Mounting an election campaign can often be tougher than breaking a wild horse.
You know what you want to do and you have some idea how to do it, but actually getting the saddle on the thing and riding tall — without making a darn fool out of yourself — is exceedingly more difficult than one might think.
That goes for greenhorns to politics, incumbents and returning veterans. Let’s address the latter first today as Rick Chrest — a former city councillor and deputy mayor and current challenger to Mayor Shari Decter Hirst — yesterday issued his second media release containing a policy position.
Entitled “Chrest: Economic Development Key To Our Growth & Prosperity,” the wordy manifesto was long in feel-good nebulous words and very short on clean, crisp detail.
“It’s time to re-energize and refocus our efforts on economic development and tourism. Over the last four years or more we have taken our eye off the ball and allowed other priorities to steal away our economic resources,” Chrest writes.
“It’s time for Brandon to get cracking and start utilizing our numerous resources to be more proactive in attracting economic development, tourism and large event hosting.”
So does that mean he doesn’t think the current staff working on those files are doing a good job? And from where would he divert existing resources to do that “proactive” work? From some of the social programs such as affordable housing (a vague term in its own right) that have seemed to dominate council’s collective mind in recent years?
That’s actually the type of position we would expect from the high-profile businessman, who is decidely further to the right than the incumbent, a self-proclaimed member of the left-wing NDP.
Chrest also says “while it is vital to have a strong economic development staff, the results can be tenfold when they are aided by teams of residents who are skilled and willing to add their shoulders to the wheel.” These “well-connected” people would be “deputized” to be on the lookout for economic development opportunities when travelling.
An interesting concept. But isn’t that what happens now at Brandon Chamber of Commerce mixers? Would these deputies receive little badges to carry?
After some 900 words, Chrest gets to the point of yesterday’s release when he states: “In addition to the job prospects, the additional tax base is vital for Brandon — commercial assessment pays taxes at a higher portioning rate than residential.
“If elected mayor I will bring a strong commitment to this project coupled with my personal experience and background. I’m certain I can help jump-start this effort and can attract the talented local citizens needed to make us a dynamic force in economic development, tourism and event hosting.”
We agree that economic development is crucial to the Wheat City’s future. A strong tax-base helps to fund those social programs that our current council has been trying to budget for.
We look forward to hearing more concrete details of Chrest’s plan during the various public debates that will be staged closer to the Oct. 22 election.
However, this is the second time that we have had to give the brush-off to one of Chrest’s policy papers.
In late June, the Chrest campaign issued a document entitled: “Chrest Identifies Taxation as Significant Issue.”
“Considering the passionate pleas I’m receiving, taxation and fiscal management will be a major focus during my campaign and if elected, a top priority I would expect for the new council. I know I can provide the leadership to help us bring tax increases under control.
“Chrest intends to release more information on this topic throughout the campaign and welcomes any feedback residents wish to share.”
At the time, we agreed with Chrest’s position that taxation should be on people’s minds as they consider what candidates say or promise on the campaign trail. Property taxes — both city and school division — have gone up considerably in the past four years. But we also said that, as opening salvos go, Chrest’s press release seemed to be more about making a statement than making a promise or exploring a means of addressing high taxation.
Sun columnist Kerry Auriat last Saturday wrote on the Brandon municipal election that he wants to “hear substantive policies pertaining to the growth of our city,” from the current mayoral candidates.
“I don’t want the ‘view from 30,000 feet’ or other nonsensical jargon. I want to hear about taxes, growth, jobs and value.”
We agree with Auriat and we’re not sure if Chrest has yet risen to that standard.
Then there’s Mayor Decter Hirst, who has been keeping a very low media profile so far and issued no policy statements, although she was distracted from her campaign by the major summer flooding.
She hasn’t issued any formal campaign statements since she quietly announced April 25 that she would seek re-election. Chrest announced he was running three months earlier to a room full of supporters.
Decter Hirst declared her intention via Twitter.
“Good morning #bdnmb! I wanted to let the twitter-verse know that I am running for re-election. City has momentum & opportunities ahead!” Decter Hirst (@MayorShari) wrote in a 6 a.m. declaration.
She also sent out a mass email to supporters at that time, writing that voters would be faced with a “familiar choice” in the fall election.
“And it is also a very clear choice. It is not just a choice about different personalities, different styles of leadership, different sets of priorities and values. The choice in 2014 is about very different visions for our city.”
And so that is slowly — and painfully, we might add, given the heated mayoral campaign we see in Winnipeg at present — what we see happening here.
On CKLQ 880 yesterday, Decter Hirst noted she was running on her record. If that’s the case, voters will know exactly the type of mayor they would be re-electing. One who holds dear many of the tried-and-true social justice-based values of the left.
When interviewed by the Sun on April 25, Decter Hirst outlined the highlights of her record.
Fighting the historic flood of 2011 is one of her strongest memories, she said, as the city came together to deal with a “very primal, elemental threat to our safety.”
A major highlight came in 2013, when WestJet Encore began offering daily air service between Brandon and Calgary. Other initiatives Decter Hirst said she was proud to see get off the ground during her time in office include the affordable housing strategy.
The popular green cart organic pickup program and Sunday bus service are other highlights. She is also proud of the “open and transparent” city hall.
Obviously, she didn’t boast about her several high-profile missteps.
But interestingly, Decter Hirst also stated that building prosperity and economic development would be a priority for her, if she was re-elected.
So while former Brandon chamber general manager Chrest is starting to draw a line in the sand with his anti-taxation and pro-development stance, it appears incumbent Decter Hirst will be attempting to blur that line in the days and weeks to come.
Both of the current mayoral candidates — will there be more to come? — say they are now out knocking on doors looking for support. While ground campaigns are crucial elements in Manitoba elections, the media profiles candidates muster to be digested by a wide swath of potential voters are still very crucial.
At this time, and in that regard, we suggest Chrest is riding a bit of a bucking bronco, while Decter Hirst is just sitting pretty on the sidelines. We assume she’s grooming her public policy mount, watching her competition get a handle on the reins.
We look forward to the jockeying for position between the two.