I’d like to use this month’s column to respond to an editorial that the Brandon Sun ran last month — "A Political Price." It warned of dire consequences if council and I failed to land one of the many big projects we’ve taken up in the past two years with WestJet, the casino and the Canada Games mentioned specifically.
Those three projects referred to in the editorial are emblematic of many files on my desk and other opportunities just around the corner. While it is hard to fail, I believe that it is worse never to have tried to succeed.
Twice before, Brandon has successfully hosted the Canada Games. Do you believe that as a city, Brandon no longer has the capacity to take on these kinds of national events? While there are some who would say it so, I strongly disagree. Not only is it in the best interests of Brandon to believe that we can do it, but it is in the best interests of the Games that communities like Brandon continue to be able to host them. Where would we be as a country if we define success and opportunity as only being available in large metro areas such as Toronto, Halifax, Calgary or Winnipeg? I believe that it is worth the risk for Brandon, in economic terms, in national profile, but most importantly for our sense of who we are as a community to pursue high-profile events like the Games.
The casino is a file that has always been problematic because of the provincial and First Nations politics, as well as the social implications.
You’ll recall that the Carberry site had been languishing for years and that the lack of progress was generating reliable chatter that the Spirit Sands licence would be transferred to a location at the Trans-Canada Highway and Highway 10. Sometimes the best defence is a good offence and we decided to see if there was interest in a Brandon-based casino. What made this attempt different than the two previous failed plebiscite options was that Brandon would be a partner and it would be built on city-owned land.
It was a long shot — knowing that Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, the province and finally city council would all have to agree. But the other option was to wait for others to make the casino decisions and then deal with the consequences. You should know by now, after two years in the mayor’s chair, that I am not a passive person. Depending on your orientation to the Brandon casino option, you’ll either see our actions as a proactive approach to an economic opportunity or a strong defensive tactic against a threat to the city. Either way, sitting on the sidelines was the weaker option.
Finally, the WestJet opportunity of regular air service for Westman is the granddaddy of them all. Brandon launched an aggressive lobbying effort, built on a strong business case that illustrates the economic benefits to WestJet if they decide to fly out of Brandon. We have been relentless in our pursuit of this opportunity. But WestJet may see more revenue opportunity in other communities and there isn’t a darn thing we can do about it. There is more demand for expanded service across the country from cities just like Brandon than there are new WestJet planes.
The overarching similarity in all of these projects is that our vision of our city, of what Brandon could be, is not defined by our current reality, but rather what we could become.
Growing the city is about taking risks, sometimes failing, sometimes succeeding, but always striving. We manage the risk by bringing in other partners who strengthen our team: the chamber of commerce, a volunteer bid committee outside of city hall leadership composed of business leaders, other Westman communities and sport organizations, Tribal Council Investment Group, chiefs and community leaders from First Nations communities. We build these coalitions because we are stronger with alliances than alone. We manage the risk with solid background research and by positioning our sales pitch from the other party’s perspective — what do they gain by partnering with Brandon? We also manage the risk by being fiscally prudent, always keeping a sharp eye on the cost-benefit ratio.
We can only do what we can do — our best.
With the three projects mentioned by the Brandon Sun editorial, you can see that our vision of the city is one of growth and prosperity. It’s about dreams and the only thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve is the fear of failure. This is why I take strong exception to the original Brandon Sun comment — for they reinforce the response that instead of spending our lives running toward our dreams, we are often running away from a fear of failure or a fear of criticism. That attitude doesn’t build cities and strong communities. The real failure would be our belief that we couldn’t do it and so didn’t try.
» Shari Decter Hirst is Brandon’s mayor. Her column appears monthly.