As Mayor Shari Decter Hirst began her State of the City address on Thursday, she made sure to clarify early on that it was not going to be a campaign speech.
“I know there are some, including the media, that are expecting that this will be a campaign speech,” she said to the crowd. “But I want to assure them, and perhaps reassure you, that it’s not. There’s going to be lots of time over the next six months to talk about what’s going to be happening in Brandon in the next four years.”
The mayoral campaign period officially began May 1, when Decter Hirst and challenger Rick Chrest registered as candidates.
Decter Hirst said it is going to be a challenge over the next six months to balance mayoral responsibilities with candidate opportunities. She wanted her speech to look back at the term, rather than look too far in the future “partly because … I’m the mayor in the chair for the next six months, so anything beyond that is outside of my prerogative to speak about.”
In federal and provincial politics, there is a 35-day writ period before elections. Campaigns are ramped up during that time, and there are rules against publicizing or publishing anything that is favourable to their party.
But in municipal politics, the campaign period can be up to six months, depending on when candidates register.
Decter Hirst said having a municipal writ period is a “phenomenally good idea.”
“(In Ontario) they have a cooling off period that coincidentally is about six months, where mayors and councils are not allowed to divest themselves of property … or fire city managers or in fact make some of those key long-term decisions because again, you very much are making a commitment on behalf of the next council,” she said.
Decter Hirst said current councillors have discussed the issue and will make sure they “don’t overstep” bounds.
The mayor simply said, “They asked, I came” when asked if she felt it was appropriate to have a State of the City during a campaign period.
“I know I certainly enjoyed listening to Dave (Burgess)’s State of the City in 2010, and I’m sure that Rick (Chrest) enjoyed listening to my State of the City.”
Chrest attended the event on Thursday, and said while some people have raised the issue, he is “not that hung up on it.”
“The chamber’s been having the State of the City address at about this time frame for years and years.”
Chrest said he appreciated the fact that Decter Hirst didn’t turn it into a campaign speech and she “even acknowledged there will be lots of debates and chances to have equal time in the future.”
Meir Serfaty, professor and chair of the political science department at Brandon University, pointed out there is “absolutely no provision” for the incumbent mayor not to participate in functions like the chamber luncheon, “especially when she’s invited to them.”
“It’s not that she requested … to do the State of the City,” he said. “To be fair to her also, she acknowledged the fact that she is running and she wasn’t going to make a ... campaign speech, and I think overall she kept to that.”
Serfaty said he doesn’t see much value in establishing a writ period in municipal politics.
“The fact when you’re an incumbent, you have an advantage over non-incumbent, and that’s a reality of politics,” he said. “When you’ve been there, done that, you can speak from immediate direct experience no matter where you are. So I personally don’t see a really big deal about that.”
According to Brandon’s city council code of conduct, no member of council can use the facilities, equipment, supplies or services of the city for any election campaign or campaign-related activities. No member can hold campaign-related activities on city property unless permitted by the city, such as an all-candidates meeting. No member shall attempt to require city employees to participate in political activities.
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