2006: Brandon-Souris MP Merv Tweed, from left, Provencher MP Vic Toews, Souris Mayor Darryl Jackson, Brandon West MLA Scott Smith and the Association of Manitoba Municipalities’ Ron Bell announce infrastructure projects in Souris.
The local political scene was taken aback this week with the resignation of long-serving local MP Merv Tweed.
2008: Tweed greets supporters at his campaign headquarters shortly after his re-election. (FILE)
2010: Tweed gives a shout-out alongside torch runner and Brandon East MLA Drew Caldwell during the community cauldron lighting of the Vancouver Winter Olympics flame. (FILE)
2010: Brandon city Coun. Jeff Fawcett, right, stands with Tweed
during a funding announcement for the Brandon Folk, Music and Art Society at the Strand Theatre. (FILE)
2011: Prime Minister Stephen Harper tours Brandon’s flood zone with, from left, Tweed, Premier Greg Selinger and Caldwell. (FILE)
2013: Joanne Bell of Special Olympics Westman receives a $10,000 cheque from Tweed from proceeds raised at the Fifth Annual Merv Tweed Charity Golf Tournament. (FILE)
Tweed has constantly placed high in my annual list of the most powerful people in Brandon. For example, in 2011 I said this when placing him at No. 5, up one place from the previous year: "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."
And as you read in the Sun this week, once we started digging a bit, it’s clear that perennial backbencher Tweed has indeed helped drape his Brandon-Souris riding with a lot of federal funding for large projects — upgrades to Brandon’s wastewater treatment facility, the installation of an instrument landing system at the local airport leading to WestJet’s arrival and the development of Brandon University’s new Healthy Living Centre — to water and sewer projects and new arenas in smaller towns and rural municipalities.
But he always took criticism for being a bit too far removed from the city of Brandon and rarely seen around town. He also angered many in the arts community when he stuck a stick in the spokes of the Strand Theatre restoration.
In October 2012, Tweed said in a story headlined, "Strand Project Loses MP’s Support," that the lengthy delays in applying and reapplying for grants left him where he could no longer support the project.
It was an unprecedented move by a politician to publicly drive a stake through the heart of a simple theatre restoration project — the type of project that has been successfully completed in countless communities across Canada.
Undaunted, the Brandon Folk, Music and Art Society has continued to work on the project, with a goal of redeveloping the building into a community multi-purpose performance and arts centre. The society submitted a $1.2-million revised proposal to the Canada Cultural Spaces Fund on Jan. 31 and is awaiting a response.
Ironically, Tweed was once a supporter of the project.
While making a two-year promise of increased federal funding in 2010 to help the BFMAS expand its annual summer folk festival, Tweed "remained coy," the Sun reported, when asked if an announcement of federal funding for the Strand project was in the cards in 2011.
Standing out front of the then-boarded-up theatre on a chilly November morning, Tweed said he would continue to work with the society to ensure it put forward the most persuasive application possible, the Sun reported.
"We’ve been working with ... their organization, just to make sure that what we’re building in the application meets the fund’s processes," he said. "Quite often, in my role, I hear about applications after they’ve been denied for a specific reason. But working with the organization, we’re able to make sure that, at least, it meets all the criteria."
But less than two years later, he changed his tune on the live music venue.
As reported in the Sun recently, the BFMAS has had plenty of community support as more than two tons of excess or rotting lathe, plaster and ductwork have been removed from the vintage theatre.
The Strand Theatre lobby will be completely opened up to allow for public viewing access in advance of its redevelopment as a community multi-purpose performance and arts centre.
More than $200,000 in private fundraising investment and gifts-in-kind have been received, the Sun reported.
But back to Tweed.
He was also at times tough to get a hold of by reporters for comment on various issues. He also on occasion expressed frustration with the media — this paper in particular — for not publishing enough news of his good deeds.
I note that in this week’s edition of the Sun’s Community News we have two pictures of Tweed handing out small amounts of money in cheque presentations from the annual Merv Tweed Charity Golf Tournament. But Tweed’s character fault — his potential for arrogance — was more than ever apparent in the way he chose to exit public life.
I first heard of Tweed’s departure in a tweet from his executive assistant, Chris Kennedy, at 9 a.m. Monday, followed seconds later from a tweet from the MP’s son Charles, who works as a reporter here at the Sun. Moments later — it could have actually been sent before the tweets, and just took a few moments extra to get through the Internet — a press release on government letterhead arrived in my email inbox informing that Tweed would be resigning his seat effective Aug. 31 to pursue opportunities in the private sector.
That’s standard boilerplate for many politicians leaving office these days. Except Tweed, hours later, participated in a press conference in Winnipeg which raised more than a few eyebrows.
He announced he’s trading Parliament Hill for the Port of Churchill.
Standing in front of a huge banner for Omnitrax Canada, Tweed, 58, revealed that following his resignation from Parliament, he’ll become president of the company, which operates the Hudson Bay Railway.
The company plans to begin shipping Alberta crude oil via the railway to the port, the Winnipeg Free Press reported from the press conference.
Ottawa-based Democracy Watch immediately pounced on the issue, noting in a mass email that Tweed is allowed to lobby his government "in secret the day he resigns his seat and becomes President of Omnitrax railway company because the Conservatives, specifically Minister Tony Clement, have failed to implement the May 2012 recommendations of the House Ethics Committee."
Democracy Watch co-ordinator Tyler Sommers continued: "Canadians deserve better, especially from the Conservatives who promised to clean up the federal government."
There are somewhat tighter rules for cabinet ministers.
Until last fall, a Sun article stated, Tweed chaired Parliament’s transportation committee, which dealt frequently with
Personally, I think Tweed showed extreme disrespect for his office and the people who elected him by making his resignation announcement in Winnipeg — where he plans to move — and also holding a presser with his new employers just hours after his resignation was made public.
He could have at least waited until he was no longer our MP. Bad optics. His character fault had reared its ugly
And to think how much support Tweed has had over the years.
In the 2011 federal election, Tweed bested his closest NDP rival by 13,541 votes. And that was during the so-called Orange Crush, when the federal Dippers were sweeping seats across the country they normally would not have a chance of winning (mostly in Quebec).
In fact, Tweed increased his victory margin by a handful of votes as he beat the NDP by 13,533 votes in the 2008 tilt.
But he’s soon gone. Leaving a decent legacy.
And a great opportunity for us political junkies and other pundits to start the guessing game as to who will be our next MP.
The process is that each party — Conservative. NDP, Liberal, Greens (?), and maybe some others — will hold nomination meetings in a process approved by their central party.
Some candidates will be acclaimed — meaning they have no opposition — while others will have to go through a nomination process where they need to convince existing party members to vote for them and sell memberships to prospects. Then there will hopefully (as a journalist speaking) be a good old barn-burner of a nomination meeting.
The last time we had one of those was for the provincial constituency of Brandon West, when Conservative Reg Helwer beat all comers in front of a packed hall in the Royal Oak Inn, with an overflow into the hallway. He then slipped by NDP contender Jim Murray to become MLA in the ensuing 2011 provincial election.
But I digress.
Back to the Brandon-Souris nominations and the as-yet unannounced byelection date (likely in late October or early November).
So who’s gonna run?
• Conservative Party of Canada
Unless the devil moves into an ice palace, the next Tory candidate will be the MP following the byelection. So far, the only folks who have been talking about running, or have been regularly named in the rumour mill, are: Kennedy; Brandon city Coun. Jeff Fawcett (Assiniboine); Brandon city Coun. Len Isleifson (Riverview); MLA Cliff Cullen (Spruce Woods); perennial provincial Tory contender Mike Waddell; and Virden Mayor Jeff McConnell.
• Canada’s New Democrats
This party is going to get crushed in the next federal election by the re-lit Liberals. Brandon-Souris NDP riding association president Vanessa Hamilton — still licking her wounds after a drubbing in the Meadows ward civic byelection in June — told me that she would consider seeking the nomination if she received support from the Liberals. "As well, support from the Greens would be ideal," she said. "If I run, and if elected, I would work with three parties on the left to get rid of the Harper regime in 2015. There is nothing for the Liberals and Greens to lose by collaborating with the NDP in the Brandon-Souris byelection."
So there. Take that Harper!
The only other real candidate for the New Dems is Brandon Labour Council president Cory Szczepanski, a welder from Wawanesa.
• Liberal Party of Canada
Perennial sacrificial local Grit lamb Shaun Cameron, or some surprise candidate that isn’t on my radar. Even the rise to superstar status for federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau will leave this party out in the weeds in Brandon-Souris. Unless it gets smart and aligns with the NDP, as Hamilton wisely suggests.
My thoughts? The Brandon Sun has a policy of never endorsing a candidate at any levels of politics. I tend to skirt that rule a bit and say who I personally think will win, but it isn’t a company endorsement.
Kennedy is whip-smart — totally connected in the community and within the party at all levels — and would be the youngest MP in Harperland (Alberta MP Michelle Rempel is 33, Kennedy is 29), a nice distinction for Brandon-Souris. He’s also a Brandon guy and we need all the federal help we can get for some major infrastructure projects we have written about in recent days.
Other Tories could and should run to raise their own profile for future battles — Isleifson in Brandon East against NDP MLA Drew Caldwell in 2016, for example — or to prevent coronation stigma for Kennedy and his party.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition August 17, 2013