Monday, 6 January 2014

New Year's Resolution - A Progressive City Hall (Guest Post)

Note: This is a guest post from Babble member Aristotled24, expressing his perspective on the state of municipal politics and potential openings for the left. Much of it was written in fall of 2013 and some specific details are dated (Justin Swandel has since returned to Mayor Katz's Executive Policy Community). Nevertheless, many of the observations are still relevant as left-progressive Winnipeggers struggle to shape civic policy and clean up the mess  Sam's left. 


Will Sam Katz be laughing his way to reelection
this year?

For the sake of Winnipeg, let's hope not.
Image SourceBorris Minkevich/Winnipeg Free Press
As Sam Katz approaches the last year of his current mandate, he has continually run into difficulty since being re-elected. These difficulties include:
An ill-advised plan to build a water park near The Forks.


Being accused (and later acquitted) of conflict-of-interest in court.
Facing these challenges, if Katz decides to run again, he is certain to be re-elected
This is not a typo. Sam Katz could easily win again.
Small c-conservative faux populist Sam Katz came
out ahead of challenger Judy Wasylycia-Leis in the 2010
Mayoral election.

Could a left progressive beat Katz or another business
backed conservative this year?
Image SourceBorris Minkevich/Winnipeg Free Press
You may be wondering how this could be, considering his unpopularity and the perception of him being corrupt. Yes, people may not like Sam Katz, but people also don’t like politicians in general. Interest in municipal politics is quite low generally, which confers an advantage to incumbents, especially incumbents with money. And pointing out Katz shortcomings will not necessarily inspire people to vote for someone else. 
People were in the mood for a new vision in the last civic election, but as Judy Wasylicia-Leis failed to communicate exactly what that new vision was, people either voted for “the devil they knew” in Sam Katz, or more of them simply disengaged. The left cannot expect to coast to victory on Sam Katz unpopularity, especially if the interests who backed Katz back a different mayoral candidate with a similar agenda. 
There is little evidence to show that the left has learned the lessons of 2010 and is prepared for 2014, but there is still hope. Here is what needs to be done:
1) Party’s Over For The NDP
Vision Vancouver: A model
forward for Winnipeg
progressives?

Image Source:
Wikipedia
The current process of NDP-endorsed candidates is deeply flawed. As political parties have no official standing at city hall, this gives opponents a perfect target to claim that “NDP insiders” are trying to “hijack” the elections. This strategy has not only been ineffective at electing members in areas that are not already staunchly NDP, but NDP-endorsed candidates could not win in their traditional strongholds of Daniel Macyntire and Elmwood. It also excludes a large share of progressive voters. For example, John Orlikow can be counted as one of council’s progressives, but would not have been elected in his ward if he had run under the traditional NDP banner. 
The left needs to broaden the base, and can look to Vancouver as an example, even though municipal parties in Vancouver have official standing. Instead of the rigid partisan alliances that exist provincially and federally, the left in Vancouver has organized itself into looser coalitions manifesting as COPE and Vision Vancouver. This does not rule out NDP participation, as any left-of-centre project will inevitably have NDP fingerprints, but the NDP must give up its need to be in control.
2) What Are The Issue.
Progressives in each ward should be in contact with one another about area issues. A great way to keep in touch includes regular town halls every few months, along the lines that were organized in the early days of the Winnipeg Citizen’s Coalition. They’re a great way to keep the grassroots networks intact, and ready to go, especially in areas not represented by progressive councillors. 
An important aspect of reaching out to voters is identifying issues, and having a plan, because this is something tangible voters can hold someone accountable to. This also gives voters the confidence to take the risk of electing a new person over the incumbent. It is not merely enough to campaign on transparency and accountability. Every politician campaigns on these things, even Stephen Harper campaigned on these things while in Opposition.
3) Pick Your Team
Be it scandals or low quality city services,
epitomized by iced in roads and brown water,
Sam Katz is vulnerable.

Image Source: "Winnipegger sunited against
crappy roads and conditions
".
In order for a progressive agenda to be realized, we need to elect progressive people to municipal government. To do that, we need to know the background of each candidate, and if applicable, the candidate’s voting record while on council. The Winnipeg Citizen’s Coalition released a report card during the last municipal election grading each councillor on particular issues, and assigned each a letter grade. Unfortunately, if you lived in a ward whose councillor did not pass or where your incumbent councillor was not running again, this guide was no use to you. A strategy like this needs to be well researched, and provide information about each candidate (record of community service, statements to the media, platform items, etc), and ideally endorse candidates, so that voters have an idea of which candidates will do what.
4 Early Bird Gets The Worm
Even though the official campaign period begins in May, whomever progressives back for Mayor needs to be chosen well in advance. This allows time to build the networks and connections that are needed to overcome the disadvantage of being a challenger. Brandon Mayor Shari Decter-Hirst announced her intention to run about one year ahead of the 2010 election. Whoever steps forward to challenge Sam Katz will need at least that much time, given that Winnipeg is that much larger and more challenging for someone without built-in name recognition.
Progressives in Winnipeg face an uphill road to 2014, but it is a challenge that can be met.

No comments:

Post a Comment