Brandon deputy mayor Len Isleifson announces to the media Thursday he won't seek re-election in the fall municapal election and instead will seek the Progressive Conservative nomination in Brandon East to run against long-serving incumbent MLA Drew Caldwell in what could be as late as spring 2016. However, the nomination process for the PC Party has already begun in some constituencies. Also in the photo is CKLQ/Star FM's RJ Lilley, centre, and the Brandon Sun's Graeme Bruce. (James O'Connor/Brandon Sun)
Deputy mayor and Riverview ward Coun. Len Isleifson did one good and respectable thing this week — he announced he won’t be seeking re-election to city council.
Instead, he is seeking the nomination to represent the Progressive Conservative party in Brandon East in the expected spring 2016 provincial election.
Now it’s not as if Landslide Len couldn’t have held on to his largely working-class, east-end ward — to date there is only one candidate intending to run there, the left-leaning Vanessa Hamilton. But he did only beat the well-liked, but seriously ailing Errol Black by just two votes in 2010.
The long-serving NDPer Black died in 2012 from Lou Gehrig’s disease.
By making his announcement before the official campaign period for councillors, Isleifson has paved the way for any other contenders in Riverview to start getting organized.
And also by not seeking re-election in his ward, he potentially avoided a costly byelection in a few months after the Oct. 22 municipal election. That would have angered the very people in Brandon East he would then be courting for support in his aspirations to get a seat under the dome on Broadway in Winnipeg.
The start of the official campaign period for mayor was 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.
But when I say Isleifson did one right thing this week, I meant he could have made a few other moves to help bolster his political future.
As I mused on Twitter earlier this week, Isleifson could have thrown his hat into Brandon’s mayoral race. He could have legitimately positioned himself between the traditionalist Rick Chrest and the progressive incumbent, Mayor Shari Decter Hirst.
He could then have enjoyed months of free publicity during the campaign, and if he won, well then he’d be mayor. If he lost, he would have done so after running an honest race as an underdog.
He could then serve the people of Brandon in a very direct, hands-on way and wrangle a new council that is shaping up to be possibly dominated by hard left-wingers, if what I hear of an organized push for just that is correct.
That’s a far better outcome than taking a huge risk by locking horns with the well-liked Brandon East NDP MLA Drew Caldwell (by way of disclosure, Drew is a close, personal friend of mine).
By the way, we appear to have a third mayoral candidate.
As reported in the Brandon Sun yesterday, Gary Neil Wilson filed his papers at city hall Wednesday.
While no formal announcement was made, a Facebook post from Wilson on Tuesday stated: "Not sure exactly how or when or why, but I am going to take a run at mayor and will be submitting registration documents tomorrow or in next day or two."
Wow. Doesn’t exactly sound like a passionate, organized and media-savvy pol seeking to be our first councillor.
But I digress.
Isleifson will apparently finish out his term at the council table. And he does so while under a huge cloud as he is a Tory who is trying to put the premier’s point man in Brandon and Westman out of a job.
That just doesn’t pass the smell test for me — after many sniffs.
I think Isleifson needs to resign from his post as deputy mayor immediately. And if he had complete respect for council and relations between that body and the province, he’d resign his ward seat in short order.
But I don’t see that happening, as he legally doesn’t have to until he officially receives the Tory nod. And while the PC party has started the 57-constituency nomination process in a few electoral districts, it’s not known when Brandon East will be called. I bet Brandon East will be later than many to give Isleifson all the profile he can muster as a city councillor, be that good or bad.
I offer a transcript of the responses Isleifson gave to some of my questions posed to him at his media conference outside city hall on Thursday afternoon:
JOC: "What do you bring to Brandon East against the NDP incumbent that previous PC candidates failed to do? They failed to make a dent in Drew Caldwell’s dynasty."
LI: "There’s a whole bunch, but I think the main focus right now is the nomination process ... I’m going to do everything I can to win the nomination process."
JOC: "So there’s no particular angle, no particular local policy, no particular local issues that you are going to stress in Brandon East that haven’t been stressed before by the PCs?"
LI: "It’s about putting money back into the pockets of Manitobans. To me it’s a clear function that you can tax people all you want, but you’re gonna raise more support, more awareness and more funds if you put the money back into the taxpayers’ pockets and give them more disposable income and they’re going to spend more and you make your taxes that way."
JOC: "You’re putting your political career in a bit of a risk ..."
JOC: "You’re putting all your eggs in one basket to get the nomination to be the PC candidate against someone who’s been elected, and elected, and elected, and elected, since he was at BUSU. You’re taking a bit of a risk?"
LI: "It’s a huge risk. But to me it’s a no brainer. But it shows that I’m dedicated about this run. It’s not something I’m taking lightly. To me it’s worth it. I strongly believe in this community. And we need strong people in there to make things happen."
So what did Caldwell have to say when I sent the above passage to him at the Manitoba legislature? I’ll let him have the last word today.
"Len’s personal ambitions are well-known and his seeking political office as a Brian Pallister Conservative doesn’t change anything for me. My job remains working for Brandon, together with others in our community, and building this city to be the best it can be for all people who live here.
"I am sorry, however, that Len’s ambitions lead him to support a party that opposed funding for two extremely important initiatives in his own backyard, the Western Manitoba Cancer Treatment Centre and the Brandon Regional Health Centre, and that his party continues to oppose every single one of our investments in Brandon. These positions harm our community and Len’s choice to support them is destructive.
"As a citizen, I’m also struck how there were no Brandon East issues identified by Len in his scrum with you. There are many ‘I’ this and ‘I’ that in his remarks and comments today in the Sun, and he tells us that holding office has been his personal ambition for 15 years, but he ought to be reminded that public service isn’t about personal ambition. It’s about public service.
"I can’t help but feel, after witnessing Len’s repeated attempts to seek office for the Conservative Party during his time as councillor, that Riverview ward has been shortchanged and that Brandon East itself is being seen as just another personal ambition to be achieved.
"So, in fact, Len’s remarks are no real surprise to me.
"Brian Pallister has to have somebody run for his party and it’s a pity Len has taken him up on it."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 23, 2014