The last two weeks have not been kind to Brandon Mayor Shari Decter Hirst and our city councillors.
Not only did Decter Hirst do herself and the mayor’s chair a disservice by threatening Richmond ward Coun. Stephen Montague at the end of last week’s council meeting — an act that garnered days of unwelcome local and provincial coverage — two of the major projects of this administration also took substantial hits.
Following months of talks and overtures to the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, the AMC appeared to turn its back on the city when Grand Chief Derek Nepinak announced that his organization had signed an agreement with Hemisphere Gaming Inc. to develop and manage the Spirit Sands Casino project near Carberry.
Never mind the fact that the president and CEO of the Tribal Councils Investment Group, the organization that partnered with the City of Brandon to bring a casino to the Wheat City, still believed it was possible to convince the province of their business plan — Nepinak’s decision was a stunning rebuke of this administration’s request for the AMC to reconsider Brandon.
While we don’t necessarily believe the city’s financial plan was a bad one, the AMC chose to stick with its original location near Carberry, leaving city officials scrambling to spin a less-than-awful light on the situation. Unless the city can convince the province or the AMC to change its mind, the Brandon casino question certainly looks a whole lot less promising.
And then on Thursday, we learned that Swim Canada was determined to have an eight-lane pool requirement for the 2017 Canada Summer Games, which puts Brandon and its six-lane Sportsplex in a bit of a pickle.
As the Sun reported, Decter Hirst said the city was made to understand that “they would never back away from that eight-lane requirement again.”
“We had hoped we could come up with a compromise position that would allow us to continue to use six lanes at the Sportsplex. Swim Canada … insists on this being eight lanes.”
The potential solutions to this problem are many, but not all that attractive. All swim events could move to Winnipeg, which already has the diving events at the Pan Am Pool. The city could also build a new eight-lane pool in Brandon — a highly unlikely scenario — increase the pool size at the Sportsplex to eight lanes, or even rent an eight-lane pool and build a temporary venue somewhere in the city.
So either Brandon will face a divided Games, or a more expensive Games, if the Canada Games Council even accepts the Brandon bid, and there’s still no guarantee of that either.
Landing the Canada Summer Games was one of the main issues of the 2010 municipal election, the two-year anniversary of which passed last month.
This mayor and council have seen a few successes over the last two years. Several items under the city’s Roadmap for Growth have been realized:
• The Association of Manitoba Municipalities’ annual convention still comes to Brandon every other year.
• There’s a new derelict building strategy and an affordable housing first policy in place.
• Brandon now has a functioning hotel tax.
• The Renaissance District Secondary Plan has met council approval.
• The Brandon Arts Council has been given the green light to start handing out grants for local artists and there are now two major cultural festivals of which Brandon can be proud.
But it’s the big-ticket items that will make or break this administration — the casino or some other downtown facility, the airport, the Canada Games bid and even the development of the Black Farm property.
Lingering in the background are the looming budget talks that will be underway soon enough, all of which will stand in the shadow of the 2012 property tax and city salary debacle.
The first two years of this mayor and council’s leadership have been less than stellar. We understand that it takes time to properly plan how the city will grow and prosper, and negotiations with outside organizations are almost never quick or easy.
And sometimes there are setbacks.
But in our opinion, unless this mayor and council score some major gains over the next several months — and also learn how to play nice together round the council table — they will pay a hefty political price in 2014.