One of the City of Brandon’s longest-serving council members will not be seeking re-election when municipal polls open on Oct. 24.
Five-term councilor and current Ward 4 – University representative Jeff Harwood is ending what became an 18-year political career after serving from 1986 to 1992 and 2006 to this year. The retired teacher is stepping back to enjoy new free time, but has no immediate plans outside of travelling and spending more time at his cabin at Riding Mountain National Park.
Harwood will continue to serve on the board of governors for the Assiniboine Community College and with other organizations he has been a part of in the past. As far as his political career, however, he feels he has done his part for the city.
“I’ve served three terms in a row now. That’s 12 years and a lot of time and a lot of meetings,” Harwood told the Westman Journal on Tuesday. “Looking around the table, the faces on council have changed since 2006. Being the senior member of council, it’s been fun, but in any level of politics, you never want to stay too long. I have certainly learned lots and have worked with all kinds of people. I’ve just decided I’ve done my part and don’t want to stay too long. It’s time to turn it over and let somebody else with a fresh set of eyes in to take my place.”
As of press time, two candidates had registered to run in Ward 4. Whoever fills the position will be replacing a councilor with an expansive resume. Besides serving as deputy mayor and acting deputy mayor, Harwood has been involved in various municipal administrative bodies, including the Building Standards Committee; the Personnel Committee; the Brandon General Museum and Archives Board; the Western Manitoba Centennial Auditorium Corporation Board of Governors; and the Brandon Municipal Heritage Advisory Committee.
Harwood left council in 1992 after serving two terms, but was motivated to return in 2006 when he felt some local issues were going “on and on and on.”
“I was busy complaining about them and some close friends said, ‘If you’re going to complain, why not get involved,’ and I decided to get back into the municipal arena again,” he said.
One of the hot-button issues for him at the time was the proposed location for a new fire and emergency building. In his first term back at City Hall, council decided to put the Brandon Emergency Services Hall 1 near the corner of 19th Street and Maple Avenue.
“We finally found a location, got it built and the fire and emergency services moved to the new location. I thought it worked out well, but even then, it took a bit of time to get it done,” he said.
Harwood suggested the greatest challenges the city encountered during his time were the Assiniboine River floods of 2011 and 2014. He considers the first deluge a “monstrously huge challenge,” but gives credit to the city’s Engineering and Development Services departments for playing a huge role in Brandon’s victorious battle against the river.
“They put out the alarm in December of 2010 of what we could be facing and I was really proud to be a member of council at the time where we made the decision in early 2011 to allow the preparations to get underway for this flood that we knew was coming,” Harwood said.
“Being here and seeing the teamwork and cooperation, not just within the city corporation itself, but in the entire community was just amazing. It saved the city from a potentially devastating flood. There’s not a whole lot you can do about Mother Nature, but if you get enough warning and do the prep-work, it goes a long way to lessening the effects of something like that.”
The work completed before during and immediately following the flood of 2011 was instrumental in the city’s ability to curb the effects of another flood three years later.
"It’s time to turn it over and let somebody else with a fresh set of eyes in to take my place.” – Jeff Harwood, Ward 4 councilor
Harwood is somewhat concerned with the lack of participation in the 2018 election. As of this week – less than 12 days before nominations are closed – just four wards had contests with more than one candidate. Six wards and the mayor’s chair still had just one candidate.
However, there are no particularly controversial issues on the agenda at the moment, which is something that tends to draw more people into municipal races, he said.
“Sometimes what brings a good selection of candidates will be a really burning issue that gets everybody fired up,” said Harwood. “Other than that, people look at (council) and for many, it’s the time commitment involved that’s too much. There are more than just the two meetings per month that are televised. There’s all the work away from the regular council meetings; the committee meetings and the dealing with ward issues.”
This, says Harwood, might not be attractive to people who have jobs, a family and other interests they would rather follow. He admitted that, at times, juggling a schedule as a teacher and a councilor was difficult before his retirement in 2008.
“But I think people are, for the most part, satisfied with the job we’ve done over the last four years. There hasn’t been a lot of turmoil at City Hall,” he said. “There hasn’t been anything that’s set the city back too far and (residents) seem to like the direction its going at the current time. That’s not saying there might be some curveballs thrown at the next city council they haven’t figured on happening, though.”
Nominations for mayoral and council candidacies close on Sept. 18. For more information about the election or to register to run, visit brandonvotes.ca.