It’s time for the Wheat City to grow up and create its own distinct City of Brandon Act, says one local councillor.
Coun. Jeff Fawcett (Assiniboine) said it would give the city more independence to make decisions on its own.
"We have to face the fact that we’re the second city in our province, the next major urban centre," Fawcett said.
"It just gives us a little bit more of an ability to make those decisions independent of … ‘Mom and Dad,’ so to speak — the province — who is a partner in most everything we do anyway but it maybe gives us the ‘big boy’ independence."
The only city in Manitoba with its own act is Winnipeg, enacted in 1971. Brandon, along with all other Manitoba towns and rural municipalities, is governed by the Municipal Act.
"The scale is different (compared to Winnipeg), but we deal with similar issues ... that we find restricting," Fawcett said.
While Fawcett says it’s a little late in the term to get this going now, he said it will be a priority for him if he is re-elected in the election on Oct. 22.
"It’s something that I definitely would like to see us looking at during the next term for whoever is on there," Fawcett said. "I’d have to do a little bit more homework myself."
Mayor Shari Decter Hirst said establishing a Brandon Act would be a sign of a mature community and she would "heartily support" moving forward on the issue.
"It would give the city more authority to act independently," she said. "Right now we have to work through the Municipal Act, and … it’s cumbersome."
Decter Hirst noted that when changes are made within the City of Winnipeg Charter Act, the province ensures they are reflected in the Municipal Act.
"It would certainly be advantageous for us to be masters of our own destiny, masters in our house … however, it hasn’t been an impediment to moving forward, it’s just meant that we have to move more slowly and again, in co-operation with the province."
At the beginning of the current council’s term in 2010, the topic of establishing a Brandon Act was brought up around the council table as the city was putting together its Roadmap for Growth.
"At that time it was decided that there were other priorities that we needed to focus on — infrastructure and affordable housing being two big ones," Decter Hirst said. "I’m glad to hear that if elected, Coun. Fawcett will be bringing it back to the table."
There is an existing Brandon Charter Act; however, that was put in place to establish Brandon as a city, and doesn’t include much else.
Meir Serfaty, political science professor at Brandon University, said having its own unique and lengthy charter would give the city symbolic value.
"In a way it makes Brandon feel that it has arrived as a city in this province," he said. "Perhaps closely aligned with the role that Winnipeg plays as a city."
If Brandon is given a charter, it would have "more autonomy, to provide services, to raise taxes and to make decisions for the people in your community that perhaps other municipalities don’t have."
Serfaty agreed with Fawcett’s analogy, saying it would make Brandon "a little bit more grown up."
"It gives you an opportunity to do things without necessarily running to the province to get consent for everything that you do, which is the case now to a much greater extent," Serfaty said.
He pointed out, however, that the province is still in charge, even when a city has its own act.
If a city has its own charter, it becomes a little bit neater, as the framework is for that particular city alone, as opposed to everyone else in the province.
"The province can change the law, they can change the charter, any time they want," Serfaty said.
The City of Brandon would need to expand on its existing charter act to include all of the aspects that the City of Winnipeg’s includes.
"The City of Winnipeg Charter Act … repeats a lot of the stuff that is already the Municipal Act of Manitoba, but it makes it particular for Winnipeg," he said. "We’ll have our own municipal act for Brandon."
» Twitter: @jillianaustin