With just over six weeks of campaigning left before the Oct. 24 municipal election, nobody has registered yet to run for mayor of Virden.
One person who was considered a likely contender, Deputy Mayor Zac Penner, has confirmed he will not be running for councillor or mayor.
He told the Empire-Advance, “I have really enjoyed my time on council and am not leaving on bad terms, I have learned a lot over the last six years. There is a chance I may run again at some point in the future.”
Girardin, Cowan commit
Of the remaining five councillors, only two had registered their intentions to run by the time of this writing: Lomer Girardin and Tara Cowan. Councillors Tina Williams, Brock Koop and Joe Careme were undecided.
Five newcomers to Virden council have either registered or said they plan to register to run for a seat on council: Shannon Walowetz, Grant Gardiner, Paula Brazil, Paul Rhodes, and Whitney Wright.
At a public information session last Thursday evening, Mayor Jeff McConnell first delivered a detailed PowerPoint presentation on aspects of municipal politics including: the roles of councillors and staff, legislation that governs municipalities, code of conduct, the difference between policies and procedures, committees and boards that Virden councillors can sit on, time commitments and compensation.
Afterwards, the visitors were invited to mingle and chat with staff and council members.
The deadline to register and present nomination papers at town hall is Sept. 18.
If nobody runs for mayor by that deadline, Virden CAO Rhonda Stewart says the vote for councillors would still go ahead on election day. A deputy mayor would have to be chosen from among the six successful council members.
The deputy mayor would be responsible for chairing council meetings and doing other mayoral duties until a bi-election for mayor could be held.
McConnell expressed to the gathering his hope that there would be enough candidates to have an election this time. But he shared just how normal it’s become for municipal elections to turn into acclamations due to lack of interest.
“The last mayor elected in this community was a guy named Dick Armstrong (1995). That was before I got on council.
“Dave (Reid) was acclaimed. Stan (Ward) was acclaimed. Bruce (Dunning) was acclaimed. So it would be great for our community to elect its next council.”
Virden’s situation is not unique. A CBC poll revealed that 40 per cent of all Manitoba politicians who ran municipally in 2014 had no competition.
There are reasons why that should concern everyone living in small towns, says U of W assistant professor Aaron Moore. He told the CBC, "In part, when you have a contest, you have an onus on people to actually state what their policy positions are."
"You get more information about what these people are actually standing for, whereas if you only have one person running they have no obligation to inform you about anything."
Outgoing Deputy Mayor Zac Penner urged people to think seriously about giving it a shot: “I would like to encourage anyone who is interested in making positive difference in their community to consider running for council.”