It’s time for the City of Brandon to grow up.
Our city started as a major junction on the Canadian Pacific Railway, and the Assiniboine River and was incorporated in 1882.
The Brandon Charter Act has been in effect since Jan. 1, 1997. However, that was put in place to establish Brandon as a city, and doesn’t include much else.
It allows the City of Brandon to employ staff, sets the structure of council and our ward system, discusses public works and infrastructure (such as city-owned parking structures), and that auditors shall examine the city’s books to ensure they comply with the Municipal Act.
Interestingly, the Brandon Charter Act also allows borrowing for recreational facilities and "the city may purchase, acquire or establish, and operate, a municipal golf course and other recreational facilities, either within or outside the limits of the city."
It spells out the fact that, unlike councillors of municipalities under the Municipal Act, councillors in Brandon do not need to reside in their wards.
And oddly, it also states council may, by bylaw or resolution, make grants to the Brandon Chamber of Commerce.
But Brandon’s Charter falls far short of allowing this city to have the same powers over its destiny that Winnipeg enjoys.
Winnipeg received its own act under the province’s municipal legislation in 1971. Then known as the City of Winnipeg Act, the new legislation incorporated several municipalities that surrounded Winnipeg — including Charleswood, Fort Garry, North Kildonan, Old Kildonan, Tuxedo and several others — into one unified City of Winnipeg.
Later, the City of Winnipeg Act was repealed and replaced in 2003 by a new act, called the City of Winnipeg Charter. This most recent Winnipeg charter lays out in great detail the functions and laws of the city, on everything from care of noxious weeds, restrictions on flood assistance, boarded-up buildings, building inspections, taxation, licensing, the city’s ability to borrow — both long term and temporary — and development.
Though the City of Winnipeg remains a municipality under the Municipal Act, it has many more specific bylaws that differentiate it from smaller towns, villages and municipalities in the province. In that respect, the city is free from some of the more cumbersome aspects of the Municipal Act, while Brandon is not.
Mayor Shari Decter Hirst told the Sun last week that establishing a Brandon Act would be a sign of a mature community and she would "heartily support" moving forward on the issue.
"It would give the city more authority to act independently," she said. "Right now we have to work through the Municipal Act, and … it’s cumbersome."
And a council and city encumbered means that growth, development and change is slow. For Manitoba’s second-largest city, which has been enjoying strong population growth and is still struggling to promote and attract new development, this is a hobbling reality.
But the idea of an enhanced Brandon Charter or Brandon Act — whatever we’d like to call it — is not a new concept. The idea has been bandied about for a number of years.
During the 2007 provincial election, then-Progressive Conservative Party leader Hugh McFadyen outlined a plan to put Brandon on a level playing field with Winnipeg. Among the various statements he made during a campaign visit to Brandon, McFadyen promised to expand Brandon’s Charter in a bid to give Brandon more authority over its own affairs.
"It’s time that Brandon gets the recognition and respect it deserves," McFadyen said.
That push to give Brandon more autonomy died when the Tories lost the election, only to be resurrected by Coun. Stephen Montague in 2011, a few months after he was elected to represent Richmond ward.
At the beginning of the current council’s term in 2010, the topic of establishing a Brandon Act was brought up around the council table as the city was putting together its Roadmap for Growth. All councillors were working on various "pillars" as part of that roadmap, and Montague was working in collaboration with former city clerk Con Arvisais and then-deputy city clerk Heather Ewasiuk on the pillar of "governance."
In a Powerpoint presentation, he made during a council planning session, Montague outlined several key issues that would have been addressed by a newly created governance committee, including — among other things — council structure, roles and responsibilities of the mayor and city manager, the council election process, and the need for a City of Brandon Act.
That particular pillar never saw the light of day and was not included in the Roadmap for Growth. Unsatisfied with the result, Montague brought the governance committee idea forward during a council meeting in March 2011. A month later, it was voted down by council.
But much has changed in the ensuing three years, and this particular group of councillors has had time to see the Municipal Act at work, and witness first-hand the inherent problems that Brandon faces while working under that act.
That Coun. Jeff Fawcett (Assiniboine) has promised to make it a priority for his second mandate, if he is re-elected in the municipal election on Oct. 22, is a hopeful sign that we are moving in the right direction as a city.
For the future growth of Brandon, we need that kind of leadership.