The Canadian Federation of Students-Manitoba (CFS-MB) released a report last week assigning grades to all of the mayoral candidates still in the running for Winnipeg’s municipal elections, and then proceeded to retract it later in the week.
The report card was part of an effort to inform and mobilize students for the municipal election and came after a period of interviews—dating back to at least mid-August—by CFS-MB leadership with mayoral and city council candidates.
The report did not include a legend, index, or grading system explaining how candidates were assessed a grade.
Robert-Falcon Ouellette and Judy Wasylycia-Leis were given A- grades, Brian Bowman was given a B+, Paula Havixbeck and David Sanders were given C+ grades, Michel Fillion was given a D, and Gord Steeves was given an F.
The grades were uploaded online along with caricatures of each of the candidates and a few bullet points detailing CFS-MB’s interpretation of each of the candidates’ platforms.
After a board meeting on Oct. 2, CFS-MB removed the report card from its website and social media accounts.
Zach Fleisher, chair of CFS-MB, refused to provide a comment on the report card or its removal after the board meeting.
Jesse Blackman, UWSA representative for the CFS-MB executive, was present at the board meeting and said “the board has decided to not comment publicly on this matter.”
However, CFS-MB deputy chairperson Mitchell van Ineveld told the Manitoban that a motion was passed at the meeting to remove the report card from the CFS-MB’s website and social media accounts, effectively cancelling the project.
Van Ineveld added that the CFS-MB would not be putting out a revised version but would instead be putting out some material encouraging students to vote along with information on how to vote.
He did not comment on the state of reports on city council candidates.
Although the report was pulled from CFS-MB’s website and social media accounts, it was widely shared online, including by mayoral candidate Robert-Falcon Ouellette.
By press time, the image Ouellette uploaded had received 113 likes and 77 shares on his campaign Facebook page.
Turnbull calls report ‘juvenile’
UMSU president Al Turnbull was not at the CFS board meeting, but was aware of the report card and voiced his disapproval of it to the Manitoban.
“It was a juvenile gradient of the candidates that failed to mask the subjectivity and bias of the organization; the Canadian Federation of Students represents all students and should be focused on presenting the information to its members and leaving them to decide.
“An arbitrary evaluation based on no metric is a fairly disgraceful way for a seemingly reputable organization to weigh in on civic politics.”
Sanders asks: ‘Who got control of this particular report?’
Mayoral candidate David Sanders did not voice concern about the CFS’s decision to give grades in general but said he disagreed with the CFS’s assessment of his campaign.
The Canadian Federation of Students-Manitoba would not provide details about what criteria went into assigning grades, but remarks for mayoral candidate David Sanders included:
“Has supported U-Pass in the past and opposes the current routing of rapid transit [ . . . ] Wants Winnipeg to be a more attractive place for families and students [ . . . ] Has limited governance experience and has a limited platform at this point [ . . . ] Has focused primarily on criticizing leading candidates.”
Sanders disputes the claim that he has limited governance experience.
“I think it’s neither accurate, nor fair. And I’m surprised. Because I did meet with the [ . . . ] Canadian Federation of Students and they’ve certainly seen me [ . . . ] at city hall for the last year and a half speaking out in favour of student concerns such as the U-Pass.
“I think if the remark is that I have limited government experience, I think that says it all. I have more government experience than all of the other candidates put together and stacked upside down. There’s no doubt about it. So if that’s the conclusion they draw I suspect there’s something seriously wrong with their analysis.”
Sanders also questioned the significance of the line “has focused primarily on criticizing leading candidates,” which was included in his summary.
“The idea that there’s something wrong with criticizing other candidates, when the other candidates come out with either wild or unachievable proposals – part of political debate is to expose that. And so I’ve been doing only a very little bit of that so far, but there’s more to come, frankly. And in fact there’s a lot that needs to be clarified for the benefit of the voters.”
Sanders said he told CFS representatives about his own background working on student issues and his own advocacy for universal accessibility to university.
“I have to wonder who got control of this particular report card because that is completely inaccurate and I think inappropriate, for myself, and therefore I would wonder about comments for everyone else as well.
“I would have expected much better from Zach Fleisher and the CFS.”
Bowman says ‘a lot of spinning going on’
Mayoral candidate Brian Bowman did not dispute the grade he received in the report card.
“Obviously I’d like an A+ but, you know, any group is fair to judge any of the candidates and when you put yourself up for elected office you’ve got to be prepared that some people are going to like what you stand for and some people aren’t.”
However, Bowman did dispute the merit of a Facebook comment left by van Ineveld in response to early criticism of the report.
Van Ineveld’s comment read, “Note: This report was authored before Brian Bowman announced his tax policy and cuts to benefits for new city employees. Both of these, especially his new tax policy, would dramatically increase the financial burden that already overwhelms students in our city. It is safe to say that [ . . . ] if the report were re-written today his grade would be lower.”
Bowman disagreed with van Ineveld’s analysis.
“Some of my competitors are saying that I’m going to introduce a municipal sales tax, which is false. I don’t have the power, if I’m elected mayor. It’s provincial jurisdiction [ . . . ] There’s a lot of spinning going on from competitors who don’t want to see us change the status quo,” said Bowman.
“I would just caution any group [to make] sure you’re actually looking at what the candidates have held out—what their policies are—rather than what their competitors are doing or saying about it.”