plebiscite were held today, 53% would vote against BRT as it’s currently planned, the poll suggests. It’s interesting that people living in the core area of Winnipeg — who rely on transit the most — were slightly more inclined to vote against the BRT plan than the city overall.
And it’s not just high-income people who drive expensive vehicles and who never take transit who said they were opposed to the city’s BRT plan.
Some 58% of those earning less than $30,000 said they were not in favour of the BRT plan as currently proposed. That compares to 42% of those earning $30,000 to $99,000 and 43% among those earning over $100,000 a year, the poll found.
University students and those living in southwest Winnipeg were more inclined to support the BRT plan.
If this city had an honest debate about BRT, the “No” side would rise even further. Because if the facts about this project were released and honestly debated, more people would come to the logical conclusion that this is one of the biggest capital project guffaws this city has ever seen.
Imagine spending $590 million on a transit project that will do nothing to increase ridership and will do very little, if anything, to increase the travel times of commuters?
It’s incredible council has approved such a plan in the face of that information. But the reality of this project is that it’s proceeding for psychological reasons, not for rational, evidence-based ones. It’s proceeding because it’s political fashion for politicians like Gerbasi who embrace something like BRT, no matter how poorly conceived and designed.
You can read the full poll here