From veterans to novices, Manitobans encouraged to run for municipal office as deadline nears

A longtime rural Manitoba mayor and councillor who retired after more than 30 years of public life is running for office again — partly because she's perturbed by the lack of interest from others. 

Critical to have people who care in municipal office, says ex-mayor who's running again

Manitobans in most municipalities have until Sept. 20 to submit their papers if they intend to seek municipal office. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

A longtime rural Manitoba mayor and councillor who retired after more than 30 years of public life is running for office again — partly because she's perturbed by the lack of interest from others. 

"It's important that younger people step forward, but if they're not stepping forward, then some of us that are semi-retired, I guess, have to pick up the slack," said Shirley Kalyniuk, who is running for mayor of Rossburn after last trying in 2014.

She's among the people the Association of Manitoba Municipalities recruited earlier this summer to produce testimonial videos encouraging others to run for office.

Time is ticking for people thinking of running, whether they are retired, political neophytes or something in between. 

The official nomination period runs from Sept. 14 to 20 and the election date in almost all Manitoba municipalities is Oct. 26. 

"It's critical that we have people there [in municipal office] that care," said Kalyniuk, who also advocates for having more women run for political office.

Community passion

The desire to make a difference was a motivating factor for Kalyniuk.

She was the first woman elected to office in the town of Rossburn back in 1983, and spent 10 years as a councillor before serving as mayor for 21 years. The town was amalgamated with the rural municipality in 2015 to create the Rossburn Municipality, northwest of Brandon. 

"I'm very passionate about my community, passionate about politics, and I try to do my best. That was always foremost in my mind and it remains there," Kalyniuk said.

She's running again for several reasons, including her belief people should make time for the things they believe in.

"I think if you're seriously considering letting your name stand, you should put it forward and stand up there and say, 'I'm running and I don't care who gets on council, I want to be there because I want to do better for my community.'"

Shirley Kalyniuk, a former mayor and councillor in the town of Rossburn, has decided to run for office again. She's also encouraging other Manitobans to run for office. (Submitted by Shirley Kalyniuk)

She said some council incumbents in Rossburn are stepping down and she's worried not enough other people are interested in filling those seats.

Association of Manitoba Municipalities executive director Denys Volkov said "time will tell" how many people step forward in the more than 130 municipalities holding elections.

But there's a need for renewal following a long and exhausting pandemic, Volkov said.

"After COVID, we know that a lot of municipal officials are probably tired; they will be retiring or not running again. It's very important to energize residents to run," Volkov said.

While candidates still have two weeks to submit their nomination papers, some trends have emerged in Manitoba's biggest cities that suggest some races won't have a lot of competition. 

In Winnipeg, four of the 15 wards are heading toward acclamation, although 15 people are running for mayor so far. In Brandon, the province's second largest city, only one person has put his name forward for the job of mayor.

Eileen Clarke, Manitoba's minister of municipal relations, has also lent her voice to the effort to get people to put their names on the ballot this fall.

A woman stands at a podium.
Minister of Municipal Relations Eileen Clarke, seen at a provincial government funding announcement, says there are many reasons to participate in public office. (Ian Froese/CBC)

"[It's] really a step forward for the community when you get people that are really interested in growing their community, making it sustainable and meeting the needs of the people. It can be a really great experience," she told CBC Manitoba Information Radio host Marcy Markusa on Thursday.

Clarke, who was mayor of Gladstone for eight years before moving into provincial politics, said it's also an opportunity for people to expand their personal and professional horizons by taking on a new challenge.

"We need the younger generation. They have different skills, they have a different vision, and we need that vision going forward," she said. "It's all about transformation."

Like Volkov, Clarke said the pandemic likely has discouraged some people, but not because they are tired — because of the abuse.

"Any elected official has taken a lot of flack during COVID, as have the staff in municipalities, so it's been difficult. Some people are able to weather this type of confrontation better than others," she said.

"Even within councils, there are differences in opinion when it came to the restrictions. We have to get past that. We have to move on, because there's a lot of great things happening in Manitoba."

Clarke, who announced last month that she would not to seek re-election in 2023, said people have to remember that their elected officials are there for them, making decisions on their behalf.

For the most part, her 16 years in office have been positive, and Clarke treasures meeting different people and seeing different communities, she said.

Volkov acknowledges the risks in running but encourages people to consider it, echoing Clarke's comments about municipal councils impacting the everyday lives of citizens.

"We understand it's a very challenging job, but at the same time, it's rewarding. Municipal officials make decisions in the best interests of their communities," he said.

The AMM has set up a hub on its website for registered and prospective municipal election candidates to learn more about the pending election.