Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 28, 2013
Well, I hope the festivities of the last few days have left you stuffed and reeling from your fill of family, friends and holiday merriment.
As the last bit of turkey is cleaned from the bone and the gifts are being safely stowed away, this writer and political junkie took the opportunity to peer into the crystal ball of 2014 to look at what should be an exciting year in the political world, both locally and on other levels of the stage.
As many of you surely know, the next year will see a municipal election for the residents of Brandon and elsewhere in many municipalities throughout the province — the first municipal election since the sweeping changes of 2010 that saw Brandon elect its first female mayor and a handful of new councillors. Meanwhile, on Sixth Street, it featured a return of most of the trustees for the Brandon School Division, save for a few new additions in local advocate Glen Kruck, former educator Mark Sefton and government worker Kevan Sumner.
To say the very least, 2010 saw a sweeping change for the community, which for the better part of a decade previous had maintained the safest of status quo. No change at the top and very little in the way of change beneath meant there was security in how policy would be crafted, and safety in the fact we would maintain within the predefined lines that had guided us through those times.
Since the election of 2010, her worship and this council’s time in office has been marked with a collection of successes and pitfalls, and every decision of council was placed under a microscope and scrutinized by the myriad of armchair quarterbacks in the community.
Mayor Shari Decter Hirst and council had times of tremendous unity, like the flood of 2011, and some times of tremendous challenge, like dealing with one of the largest property tax hikes in recent history — although some would argue the latter was playing catch-up for previous instances of holding the line in favour of incremental increases. The way that was handled generally reflects the initial stages of most new governments where the changes are biggest early in new mandates, and the lessons learned are swift and unforgiving.
As the end of this council’s term draws near, the coffee shop chatter seems to give a strong indication that the balance of the current council will seek re-election come 2014. However, few have come out and made an announcement even of an informal nature.
There are plenty of rumours swirling around the community about an important mayoral race as well, and many have begun to champion their favourite pony in the race.
Plenty of names continue to be batted around, names like Rick Chrest, Coun. Stephen Montague (Richmond), Brandon East NDP MLA Drew Caldwell and Mayor Decter Hirst herself are all in the discussion, but none has formally thrown down the gauntlet as Decter Hirst did months out from the 2010 election.
I would not be surprised to see a few wildcards surface, and a potential candidate I continue to hear coming forward from the ranks of the Brandon Chamber of Commerce membership. If this potential candidate does come forward, it could be a game-changer for those hoping to upset the current order.
As for the remainder of current council members, they may end up being the victims of a shakeup, should it happen. Brandonites have grown increasingly vocal over the past couple of budgeting sessions, and there is plenty of political punch riding on the ever-important election-year budget.
A change of two or more council members would cause a drastic change to the makeup of the current council — a small shift that may be enough to forward a new vision or further stymie an opportunity depending on which way the pendulum swings. If two or more seats flip to a different mindset, it will without a doubt cause a drastic shift to the mandate of whoever wears the chains of office following the fall of 2014.
From the trustees, if the public stares down another large tax increase without a palpable result like plans for construction of a new school, in conjunction with provincial partners, it may spell a tough exit for many who have been around the table for some time.
It is going to be an interesting year and a political junkie’s dream. No matter the outcome, at the end of 2014, those who occupy the decision tables in this community are in for some real and all-consuming challenges that affect us all in short order, mere weeks after those newly minted members sign on to shape this community.
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