It’s often said that western Manitobans are like the Rodney Dangerfields of this province — no matter how hard we try, we get no respect.
As we’re often overlooked when other media offer a Top-20 or Top-30 most-powerful listing, I decided to cobble together a ranking of my own to focus on Brandon and area. This is the fifth edition.
The criteria I used were that they have to be residents of Westman and be more powerful than simply prominent. So what is power? For this exercise, it’s the ability to influence the direction of the community.
A truly powerful person can be both respected and feared, admired and loathed. But he or she can get the job done. They’re the ones whose phone calls are returned.
This list is rather subjective, as I basically compiled it myself with some help and advice from co-workers at the paper. And I’ve also decided this year to exclude any Sun employees or their immediate families — like what happens with contest entries.
So please don’t consider this the official position of the Sun, and don’t be overly honoured or offended at your ranking, or lack thereof.
As Ricky Gervais once said about being on Time magazine’s 100 alumni list: “It’s always good to be part of an arbitrary list.”
So after checking my list twice, I offer my selections for the 30 most powerful people in Westman:
1.(Last year, No.1)Shari Decter Hirst, mayor. After nearly one year on the job, the professional fundraiser and former chair of Manitoba Public Insurance has proven to be a dynamic, no-nonsense achiever with a sense of flair. While she has had a few stumbles — the ill-conceived flood parade being one — Brandon’s first female mayor is forging relationships and building the city’s profile in a manner never before seen by previous administrations. She is widely admired and electing her was, in my opinion, the best collective decision this city ever made.
2.(3)Gord Peters, founder of Cando Contracting. Peters has taken Cando from a small railway contracting firm to international status, but maintains its head office in Brandon. In an unprecedented donation to the Brandon and Area Community Foundation in 2009, Peters and his wife, Diane, handed over $1 million worth of personal Cando shares. The Peters are also co-chairs of the campaign to help save Brandon’s historic Display Building No. 2, also known as the city’s Dome Building.
3.(2)Bob Mazer, president and CEO of the R.G. Mazer Group, which is the largest Ford New Holland dealership group in Canada. Mazer has served as chair of the Brandon Chamber of Commerce, the Brandon Economic Development Board and Assiniboine Community College, and served on the board of the Business Council of Manitoba. Mazer is currently chair of Campaign Assiniboine Building on Demand at ACC. He is also a partner in Remington’s Steak and Seafood Restaurant.
4.(8) Drew Caldwell, NDP MLA for Brandon East. Was easily re-elected for the fourth time in the recent provincial election. Caldwell is a legislative assistant to the premier with special responsibility for western Manitoba. He’s known as a hard worker for his constituents and is always fighting for Brandon at the Manitoba legislature.
5.(4)Merv Tweed, Brandon-Souris Conservative MP. The soft-spoken Tweed works best behind the scenes. In recent years he has helped deliver millions of dollars in infrastructure funding to Brandon and Westman, along with the city and province. Now that he’s part of a majority government, we expect even more from Tweed.
6.(15)Keith Atkinson, chief of the Brandon Police Service. Local crime levels are comparatively low, and Brandon’s still known as a safe place to raise a family.
7.(13)Kelly McCrimmon, owner, GM and head coach of the Brandon Wheat Kings. His family suffered a tragic loss this summer. It reminded us all how much of an impact the whole clan has had on the city.
8.(New)Corey Roberts, restaurant and bar owner, Rosser Ward councillor. Roberts, who is also chair of Renaissance Brandon, is determined to make things happen in his ward. And while he’s still learning the ropes and making a few mistakes, his drive, determination and creativity are a breath of fresh air.
9.(9)Rick Borotsik, the former Brandon mayor and area MP has just retired from his last political post as Progressive Conservative MLA for Brandon West. His counsel is still widely sought.
10.(In Top 50)Jake Janzen, lawyer, political organizer for the NDP and current chair of Manitoba Public Insurance.
11.(17)Wayne McLeod, CEO of Westoba Credit Union. Westoba has branches across the province, with a half-dozen in Brandon including its head office right downtown.
12.(16)Jim Murray, hairstylist, Brandon School Division trustee. Veteran trustee Murray is well respected, and lost a squeaker to Tory Reg Helwer in the provincial election in Brandon West.
13. (20) Mark Sefton, newly elected school board chair. The former Crocus Plains vice-principal also won the most votes for trustee in 2010.
14.(10)Donna Michaels, Brandon School Division superintendent. Has been keeping a low profile lately.
15.(14)Kerry Auriat, a partner in a brokerage firm. The intellectual money man listens and is listened to. But his voice will be somewhat muted now that he has decided to stop writing a weekly column in the Brandon Sun.
16.(Top-50)Deborah Poff, Brandon University president and vice-chancellor. Poff is to be commended for looking for more effective ways to connect with the community to ensure the ongoing success of the city’s landmark educational institution.
17.(6)Marlow Kirton, managing partner of The Town Centre. Kirton was also a driving force behind the new downtown skateboard park.
18.(19)Jeff Fawcett, small business owner, Assiniboine Ward city councillor. Fawcett’s uncle is Bob Mazer (see No. 3), but he has also made quite a name for himself around town, serving on several boards, including the Brandon University Foundation.
19.(12)Derry Decter, doctor. The bright and colourful physician has been leading the charge to reform the health-care system to better serve patients — including to have a medical school established at BU. He is also the city’s “first man,” being married to Mayor Decter Hirst.
20.(21)Jan Chaboyer, long-serving president of the Brandon and District Labour Council. Chaboyer is also the new city councillor in the south-end Green Acres Ward.
21.(22)P.J. Crane, project manager of Crane Steel Structures (the next generation of Crane Steel) who had a good run as Brandon Chamber of Commerce president last year.
22.(23)Ken Chalmers, chief of Birdtail Sioux First Nation. He has been a leading voice on reserve issues such as flooding and diabetes and is still attempting to create an urban reserve in the heart of Foxwarren.
23.(24)Jack Jacobson, partner with J&G Homes and Homelife Realty. He is the second generation of this family-owned construction company that has built thousands of homes in the area. His son, Jared, is the third generation and is CEO of J&G and also manages RONA Brandon and Allen & Bollack Excavating.
24.(25)Paul Crane, president of Crane Steel Structures. The company’s alliance with Behlen Industries has provided substantial employment and economic growth for the city. Crane Steel Structures Ltd. currently has 40 experienced and dedicated employees in their two service centres located in Brandon and the Winnipeg area. His sons, PJ and Jarod, have joined the business, making Crane Steel Structures Ltd. a true family company.
25.(New)Scott Hildebrand, Brandon’s new city manager. Arrives with a solid business pedigree after being vice-president and general manager at McKenzie Seeds, but is he simply going to be a “yes” man to the mayor? Time will tell.
26.(27)Brent Dane, fire chief. Fire departments are always hotbeds of employee discontent and tension, but Dane has managed to keep issues inside his department from boiling over.
27.(New)Cam Clark, general manager of CKLQ and Star FM. The affable Clark is a very active volunteer and is current president of the Brandon Chamber of Commerce.
28.(29)Terry Parlow, firefighter and chair of the Brandon Family YMCA. The former president of the Brandon Professional Firefighters Association is overseeing construction of the $17-million Dood Cristall Family YMCA.
29.(30)Stephen Montague, former Brandon University Students’ Union president who beat out a 21-year incumbent to be the new Richmond Ward councillor. Montague has some pretty serious ambitions, and is stretching his political muscles around the council table.
30.(New)Len Isleifson, security services manager at Brandon Regional Health Authority, Riverview Ward city councillor. Isleifson is building a reputation as being a renegade on a council that faced early criticism for being too compliant to the mayor’s wishes.
If the list was the Top-40 most powerful:
• Reg Helwer, former agri-business success story just elected as Tory MLA for Brandon West.
• Leanne Rowat, Tory MLA, takes over the redistributed and renamed Riding Mountain constituency once mostly held by veteran politician Len Derkach.
• Dave Baxter, president and CEO of the Westman Communications Group.
• Jim McCrae, former provincial attorney general, the real estate agent and author is now Meadows Ward city councillor and deputy mayor.
• Karen Oliver, general manager of the Provincial Exhibition of Manitoba.
• Ted Snure, city engineer. Slipped on this list this year after his fumbling of the Brown Block file.
• Penny Gilson, CEO of the Assiniboine RHA.
• Mark Frison, president and CEO of Assiniboine Community College. Frison’s main job now is to keep the returning NDP government focused on the rest of the campus moving to the North Hill.
• Shauna Hewitt-Michta, a young judge with a good law-and-order head on her shoulders.
• Reg Atkinson, former Brandon mayor and reeve of the RM of Cornwallis.
And if it was THE Top-50:
• Adam Sobkow, eBrandon owner.
• Kirk Brugger, local businessman and developer.
• Michael Leech, president and owner of Leech Printing.
• Neil Thomson, general manager Keystone Centre
• Ron Ball, president of Precision Holdings, co-founder of Westman Dreams for Kids.
• Daymon Guillas, director of Ski Asessippi Ltd. and general manager of the Russell Inn.
• Mike Waddell, a well-liked pastor and aspiring politician.
• Vince Barletta, former city councillor, now project manager at the community and economic development committee of the provincial cabinet.
• Shandra MacNeill, chair of the Brandon Folk, Music and Art Society.
• Deveryn Ross, former Brandon Sun columnist, who now writes for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 8, 2011