Brandon Sun managing editor James O'Connor in his office.
With candidates in Winnipeg’s municipal election sprouting like so many tulips in spring, where are the people who are going to steer The Good Ship Brandon forward come this fall?
The Oct. 22 election for city council and school trustees is 185 days away.
However, the slim number of people who have indicated they will either seek or re-seek an elected post is worrisome to me.
The start of the official campaign period for mayor starts May 1, with councillors able to start running a campaign on June 30. There is no legislation defining a campaign period for school trustee candidates.
However, only a few people have officially stated they plan to run for office. That includes former city councillor Rick Chrest, who would challenge incumbent Mayor Shari Decter Hirst, who is expected to seek a second term.
While there are several councillors and trustees who have informally said they plan to seek re-election, there are very few folks who I have heard — and I also polled several peeps in the newsroom and in some of my favourite haunts — who plan to run in the seats that are open or will be open come the fall.
While I assume we will start hearing some indications in the coming days and weeks, I am hoping Brandon will have a vigorous election period, with many talented and trustworthy people vying for office.
It would be a sad situation — the incumbents will spin it otherwise — if many sitting councillors or trustees are acclaimed and don’t have to do anything more than register a form to have the honour of serving the people of Brandon.
Here are a few of my thoughts on Brandon council as we sit here, 185 days away from what can be termed an important election for a community that faces some serious growing pains.
• Her Worship Mayor Shari Decter Hirst — SDH will face a real challenge from former councillor and high-profile businessman Rick Chrest. While she hasn’t indicated that she will seek re-election, all signs point to it. I expect we’ll hear something before she makes her State of the City address at the Brandon Chamber of Commerce on May 8.
Decter Hirst was elected with a mandate of change. While she certainly blew some sparkle into the pinstriped blue closets at city hall, she also faltered more than a few times in her rookie term. Chrest will look to capitalize on that and also downplay SDH’s claimed achievements — landing WestJet service, fighting a historic flood, developing detailed plans for the city’s future (See Kerry Auriat’s thoughts on that on Page A11) and the return of the Association of Manitoba Municipalities’ convention.
Simply put — and scraping all the glaze and bafflegab away — SDH now has four years’ experience and will likely not repeat some of her earlier mistakes (pay your taxes on time, Shari!). She represents the alternative side of the coin and has been backed by some of the renegades at the Brandon chamber. She doesn’t have all the support of traditional NDP followers. Voters will have to decide if the city is now, today, a better place with a better plan for the future that it was in 2010 when they kicked two-term incumbent mayor and traditional business-backed Dave Burgess to the curb in favour of the Lady in Pink.
Chrest has the backing of the true-blue business types who were shocked to see Burgess booted. Chrest is also an upstanding family man, and wife Karen’s community service and high profile will undoubledly help the campaign. He would be a traditional Brandon mayor — who leans to the right and takes his cues and counsel from the established families and large local business interests. Will voters see that stability as a good thing after four years of SDH’s twists and turns? And unless a major ballot box question emerges — infrastructure and retail development are two looming issues — will character and family and familiarity help sway voters towards Team Chrest? We’ll see.
What I do predict, once the mayor announces she intends to run, is a very close race that could get a bit dirty if a whisper campaign heats up.
• Ward 1, Assiniboine, Coun. Jeff Fawcett — This bright entrepreneur has said in Sun stories that he intends to seek re-election and that’s a good thing. Fawcett is extremely well-connected and has benefited greatly from his four years on council., If one incumbent does indeed deserve to be acclaimed (his D & B Sprinklers company’s high season coincides with the campaign) is this hard-working man.
• Ward 2, Rosser, Coun. Corey Roberts — I like Roberts. Everybody likes Roberts. And Roberts has a big heart for life, his family and his downtown. Problem is, his health has left him unable to meet the demands of office on occasion in his rookie term. If he decides to run — and that appears to be the case — he should first look deep within himself and decide if he is prepared and able to do what needs to be done to move the rebuild of downtown forward. It does look like he will have a challenger. A woman is said to be preparing to announce.
• Ward 3, Victoria, Coun. Murray Blight — Blight isn’t seeking re-election. Well-known local businessman Barry Cullen has stepped up and said he’s seeking the seat. He’s a sharp guy who owns a business downtown and has deep chamber ties. He deserves to win, but could use a challenger to help flesh out his positions on issues.
• Ward 4, University, Coun. Jeff Harwood — Solid, dependable Jeff. He stands for "serving University Ward residents in a manner that is respectful, dedicated and effective" and "promoting economic development for the city." And he does just that. This veteran city politician hasn’t indicated if he’s running again, but I bet he will. He could use a challenger to make him work a bit for his seat, as he was acclaimed in 2010.
• Ward 5, Meadows, Coun. John LoRegio — This former radio reporter turned ad salesman hasn’t indicated officially if he’s going to seek re-election in the seat he won in a contested byelection in June 2013. LoRegio has been the voice of reason on several issues during televised council debates. I think he should run again and I can’t see anyone stepping up to challenge him.
• Ward 6, South Centre, currently vacant — Left-leaning former councillor Garth Rice resigned this year to pursue a career with the city. So this seat is open for the taking. I’ve heard rumblings that the labour movement and those on the left are looking for a candidate. I would like to see residents there get a choice between that and someone more business-oriented on the right.
• Ward 7, Linden Lanes, Coun. Shawn Berry — This former Sun circulation department employee has proven to be a councillor who thinks he’s a bit smarter than he is. He’s led councillors on a few interesting trails during debates that really didn’t need to be explored. Berry is finishing his rookie term. I bet he could see some competition, although he is very well-liked in his ward.
• Ward 8, Richmond, Coun. Stephen Montague — Ah yes, the burr in the mayor’s saddle. The official Opposition at city hall. Montague has shown a palpable lust for politics, but he also has a very good job out of town that has seen him have to miss some meetings in Brandon. Will this eager, bright centrist politician seek a second term in this key ward? No word yet.
• Ward 9, Riverview, Coun. Len Isleifson — This is an interesting situation. It’s an open secret that the ambitious Isleifson is taking a hard look at seeking the provincial Progressive Conservative nomination in Brandon East. Winning that would place him dead against incumbent NDP MLA Drew Caldwell. So it wouldn’t bode well for Isleifson to seek re-election in Riverview, only to quit some time later to seek the Tory nod, forcing an expensive and bothersome byelection in the very area he’s hoping to curry goodwill in. I hear a woman is will announce her intentions to register as a candidate in Riverview very soon.
• Ward 10, Green Acres, Coun. Jan Chaboyer — This labour activist wears a few hats that I think have placed her in some interesting positions while in her rookie year at city hall. I’ve often wondered who she is representing in some debates — the labour movement or the residents of Green Acres. However, nobody can doubt her convictions and work ethic. And in this working-class neighbourhood, I can’t think she would be easy to unseat. And I do believe she will run again.
This election is going to be interesting. And I hope Brandonites pay attention and get bitten a bit by the political bug. The Sun will be providing detailed coverage of the race, including staging a major debate as we have done before.
Citizens need to become engaged to this process. We need everyone to be aware of who they are voting for and what it means for this city as we cross the 50,000 population mark.
Council is the sum of its many parts. So here at the Sun, we’ll try to keep everything in perspective for voters so they will be armed with all the proper information when they mark their ballots on Wednesday, Oct. 22.
What about the BSD trustee race? Don’t get me started.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition April 17, 2014