Lack of candidates in Manitoba municipalities is not healthy, outgoing Winkler mayor says

Southern Manitoba municipalities are gearing up for fall elections, but in areas where the current mayor or reeve is not running, some communities could be short on candidates.

It’s been a long time coming for Winkler Mayor Martin Harder — he’s hanging up his hat.

“I’ve had 16 years of this and it’s been a great ride. I’ve seen the community grow from a community of 7,800 people to almost 14,000 people.”

Harder is among several southern Manitoba politicians not seeking re-election this fall. Altona, Stanley, Dauphin and Winkler are a few of the places without an incumbent running.

It’s a big advantage to incoming candidates according to University of Winnipeg political science chair Aaron Moore.

“It’s actually a pretty significant impact,” he said. “Incumbents in municipal elections are often very difficult to defeat. There are no political parties on the local level so people win based on name recognition.”

While the playing field is wide open for those running, many places only have a single candidate.

Moore said it’s normal in small communities, but could cause problems for larger communities in the region.

“People don’t have the same connections with the various candidates, councillors and mayor so some competition is necessary I think to ensure you have a full election and democracy.”

It’s an issue in Winkler, where as of Monday only one person is running for mayor — and six for councillor positions.

“I’m assuming we are going to have an election, but right now, the way the candidates have registered, there wouldn’t be an election – it would simply be acclimation which is not healthy,” Harder said.

The Association of Manitoba Municipalities is trying to make it easier for potential candidates to sign up, launching a new version of its election hub.

“It provides some pretty good insight into what’s all involved in being on municipal councils, the time commitments, the difference in the different positions, etcetera,” said Kam Blight, the president of the association.

For those considering running in their community, Harder offers this advice:

“First of all, they need to understand that they are there to represent the community at large, not their own pet peeve, not their own agenda,” he said. “It’s the community and what’s the health of the community. You look at the investments you make in the community to make it more effective.”

Manitobans can cast their ballots October 26. 

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