Long before Ian MacDonald was shot and killed through the front door of his Winnipeg home Saturday night, crime was the foremost issue on the minds of Winnipeg voters.
But Mr. MacDonald's slaying was the city's third shooting and second death in just one hour that evening. They occurred within blocks of each other, also killing a 35-year-old father and wounding a teenage girl. The brazen, unsolved and apparently unprovoked attacks have further solidified the minds of residents as they go to municipal polls Wednesday - this election is about crime.
Among those calling for a change in the city's approach is Charlie Thorgrimson, 62, who lived with Mr. MacDonald, 52.
"It's just getting out of hand," Mr. Thorgrimson says. "It's always a good idea [to add police officers] but they should spend more money on some social programs. ... Kids got nothing to do. That's what starts them off."
Such is the split that Winnipeg voters face: social programs or more police? Address crime's root causes, or crack down on offenders?
The election features incumbent Sam Katz taking a law-and-order approach and pledging to hire 58 new officers, including 20 beat cops, to go with the city's police helicopter purchase. His challenger, New Democratic Member of Parliament Judy Wasylycia-Leis says the issues are more complex, and suggests a host of community programs to steer children away from crime.
Now, the candidate's opposing approaches are under scrutiny amid Saturday's shootings.
"What Saturday's events did was to emphasize the seriousness of the issue for Winnipeg. It's always been the No. 1 issue in the election, and it's just brought it home," Ms. Wasylycia-Leis says. "Hiring new police officers and buying new toys is not necessarily bringing down crime. It's giving people a sense of comfort, but it's not changing the statistics."
A Statistics Canada report released Tuesday confirmed what many here already knew: Winnipeg's homicide rate is Canada's highest, some 60 per cent higher than any other major city.
For his part, Mr. Katz has secured an endorsement from the Winnipeg Police Association (which rarely backs candidates) after pledging to add officers. In turn, Ms. Wasylycia-Leis got an endorsement from a former city police chief.
Mr. Katz argues his is the only concrete crime-fighting plan, and that Winnipeg already has a host of services for youth. Before this campaign, he says, Ms. Wasylycia-Leis did not call Police Chief Keith McCaskill to discuss crime affecting her north Winnipeg constituency (Chief McCaskill confirms this).
"Suddenly, she's concerned about crime," he says. "As a Member of Parliament representing the north end, that should have been one of your top issues. [She]never cared."
His tone reflects what has become a bare-knuckle campaign between the two front-runners, who polls have placed in a virtual tie.
Ms. Wasylycia-Leis says Mr. Katz hasn't accomplished anything as mayor. He fires back with the puzzling allegation that his challenger - a two-decade veteran of provincial and federal politics and one-time Manitoba cabinet minister - has no experience to be mayor.
"Being a backbencher MP, you don't have the skill sets to be a mayor. None whatsoever," Mr. Katz says.
A host of other factors are driving interest in the race. Election day forecasts call for heavy rain (Mr. Katz fears this will hurt him amid the motivated, union-backed voting base of Ms. Wasylycia-Leis). In major cities across Canada, including Hamilton and Ottawa, incumbent mayors are falling to challengers - a possible omen for Mr. Katz. Voter turnout was above 50 per cent in Calgary and Toronto votes this month. If the weather co-operates, it may be higher in Winnipeg, observers say.
Finally, Ms. Wasylycia-Leis is one of two MPs who left Ottawa to run for mayor in Manitoba. The second is Tory Inky Mark, who is campaigning to become mayor of Dauphin.
A businessman before becoming mayor, Mr. Katz's tenure in office has been marked by a series of gaffes (such as accidentally kicking a child in the face during a soccer game) and eye-raising deals made under shrouds of secrecy, including a 30-year private contract on wastewater treatment about which few details have been released. Ms. Wasylycia-Leis has repeatedly criticized a "lack of transparency" in city hall, and hopes it leaves voters wanting change.
"I think that there's a really good reason why a popular, comfortable MP made the decision to jump and take on the current mayor. I think she sensed the vulnerability," says University of Winnipeg political scientist Shannon Sampert.
Chief McCaskill has made no endorsement. He calls Saturday's shootings a "horrible thing," but stresses police aren't jumping to conclusions. There have been no arrests, but the tragedy has ignited political debate.
"It does play into Winnipeggers' fear of crime," Prof. Sampert says, "and the sense that we're no longer safe in this city."