Rural Manitoba may see a major turnover of municipal leaders come this fall’s elections.
An “usually high number” of long-serving leaders say they’re not seeking re-election this October, says the president of Association of Manitoba Municipalities.
“It’s a sign big change is coming,” said Doug Dobrowolski.
“Most people keep it pretty close to the chest as to whether they’ll be running or not, but even last fall I heard a number of people say ‘this is my last convention’ and ‘I’m not running anymore.’”
Departures of long-standing elected officials potentially open the door for prospective newcomers who may have been deterred from running against veteran councillors.
But the question is, who may want to step up?
In 2006 elections, there were no contests for 41 per cent of all seats across the province. Thirty-three entire councils returned to office with no contests. The average voter turnout was 45 per cent for municipalities outside Winnipeg.
STEPPING UP – AND OUT
Dobrowolski said while AMM hopes to see renewed interest in municipal elections this year, they’re also keenly aware of what’s keeping people away from public office.
Rural residents are sometimes tentative about public office, seeing it as potentially creating tension with neighbours, Dobrowolski said. Many people also lack knowledge about the job of municipal councillor.
A major obstacle is that fewer people have time for it.
“The time commitment is concerning people,” Dobrowolski said. “More and more people either have a full-or part-time job.”
Lack of time for the job of mayor of Gimli is why Tammy Axelsson is calling it quits after just four years in office.
“It’s been very personally rewarding,” Axelsson said. “But it’s been very challenging from a time point of view.”
She estimates her council duties required anywhere from 20 to 25 hours a week and those were hours she had to fit in above and beyond her own job.
“I cannot reconcile the two and I can’t fit the two together,” she said. “That’s the main reason I’m leaving.”
Axelsson added that she believes the time requirements for the job actually merits closer scrutiny. “The way it’s set up now it limits the amount of people who can take it on,” she said adding an independent review of both duties of municipal leaders as well as compensation they receive for the job may be needed.
Dobrowolski agrees a municipal leader’s job has become more demanding.
“You wear many different hats and you sit on many boards,” he said.
“Eighteen years ago when I first got elected there wasn’t much on the agenda (of council meetings). Now it’s 100 pages with all the background reading.”
But he added that the new demands and challenges also make for a very rewarding role in office.
“It’s a rewarding thing to do,” he said. “You’re serving your community. You’re making decisions for the future of your community.”
If there’s a lack of candidates to run for office this fall, and councils end up with vacant seats after elections, more municipalities will start looking at merging, he predicts.
“I know there are some already talking about amalgamating,” he said.
September 21 is the deadline for prospective candidates for the 2010 elections to register and submit nomination papers to their municipal offices. Manitoba’s municipal election is Oct. 27.
“More and more people either have a full-or part-time job.”
– DOUG DOBROWOLSKI, AMM PRESIDENT