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Council siblings keeping it classy

Just the opposite of Ford brothers

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Altona Mayor Melvin Klassen (left) and Coun. Ted Klassen. Ted says Toronto Mayor Rob Ford should resign because his bad behaviour leaves him open to extortion.

BILL REDEKOP / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Altona Mayor Melvin Klassen (left) and Coun. Ted Klassen. Ted says Toronto Mayor Rob Ford should resign because his bad behaviour leaves him open to extortion. Photo Store

ALTONA -- Mayor Melvin Klassen has never had to admit he "was wasted" to explain his council vote, and brother Ted has never threatened the Altona police chief for investigating his brother's after-hours partying.

The Klassens are brothers on a municipal council, but comparisons to the Ford brothers in Toronto, Mayor Rob Ford and Coun. Doug, end there.

"I often know what he'll say before he says it," confides the younger Ted. But that's about as colourful as it gets.

The brother act is believed to be the only one in Manitoba politics currently. Ted has been a councillor for 19 years. Melvin has been on council 15 years, 11 as mayor.

But just because they're brothers doesn't mean they lean the same way politically.

Melvin is a card-carrying Conservative, influenced by John Diefenbaker, while Ted carries the Liberal banner, influenced by Pierre Trudeau.

Ted has run as "a sacrificial lamb" both federally and provincially for the party in southern Manitoba, where Liberals have a better chance of winning the Lotto 649.

"Mennonites used to vote Liberal," Ted explained. For example, W.C. Miller, after whom the collegiate is named, was education minister in the Douglas Campbell Liberal government. But that was in the 1950s.

Also, Melvin belongs to a local Mennonite church, while Ted is affiliated with the Altona United Church. The latter was created in the 1940s after men returning from the Second World War received a cool reception from the pacifist Mennonite church. Ted's affiliation is through marriage, however. The two churches buried the hatchet long ago and now even hold some services together.

Ted, 66, could be forgiven for thinking Melvin, 72, is engaged in some kind of "anything you can do, I can do better" sibling rivalry. When Ted was hired as a teacher at W.C. Miller Collegiate, Melvin soon followed him there, but as principal. When Ted was elected to Altona council, Melvin followed shortly after but -- as if to do him one better -- ran for mayor.

(Melvin is quick to point out rural municipal mayors don't have nearly as much power over council as Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz. For example, Katz appoints the executive policy committee, whose members tend to vote with the mayor if they want to keep their posts.)

There have been calls in Toronto for a bylaw to prevent immediate family members from serving on council at the same time. The Klassens haven't prompted the same reaction in Altona. There was some initial voter apprehension that the brothers had an agenda. "I would tell people, 'Then vote for Ted,' because he was first," said Melvin. They are still only two council votes out of seven.

Their father, David, was a school trustee for two decades and instilled a love of politics in his five children. It made for many debates around the kitchen table. "Mom always said not to argue so much. She was trying to placate everyone," Melvin said.

But it also taught them to respect other people's opinions. There has never been a time when the brothers weren't on speaking terms over some disagreement in council. In fact, council has served as a good way for the brothers to keep in touch.

Melvin says he sees a councillor when they're at the council meeting, not his brother.

As for the Ford brothers in Toronto, the Altona brothers roll their eyes. Mayor Rob Ford's behaviour leaves him too susceptible to extortion and he must step down, said Ted.

Altona's brother act is coming to an end soon, however. Ted says he won't run in next year's municipal election. "It's time to get younger people involved." Melvin still hasn't decided. Accomplishments they're proud of include a new library, a new rec centre, the Buffalo Nature Park, Gallery in the Park and a trail system throughout the town.

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 22, 2013 A17

History

Updated on Friday, November 22, 2013 at 7:31 PM CST: Corrects info re: location of collegiate.

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