My favourite photo of former city councillor Jim McCrae was taken by myself when he had just been appointed attorney general after being re-elected in 1988. He’s seen quickly ascending the grand staircase in the Manitoba legislature on his way to a meeting. The father of five is carrying a mug that states “I Love my Daddy.” McCrae, who is also a real estate agent and published author, quit as Meadows ward councillor this week to be a part-time citizenship judge, for now, in Winnipeg. (BRANDON SUN FILE)
What a difference a year has made in the life of Kerry Auriat.
The man who successfully used a local Internet bulletin board to organize and promote a successful anti-tax petition one year ago has gone from a private citizen simply doing the right thing — "We’re just a bunch of average folks with a forum to make our voices heard," he wrote on eBrandon — to a potential candidate for city council.
And if Auriat chooses to run, many believe the race will be his to lose. I’m not totally convinced, but he’s got some positive things going for him.
Auriat is currently the vice-president at National Bank Financial and previously spent eight years with Wellington West Capital. He was co-chair of the A Sense of Home fundraising campaign for the Murray House cancer treatment residence, which managed to raised $2.85 million and wrapped up in December 2012.
Auriat told Sun political reporter Jillian Austin on Tuesday that he’s giving the opportunity to run for Meadows ward serious thought.
"I grew up there, that was my paper route … my folks still live on Queens," said Auriat who lives in the neighbouring Linden Lanes ward. "I think that city council gives a person a pretty good chance to make a positive contribution."
A byelection is planned for June 26, and potential candidates will have between May 15-21 to submit their nomination papers. So there is a relatively short time to make a decision, form a support team and mount a campaign.
Auriat has always been a political organizer and a pundit in his own right. He wrote a regular political column for the Sun for many years (he still writes one each month).
In his youth, he was a Liberal organizer, now he has drifted more to the right. Although I did discover he donated to both the NDP and Tories in recent provincial elections.
The Meadows byelection would be his best opportunity to finally get his hands dirty, so to speak, and also allow himself plenty of time to decide if he wants to go for the mayor’s chair in the municipal election in October 2014.
Auriat is brilliant and outspoken. He is extremely wealthy and very well-connected.
I also selected A Sense of Home Campaign Team — Auriat, Karen Chrest, Gerry Walker and Laurie Murray — as No. 1 in my 10 Best Builders and Boosters of Brandon list last fall.
But how would Auriat fare in a contested race and how would he perform as a city councillor, rubbing elbows with some of the more common men and women in the community?
And how would his inclusion in the already fractious council make the body work better for Brandon? Good questions, which I’ll look at further down.
First, Auriat would have to get elected. So let’s look at some very possible competitors for the Meadows seat:
• Former school board trustee Ramona Coey told the Sun last week she will be running. And she should.
Coey was a very well-respected Brandon School Division trustee who was expected to easily win the Linden Lanes ward in 2010. That was one time when all the pundits’ pontifications were punted out of the park.
Shawn Berry — a longtime community volunteer, but relatively unknown outside his ward — traded his work with local sports teams into votes and beat Coey 663 to 432. But I think Coey was still wearing some stink over the French milieu (immersion) mess at the school board and also didn’t actually live in the ward. That latter fact sometimes makes a difference in some voters’ minds.
"Now I’m actually within the Meadows ward, so it would be a natural fit," she said (the byelection is based on 2010 boundaries, but her house will be in the redrawn ward for 2014).
Coey is the director of female hockey for Hockey Brandon, as well as the vice-director with Hockey Manitoba. She is on the board for Child and Family Services and is active within her children’s schools.
She’s also an organizer for the local Progressive Conservatives.
• Then there’s Vanessa Hamilton, president of the Brandon-Souris NDP federal riding. She told the Sun she’s "seriously considering" taking a run at Meadows.
She ran as a candidate in 2010 for the Brandon school board and came in 10th place in the election — 165 votes shy of making it onto the board.
"I thought that was a great experience, and boy I have learned so much since then," she said.
Boy, I sure hope the eager wannabe politician has been doing her homework, so she doesn’t face another embarrassing moment as she did in an all-candidates forum at Brandon City Hall in 2010.
A question was posed to the candidates about taxation and the formula that’s used to derive what each person pays.
"I don’t know very much about the mill rate," Hamilton said, "so I’m not prepared to comment on it at this time."
But I know Hamilton has been working hard to learn as much as she can about federal politics — NDP style — especially since she made a key contact at the federal convention in Toronto in 2012.
Hamilton is a healthy living facilitator at Prairie Mountain Health who has since the 2010 election been appointed to the Cancer Care Manitoba board and the City of Brandon’s poverty committee.
But she isn’t planning to move from her east-end home.
"The main principle of a councillor is looking out for the best interest of the whole city," she said this week in an email.
So those are the folks as of this writing who have been making noises about throwing their hats into the ring. Many others have already said they aren’t running in an article in Wednesday’s Sun.
I’m sure there are others who are simply flying below the radar at the moment and we’ll hear from them as the official declarations start coming in.
So what if he wins?
Let’s says the stars align for Auriat and he finds himself sitting at the council table.
What would Auriat do to the political balance of the council table? Well, that would depend.
As a member of the so-called Starbucks 5 — a group of friends known to be against Mayor Shari Decter Hirst who meet regularly in the Corral Centre coffee shop — Auriat has praised Coun. Stephen Montague many times in public and has also received backing last week in the Sun from former mayoral candidate and controversial writer Deveryn Ross.
Would Auriat enter council as his own man? Or be representing the unofficial opposition at city hall?
His presence alone would be enough to throw a tilt into the operations around the table, as the likable McCrae — who generally supported the mayor, despite their political differences — was known for his penchant for talking at length without saying really anything.
His most memorable legacy will be getting a motion passed last December to request the province withdraw Bill 7 (which requires developers to include low-income housing in new residential developments) and renew consultations with developers.
Auriat, I’m certain, would slice through a lot of the baloney currently at the council table and that would be a breath of fresh air.
But if he were to follow Montague’s lead and simply be an obstructionist — voting against everything simply to be a thorn in the mayor’s side — his addition would only make council more dysfunctional than it already is.
However, if he proves to be a beacon of sensibility in a council too often simply bobbing around in choppy seas, then he could force council to start working together. Like it did for the first few months after the 2010 election.
So what would happen to the Mayor Shari Decter Hirst?
Decter Hirst swept into power by defeating two-term incumbent Dave Burgess with a promise of change and transparency (whatever that means) at city hall. And while the popular Decter Hirst did score an early victory with the return of the Association of Manitoba Municipalities convention, apart from the implementation of the accommodation tax, she has accomplished precious little else other than creating some plans and conducting studies.
• She brought back the casino issue without any success.
•We put in a Canada Summer Games bid we knew had little chance of winning.
•And there’s still no regular commercial air service by a major carrier. (Although it’s out of her hands at this point, if we get WestJet, she’ll get the credit.)
But Decter Hirst is now scrambling for a tangibile legacy piece — anything — the bigger, the better.
In any case, it’s good to see that quality potential candidates such as Auriat are stepping forward.
I’ll end this week noting that Auriat is also keeping true to his word about first-time mayors. He once posted online that "we should never again have someone elected mayor who has never served as even a councillor."
So if Auriat wins the late-June byelection, he’ll have until October 2014 to get experience as a councillor before deciding if he wants to make a grab for the chains of office.
A 2013 Meadows ward byelection forum — co-sponsored by the Brandon Sun and WCGtv — will allow candidates to answer questions from a panel of journalists and editors from the Brandon Sun and CKLQ/Star FM.
It will be held on June 18 in the city hall foyer. Ironically, the event will be hosted by CKLQ/Star FM general manager Cam Clark as Auriat was the moderator called on most often for these types of events in recent years.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 3, 2013