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Grant’s Tomb

with Grant Hamilton

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  • Fond farewells and future plans

    Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014 at 4:48 PM

    Despite six acclamations out of 10 wards, Brandonites will actually see quite a few new faces around the city council table when they all gather for their first meeting next month.

    New faces mean a farewell to old faces. I looked at some of the outgoing councillors, and while some of them are retiring for good, or have future plans that they've announced already, some of them may be weighing their options.

    Luckily, I'm here to throw a few more options their way.

    First, though, those who don't need any help from me:

    • Garth Rice has taken a job with the city, rendering him ineligible to serve, and forcing him to step down in South Centre before the election.
    • Len Isleifson declined to run again in Riverview, and has said that he'll be aiming to take on Drew Caldwell, provincially, under the Progressive Conservative banner.
    • Murray Blight looks to move from semi-retired into full-on retired. He's earned it.

    That leaves Corey Roberts, Stephen Montague and Shari Decter Hirst as those who won't be returning to active political life and who don't have immediately obvious future plans.

    Above: Corey Roberts, in 2010, annoucing his run for Rosser Ward at Clancy's Eatery and Drinkery (File)

    Corey Roberts, late of Rosser Ward

    I think Corey has had the worst luck of anyone in the city over the past four years. After turning a semi-dive pool hall into a successful pub, financial problems forced him to sell. Now, he has to watch as other people profit mightily off the foundation he built.

    Then, although he won a seat on city council, he was plagued by illness that kept him away from fulfilling his duties to the best of his ability.

    Mind you, when I ran into him on Election Day, picking up soda at Superstore for our respective post-vote get-togethers, I didn't even recognize him until he spoke to me — he looked hale, hearty, fit as a fiddle. Frankly, if he had looked that good a year ago, I don't think anyone would have run against him this time around.

    Unfortunately, his health appears to have returned too late to save his council seat.

    I always liked Corey around the table, and I appreciated his support for the Brewtinerie initiative. I hope he stays involved in Brandon, and in downtown specifically.

    • Future suggestion: There's an opening for a downtown development officer at Renaissance Brandon. He's been involved with that before, and he could hit the ground running.
    • And if that doesn't pan out: Downtown needs businesses, and Clancy's had a good run. Maybe another pub or bar is more than he wants to take on, but what about something a little more 9-5? He and his wife have a large family, and Brandon's only baby-specific store has closed, leaving a hole in the market. Put the two together and…

     

    Above: As a child checks out the cameras, Stephen Montague announces he'll be a candidate in the 2010 election, after losing in 2006 by about 30 votes. (File)

    Stephen Montague, late of Richmond Ward

    Stephen declining to run again this year was a bit of an eyebrow-raiser to me. I first met him when he was involved in student politics at Brandon University, and he'd very nearly won in his first municipal campaign in 2006. When he did win, four years later, I thought he'd settle in for a couple of terms to cement his bona fides before launching a bid for higher office.

    However, he's a committed Liberal, so perhaps provincial and federal fields don't feel too fertile around here.

    Although we get on pretty well personally, I've taken to needling Stephen online in a professional capacity. He was getting relentlessly negative, and so I recently I challenged him to tell me what his Top 5 proudest accomplishments were on council.

    Despite repeated requests, he hasn't named one.

    That's too bad — when he was elected in 2010 I had high hopes for what a young, motived councillor might be able to do. But after pushing through an early no-bottled-water initiative, things stalled. He instead switched gears to just be as obstructionist as possible to the mayor's agenda.

    I think he liked the easy attention he got by getting in her face, and he stopped trying to do anything with his own agenda. Or maybe it was when he got a full-time job in Virden that he stopped working quite as hard for Brandon.

    Right from the start, in 2010, he told me one of his goals was to get every council vote recorded and to have every councillor's voting record available online for anyone to peruse.

    I'm still waiting.

    And he's plenty willing to tout things that other people say are needed — like a new school in his ward — but I haven't seen any evidence that he actually pushed for any of these things.

    • Future suggestion: I hear Stephen has quit his day job and is planning to travel. He should. And he should come back refreshed and ready to get involved in politics again with plenty of ideas for how progressive cities in other places solve the problems that we're faced with here. Travel is where I've learned the most — if he travels with an open mind, I'd like to see more of the water-loving, vote-recording, do-something Stephen that comes back home
    • And if that doesn't pan out: You can make a pretty good living selling cars in Virden.

     

    Above: Shari Decter Hirst speaks to supporters at the opening of her campaign office in 2010. City inspectors later raided the office and forced her to shut it down. (File)

    Shari Decter Hirst, late of the mayor's chair

    From a reporter's perspective, Mayor Shari was a gift: She always had time to answer the phone, and she was extremely generous with quotes and interviews.

    Not everyone agreed with the direction she wanted to take the city, but you can't argue that she did it forecfully and energetically. Hers was a bit of a "full speed ahead, these torpedoes are nothing but distractions" sort of leadership style, and it served the city well during the two floods we fought, but I'm not sure it was a benefit the rest of the time.

    So when she comes back to the city for her post-mayoral career, she needs to find something suited to her talents.

    • Future suggestion: Shari should take the reins of the Strand Project. Despite some occasional successes, the theatre rejuvenation has largely been spinning its wheels for six years, and the Brandon Folk Fest group that's trying to steer it seems stretched too thin. Shari's background in fundraising would be a huge asset here, as would her boundless optimism and energy. A lot of people think she raised too much money as mayor, and was in a conflict of interest trying to boost downtown — running the Strand Project would short-circuit those shortcomings into strengths.
    • And if that doesn't pan out: She successfully fought two floods, and she has intimate knowledge of the Assiniboine River and its dangers. Sure, a lot of that was through provincial flood staff and hard-working municipal adminstrators like Brian Kayes, but Shari has absorbed a ton of know-how and has it at her fingertips. She'd be a perfect fit to lead the Assinboine River Basin Commission.

     

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  • Chrest win raises echoes of ’77

    Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014 at 4:06 PM

    The less said about the Predict-o-Matic, which shall henceforth be returned to the closet from whence it came, the better.

    But now that the election is over and results are known, I'll offer some hearty congratulations to Rick Chrest and also my best wishes to Shari Decter Hirst.

    In a few days, I'll have some thoughts on where I think the new council's priorities should lie — they'll have a busy 100 days, if they listen to me — as well as some suggestions for Decter Hirst's next move. Despite her loss, and whether you agreed with her or not, I think she always worked incredibly hard as mayor.

    Moving forward, however, I started today by digging deeper into the election results than I was able to in the frenzy of Election Night coverage. I'll have a short story about them in Friday's paper — but the short version is that Rick Chrest's victory is one of the biggest margins of victory ever for a mayor in Brandon.

    I was trying to find another non-incumbent candidate who had taken 65 per cent of the vote, and I gave up when I got back to the early 1970s and hadn't found anything. Earlier than that, and the city's just so different — elections are just so different — that it's tough to compare anyway.

    Plus, I was distracted by the 1977 election, which has some amazing parallels with the election we've just had, nearly 40 years later.

    But you, me and Rick should all hope that it doesn't turn out the same way as ’77.

    The mayoral election that year was a shocker — "one of the biggest election upsets in Brandon history," according to the front-page Brandon Sun story.

    The incumbent mayor, Elwood Gorrie, had just a single term under his belt. He'd been elected handily in 1974; observers had predicted a closer finish in the four-way race, but Gorrie swept in with close to twice the votes of his closest competitor.

    Although the position of mayor was, at the time, just a part-time gig, Gorrie vowed from the start to devote full-time efforts. He was what you might call an activist mayor.

    Three years later, the city had invested in an expensive new water treatment plant, had devoted much time and effort towards planning a business revival downtown, and had gone after — and gotten! – the Canada Winter Games in 1979, for which they'd be building a brand-new facility, the Sportsplex.

    Starting to sound familiar?

    Well, three years later, taxpayers were fed up with Gorrie's plans — and their mounting bills.

    Gil Box, a former city councillor and businessman, ran a low-key campaign to replace him. Taking a "back to basics" approach to his campaign, Box said that the city had been too aggressive with investments under Gorrie. And voters agreed.

    They swept Box into the mayor's chair in 1977, sending the incumbent tumbling to third.

    Gorrie was "sullen" in defeat, according to the Brandon Sun, calling taxpayers "gutless" in voting against his progressive plans.

    "Subsequent events will show this council (to be) the most progressive council in the history of this city. Gil Box will climb into the best thing that ever happened to him when he becomes mayor."

    Box, who'd previously been an alderman for 10 years from 1959–69, was nonchalant about his victory.

    "I'm not surprised. I sort of expected it," he said when he learned of his win. "(Voters are) tired of their taxes going up. They want them held in line."

    Well, it didn't quite turn out that way. In fact, that's where the similarities to this year's election will end.

    You see, Gil Box turned out to be a little bit like Brandon's version of Rob Ford.

    Box quickly became notorious for missing meetings and ducking work.

    Just a month after the election, alderman Mike Melnyk publicly suggested Box wasn't fulfilling his duties.

    In January, another alderman, Fred Anderson, called for closed-door meeting of council to discuss the mayor's problems. Others talked him out of it, but three weeks later a private meeting was held it anyway, organized by two other aldermen. Seven participated, three declined.

    They said the mayor had "personal problems" and they wanted him to take a leave of absence.

    By April, alderwoman Betty Boyd was calling for Box to resign. She said the "personal problems" was a "drinking problem."

    Box rebuffed it at first, but admitted he was battling the bottle about a week later. He did, in fact, take a month's leave to attend a South Dakota rehabilitation centre.

    That didn't help anything. By June, administrators were threatening to resign themselves, although council talked them out of it.

    Finally, by summer, Box was being told by the rest of council that he should forfeit his salary and use the money to pay a deputy mayor.

    Even when he came back from rehab, Box continued to miss meetings — including an important one about the Canada Winter Games.

    That was about the final straw, with a proposal floated that Box be stripped of all but $1 a year for salary.

    Without council unanimity, however, the suggestion went nowhere.

    Finally, at a closed-door meeting Box called himself, he either tendered his resignation and then rescinded it, or offered and no one took him up on it (recollections vary).

    A week later, he'd resigned anyway.

    Box had been mayor for just 13-and-a-half months, and his resignation sparked the first-ever mayoral by-election in the city's history.

    Who won that one? Ken Burgess, kicking off a 10-year run in the chair that his son Dave would also later fill.

    And that Chrest will settle into soon.

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  • Oh look what I found: the Predict-o-Matic

    Monday, Oct. 20, 2014 at 12:22 PM

    Way, way back in 2006 I claimed some Brandon Sun newsroom fame by being the only person who correctly predicted the mayoral race that year.

    No, not the winner; Dave Burgess won, as everyone knew he would. But I predicted Mike Abbey in second place when everyone else thought Deveryn Ross would be runner-up.

    Then, in 2010, I correctly predicted a Shari Decter Hirst victory as well. Although, I whiffed on several of the council races.

    Then I stashed the Predict-o-Matic away in a back closet and forgot about it.

    I was rooting around back there for something else over the weekend, when I opened an old box, and there it was.

    After blowing off the dust, plugging it in, and giving it a good thump on the side, I've got the ol' Predic-o-Matic chugging away pretty good, and I thought I'd feed in this year's races to the machine and see what popped out.

    Hence, my predictions for the winners of the 2014 municipal elections in Brandon, starting with school trustees and working my way towards the mayor.

    Note: These are not necessarily the people I'm voting for, just the people I think will win. Here we go!

     

    SCHOOL TRUSTEES

    With just nine candidates for the eight slots on the school board, this is an almost-acclamation. In fact, it's more like voting on the TV reality show Survivor than an election — one person will be voted off the island, there.

    (Of course, you're still voting for people, not against them, and you'll have up to eight votes to hand out. As a strategy, if you only really care about one or two people, you can stop voting after you've marked off their names, and avoid giving votes to people you don't really care about, who might bump your preferred candidates down the list.

    In no particular order, the top eight will be:

    • Peter Bartlette
    • Jim Murray
    • Kevan Sumner
    • Mark Sefton
    • George Buri
    • Glen Kruck
    • Pat Bowslaugh
    • Linda Ross

    With so little attention paid, the race for school board often comes down to name recognitiion. And that leaves Krystal Kane falling off the list.

     

    CITY COUNCIL

    Ward 1 (Assiniboine)

    • Jeff Fawcett (incumbent)

    There is no race, so this is a gimme.

    Winner, by acclamation: Jeff Fawcett

     

    Ward 2 (Rosser)

    • Miles Crossman
    • James O'Connor
    • Corey Roberts (incumbent)
    • Kris Desjarlais

    This is probably the most interesting and wide-open race in Brandon. So many people still think of downtown as the heart of Brandon that this is a prestige ward to represent.

    But it's also a challenging one.

    Although Roberts hasn't campaigned much, he has some incumbency advantage. But not nearly as much as he could have — he's been hobbled by illness for much of his term on council, and he's no longer the downtown business owner of Clancy's that he was when he ran the first time.

    My former boss, and the Sun's former managing editor, O'Connor has been running the slickest campaign in the city (mayoral campaigns not excluded). His experience as a political organizer and his name recognition make him the candidate to beat in this race — not Roberts.

    But Crossman has significant Brandon roots, and he's running a younger, lower-key campaign. I think he's the dark horse here.

    Desjarlais comes across as a solid choice, but his campaign has been less visible than Crossman's or O'Connor's, and he doesn't have much name recognition either. His role here, I think, is to play spoiler, pulling votes away from Crossman and letting O'Connor win — by a whisker.

    Winner: James O'Connor

     

    Ward 3 (Victoria)

    • Barry Cullen

    An oddity, in that Cullen is a rookie, and also running unopposed.

    Winner, by acclamation: Barry Cullen

     

    Ward 4 (University)

    • Jeff Harwood

    Another easy one for us prognosticators

    Winner, by acclamation: Jeff Harwood

     

    Ward 5 (Meadows–Waverly)

    • John LoRegio

    I guess he made his probationary period okay.

    Winner, by acclamation: John LoRegio

     

    Ward 6 (South Centre)

    • Kim Longstreet
    • Lonnie Patterson

    One nice thing about this election is that we've got an all-female race in South Centre and absolutely no one has thought it was unusual enough to warrant any comment.

    Longstreet's got the clever signs, but Patterson's got the political savvy, thanks to a few years cutting her teeth in the Legislature. 

    I've been acquainted with Patterson since we were both at Brandon University together and I wouldn't be surprised if her get-out-the-vote operation trumps her opponent. Getting out the vote will be especially important if it rains — and that's the forecast.

    Winner: Lonnie Patterson

     

    Ward 7 (Linden Lanes)

    • Shawn Berry

    No contest, no fun.

    Winner, by acclamation: Shawn Berry

     

    Ward 8 (Richmond)

    • Ray Berthelette
    • Ron W. Brown

    I like this race because they both have the same initials (it's the little things). It might come down to who has done the door-knocking, but assuming they are about even in their ground game, I have to give the edge to Berthelette, given his experience on the ACC board and Brandon Urban Aboriginal Peoples Council.

    Winner: Ray Berthelette

     

    Ward 9 (Riverview)

    • Vanessa Hamilton
    • Tyson Tame

    This is my ward, so I've had a front-row seat to the campaigning that's been done in my neighbourhood (and I chose a back-row seat at the candidates' forum).

    Hamilton (no relation) has been the only candidate I've physically seen door-knocking, and she's dropped twice as many pamphlets in my mailbox as Tame.

    Tame has to be banking on his name recognition as a realtor, but the murmuring in the forum crowd was that his not living in the ward (although he used to, and he still owns property in the ward) didn't go over well. East enders are fiercly proud of their neighbourhoods, and people want neighbours, not revenue property owners.

    Hamilton seized on that with a new round of leaflets, shortly after. That was sharp.

    She's come up short her past couple of attempts in elections, but I think third time's the charm for Hamilton.

    Winner: Vanessa Hamilton

     

    Ward 10 (Green Acres)

    • Jan Chaboyer

    Hmmm, I think Chaboyer will win.

    Winner, by acclamation: Jan Chaboyer

     

    MAYOR

    • Shari Decter Hirst (incumbent)
    • Rick Chrest
    • Mark Kovatch
    • John Paul Jacobson

    What a great race this has turned into. At first, I thought this was Chrest's race to win. He had the name, he had the experience, all he needed with a vision.

    Well, his vision has turned out to be "I don't have grand visions." That may have been initially questionable, at least to me, but it turns out that his "back to basics" approach resonates with a lot of people. It was a canny way to turn the election into a bit of a referendum on Decter Hirst's term.

    I think that turned it into Decter Hirst's race to lose.

    A shock summer flood may have reminded voters that Decter Hirst was one of the first to sound the alarm in 2011, when many people scoffed at the early flood outlooks. Now maybe it was city and provincial bureaucrats who did much of the heavy lifting, but I can imagine a very different mayoral approach — a laid-back, have-a-couple-more-meetings, we-have-plenty-of-time approach that would have put us too far behind to successfully fight the flood in 2011.

    I'm hearing — from some surprising sources — that she's still got their vote based on flood fighting alone. (Westjet doesn't hurt, either.)

    But there are a lot of people who are vehemently opposed to any increase in taxation, and she's still weighed down by the recent bumps in property taxes.

    You have to remember that Decter Hirst pretty much demolished Dave Burgess in 2010, and surprisingly so. People were tired of a laissez-faire government, one that let developers pick where and when they were going to go.

    Now, Chrest is offering to return us to a similar style of governance, although he's billing it as "ask the experts" rather than "leave it up to the developers."

    I get the sense that this race would be nearly neck-and-neck if it weren't for the confounding presence of Kovatch.

    (Let's dispense with Jacobson right now: His heart's in the right place, but he's clearly not right for the mayor's chair. I appreciate his sentiments, and I'm glad he brought up moving the rail lines, but he won't be a factor in this election. I think he'll grab fewer votes than Gorf did.)

    Kovatch has been an indispensible shake-up to an otherwise two-person race. He's small-business oriented, so he offers people an alternative to Chrest.

    But he's also an ideas man, so he could be an acceptable place for erstwhile Decter Hirst supporters to place their votes.

    Just a week ago, I thought Kovatch might grab 15 per cent of the vote. Now I think he might be closer to 20 per cent.

    The real question is, where do his votes come from: More from Chrest? Or more from Decter Hirst?

    Frankly, I see a lot of disappointed in Decter Hirst voters who aren't quite ready for the "Back to Burgess" approach promised by Chrest. They're flocking to Kovatch.

    Kovatch is also picking up votes from people who would've been primed to support a small-c conservative in Chrest, but who were looking for a little more in the way of vision.

    Until late last week, I would have given her the edge. Then, she inadvertently breached an election regulation by holding a campaign announcement too close to an advance poll.

    It played perfectly into the role her opponents give her: That she's a gaffe-prone error machine too sure of her own infallibility to govern well.

    At that point, I was ready to give Chrest a slight advantage.

    But that will be nearly week-old news when people vote on Wednesday. And the blowback I've been seeing online has started to turn the other way: with Decter Hirst defenders finding their voices — and their motivations.

    In a race that's seen momentum swing both ways, I think she's lucking out with the timing now.

    Winner: Shari Decter Hirst.

    ......

    We shall see, on Wednesday!

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