Council will look very different after the municipal election in Swift Current with a new mayor and only two councillors re-elected.
Businessman Al Bridal will become the new mayor after defeating incumbent Denis Perrault, who served on council for 11 years and was mayor for the past four years.
The counting and reporting of the poll results took place after the closure of the three polling stations in the city at 8 p.m. on Nov. 12. The civic election in Swift Current was originally scheduled for Nov. 9, but it was postponed due to a severe snow storm. These election results are unofficial until declared by the returning officer on Nov. 16.
Bridal received 2,497 votes in the mayoral race and Perrault was supported by 1,900 voters. Perrault had a slim lead of 29 votes after the ballots from the special polls and mail-in ballots were counted, but Bridal had a lead of 145 votes after ballots from the Innovation Credit Union iPlex polling station was added.
Bridal increased his lead with the announcement of more results from the advance polls and the ballots from the other polling stations at Trailview Alliance Church and the Chinook golf course, and his final winning margin was 597 votes.
“I feel very honoured and I feel very humble,” he told the Prairie Post shortly after the final results were announced. “I feel very honoured that that many citizens of Swift Current thought that I had some good ideas and maybe wanted a change, and thought they'd put their trust in me to change possibly the direction the City is going to be going in the future. And very humble that people believe in me, that I'll be able to do this job.”
He has been in business for 35 years. He served two terms as a City councillor from 1997 to 2003, and he served 10 years as a school board trustee.
There was a large field of 19 candidates for six councillor positions. Five of the incumbent councillors were standing for re-election, but only two were successful. Ryan Plewis received the second highest number of votes in the race for council seats with 2,303 votes and Pat Friesen placed third with 1,858 votes.
New councillor Leanne Tuntland-Wiebe received the highest number of votes with support from 2,611 electors. Small business owner Tom Christiansen will also be a new face at the council table. He placed fourth in the vote count for councillor seats with 1,745 votes.
Retired business owner John Wall, who served five previous terms on council, placed fifth with 1,674 votes. Ryan Switzer, the owner of a home-based multimedia production and marketing company, finished sixth with 1,568 votes.
Bridal felt the voters were sending a clear message with the selection of a new mayor and four new councillors.
“I believe the message they're sending is they would like to see a change, and not like to, they have seen a change,” he said. “They wanted to say to the existing council thank you very much, but we do want a change of direction in how money is spent and how money is borrowed.”
He was looking forward to working with the six councillors that will join him around the council table for the next four years.
“I'm excited to be able to work with all of them,” he said. “Some of them are my personal friends and others are just acquaintances, but I'm excited to be able to sit down and form a new direction. Not totally new, I mean, we don't need to go 180 degrees, but just go a little bit different than what we have been going.”
One of the key concerns he heard from voters during his campaign was the continual escalation of City taxes, which has made it increasingly difficult for people on a fixed income or with a lower income to pay their taxes.
“You can be told as many times as you want that your taxes are the lowest in the province, you can be told that your rates are the lowest in the province, but at the end of the month when you have no money left, you don't care and you think should I stay here or should I move,” he said. “Lots of people, especially young people and older seniors, were saying maybe we shouldn't be living here anymore.”
Bridal’s goal as mayor will be to get to work as soon as possible in partnership with his fellow council members.
“I want to sit down with my council and discuss what their wants and wishes are, and then we all need to get to work on the budget, because the budget will set the direction for next year,” he said. “It will set the direction for how much money is being spend, where it's being spend, what's important to the citizens, and so we need to get down to work.”
Tuntland-Wiebe, who co-owns and manages a downtown Swift Current business, was excited about her election and receiving the most votes among the six councillors. She felt voters supported her due to her sincerity.
“I think they see that in me when I say I'm going to ask the questions and I'm going to stand up for the people and work for the people,” she said after the final results were announced. “I think they really believe I am sincere and I'm approachable and that's what I ran my campaign on is being approachable. I said all along I'll ask the questions and I'll try to get the answers, and I think people heard that.”
She emphasized the need for transparency during her campaign, and it was an issue that resonated with many voters.
“I think transparency is a really big thing,” she said. “You'll notice a lot of the candidates were running with that as one of their platforms. From talking to people during the campaign, there has been decisions made in the City and they weren't explained and people wanted to know why things were being done and they didn't get the answers for that. So I was campaigning on transparency, because if we're going to do something as a City, I think the public has a right to know.”
She shared Bridal’s view that voters were looking for change and it is reflected in the election results. Many people raised the issue of City debt during the election campaign, and they were also concerned about the City’s spending priorities.
She noted that a lot of people were also upset about the City’s decision to remain closed for public access during the pandemic while other businesses and organizations in Swift Current opened up. She referred to two issues that will be a priority to her as a new councillor.
“I think one of the priorities for most of us on council who have been campaigning and are new to it is going to be finding out about the debt, how can we reduce it, and how can we help the citizens of Swift Current understand what are we going to do with the debt,” she said. “And the other thing that we have to work on is COVID-19. It isn't gone, we've all been hurt by it. We're in a second wave now, which is affecting people. The downtown businesses are worried again that they're going to have to be shut down. I think the City needs to come up with a plan how to move forward out of this and how to protect our businesses. I know other cities are doing it.”
She felt the new council will be a strong team and several of them have previous experience from serving on council.
“I think it's a wise choice by the people to have a good mixture like that,” she mentioned. “There's lots of experience and there's new voices going to be on there. It's not a brand new council where everyone is new and you don't know what you're doing. We've got people to lead us, with Al Bridal having experience and John Wall being on there and Ryan [Plewis] and Pat [Friesen]. We've got experience for the other new ones. I'm quite excited to work with them.”
The election outcome will have a positive change on the gender composition of council. Friesen was the only woman on council for the past four years, and she will now by joined by Tuntland-Wiebe, who thinks it is an important issue.
“In this day and age, it should be more even between men and women running the City,” she said. “I'm very excited to work with Pat Friesen, because she's got so much experience and I told her that when she announced that she's running again. I think it's important for a woman's viewpoint to come out in meetings, because we do have a different take on things.”
The results for the public and separate school board elections in Swift Current were also announced on Nov. 12.
There were six candidates for three public school board seats. Incumbents Dianne Hahn (1,432 votes) and Tim Ramage (1,260 votes) were re-elected. Ken Duncalfe will be a new trustee on the public school board. He was elected with 1,074 votes.
Two candidates stood for a single separate school board seat. Ted Wallin was elected with 346 votes over Lamont Dyck, who received 111 votes.