Anti-vaxxer crushed in Winkler, and other races
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The political landscape in Manitoba municipalities hasn’t shifted much following Wednesday’s vote since many incumbents were acclaimed or returned to office.
An exception is the race in Winkler, in which a longtime councillor ran for mayor and squared off against a vocal anti-vaxxer.
Winkler’s mayoral race was closely watched given residents’ resistance to COVID-19 public health orders.
The contest pitted Henry Siemens, a councillor for 16 years, against Karl Krebs, one of the most vocal anti-vaccine, anti-mandate figures during the height of the pandemic.
The vote wasn’t even close.
Siemens, who was endorsed by retiring mayor Martin Harder, soundly defeated Krebs by winning 87 per cent of the ballots cast.
Siemens, who was Winkler’s deputy mayor for 12 years, felt relieved when he found out the “definitive” result.
In addition to promises on infrastructure, he vowed to rebuild relationships and heal division in one of the fastest-growing cities in the province.
“To see the community embrace that, it felt really good,” Siemens said Thursday. “People embraced the idea it’s time to move forward.”
To achieve that, resident must accept that it’s OK to disagree and everyone must work together, he said.
Krebs is an organizer with the group Things That Matter, which opposed vaccine clinics in schools and believed COVID restrictions were an affront to God-given rights.
He attended protests against COVID-19 restrictions in Manitoba and the “freedom convoy” occupation in Ottawa.
Last year, he unsuccessfully tried to convince council to make Winkler a so-called sanctuary city to avoid following public health mandates.
Siemens said Winkler has been “vilified” by the media, outsiders and even insiders during the pandemic.
The city of about 13,750 people was a hotbed of opposition to face masks and lockdowns. It had one of the lowest rates of vaccination uptake in Manitoba when the province published regional statistics earlier this year.
Siemens believes the overwhelming support for him, coupled with conversations he had with voters, is a sign Winkler isn’t as divided as people think.
“It’s time for the rhetoric to, hopefully, die down a bit. It’s time to come back together,” he said before an afternoon swearing-in ceremony.
Siemens is looking forward to working with the city’s six councillors on building a new wastewater treatment plant, as well as pursue a multimillion-dollar renovation of the arena, which opened in 1967.
Krebs could not be reached for comment.
In Morden, often referred to as Winkler’s twin city and home to roughly 9,000 people, Brandon Burley will remain mayor, earning the seat via acclamation. City council will look largely the same, with new members Sheldon Friesen and Florian Lassnig joining four incumbents.
Burley said he was pleased to hear Siemens won the neighbouring election, calling the new mayor a “consensus builder.”
Burley identified infrastructure as a priority for council. According to data from Statistics Canada, the city’s population increased by 13 per cent from 2016 to 2021, making it among the fastest-growing communities in the province.
During his tenure, he has seen the community support the LGBTTQ+ community with its first-ever Pride event in 2019, and honour the Indigenous community with ceremonies on the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.
Steinbach will have the same council for another four years. Mayor Earl Funk was acclaimed and all six incumbent councillors are returning. The city is the third-largest in the province, with nearly 18,000 people.
Funk secured the mayor’s seat in the 2018 after serving as a city councillor for eight years.
“You can’t get better affirmation from the community,” Funk said. “When a community is happy with their leadership, that’s a good thing, and we’ve worked hard together.”
All of the campaign goals promised by Funk and his councillors in the last election have either been completed or are in progress, Funk said.
In the next term, council will continue to focus on maintaining and growing infrastructure, attracting business and residents and keeping tax rates low, Funk said.
Additionally, council will continue to build a 100,000 square foot multiplex, featuring a banquet area, concert venue and gym.
In the nearby RM of Hanover, Funk’s cousin, Jim Funk, handily defeated Donald Bouchard for reeve with 80 per cent support. Bouchard has been an outspoken critic of pandemic mandates.
In Selkirk, long-standing incumbent Larry Johannson secured his fourth consecutive term as mayor. All six incumbent members of council will return, despite a heavily contested race in which six others tried to unseat them.
In the neighbouring RM of St. Andrews, Joy Sul, first elected in 2018, will return as mayor.
Sul earned 60 per cent support despite a turbulent term in office, during which her colleagues in council used a bylaw to strip her of key responsibilities.
Sul fought the case in court in an attempt to have the bylaw struck down. She lost the case, but filed an appeal.
PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE
First-timer Sharilyn Knox easily claimed the mayor’s office in Portage la Prairie, beating three candidates to earn 65 per cent support in a wide open race.
Knox’s platform prioritized crime reduction, supports for mental health, addictions and seniors, fiscal responsibility and city service improvements.
She formerly sat on the city’s council.
Incumbent mayor Colleen Smook faced two competitors. She earned 46 per cent support and will return to lead the community, home to roughly 13,000, for a second term.
“It was surreal. I was busy right up until the last minute… I desperately felt the need to run and continue on with all the great things that are going to happen in the community of Thompson,” she said.
First elected in 2018, Smook was the city’s first female leader, taking the reigns of a city rampant with crime, poverty and despair, she said.
During her tenure, she and council secured millions in government funding to support infrastructure, community services and affordable housing.
“We’ve noticed over the last couple of years community spirit is starting to come back,” she said. “Four years ago, we more or less hit rock bottom. It’s taken a while, and we’ve got a long way to go, but we’re definitely climbing that ladder and I feel real confident in my community.”
David Bosiak easily beat Kerri Riehl by garnering 74 per cent support.
“It was humbling to have such a strong mandate,” Bosiak said Thursday. “I was reassured of my faith in humanity and democracy.”
Former mayor Eric Irwin, first elected in 2010, was acclaimed in 2014 but died suddenly in 2017 while snorkelling in Florida. Allen Dowhan stepped in as his replacement and was acclaimed in 2018. He died Sept. 21, 2021 at the age of 74.
Bosiak, described Dauphin — home to around 8,000 — as a community that “comes together to get things done.”
He hopes to collaborate with neighbouring municipalities and higher levels of governments to grow the economy and recreational infrastructure.
Bosiak formerly owned a gym and was regional manager of recreation and tourism for the Parkland region.
Former councillor Andre Murphy claimed the mayor’s seat, earning 63 per cent of the vote and beating out a single competitor.
Murphy said community safety, economic growth and improvements to community services are his priorities.
During his tenure on council he has been involved with the Chamber of Commerce, sat on the Kelsey School Division Committee and chaired the Community Development Corp., an independent economic development agency.
As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.