Council candidates meet to greet the townsfolk – and answer questions

TWELVE CANDIDATES CHASING SIX COUNCIL SEATS – An impressive 12 candidates took the stage on Monday evening, while around 200 members of the community came to hear them speak, and ask them questions, during the Meet Your Council Candidates event held at the Shamrock Centre. From left are: Connie Blixhavn (incumbent), Greg Ericson, Jack Ewatski, Randy Hodge (incumbent), Joan Kemp (incumbent), Gary King, Lyall McFarlane, Ron Opperman (incumbent), Barry Reimer, Matt Reimer, Janice Smith (incumbent), and Reinie Weenink. The municipal election takes place this coming Wednesday, October 24.

Candidates gather at forum

By Jay Struth

Killarney council candidates lined up,  a dozen abreast, on the Shamrock Centre stage on Monday night to answer questions in front of their potential constituents.

The event, hosted by CJRB and the Killarney Kinsmen, was respectful, with all 12 candidates agreeing that council had done a pretty good job over the last four years.

Moderator Barry Lamb even joked that he wasn’t sure why there was an election being held, after hearing their critiques on council’s last term.

However, many of the challengers noted that there was still capacity for change.

“As far as the past council, I feel that they’ve done a good job in some areas, but there’s always room for improvement,” said Gary King. “The community has grown in a few different areas in the past four years, and there will always be ways to grow more. We can use their decisions as learning tools as we go forward.”

Barry Reimer also noted a need for improvement, citing gravel road maintenance as one of his biggest concerns.

“There needs to be strong emphasis towards those roads,” said Barry Reimer. “Because we’re dealing with some severe dangerous roads with our equipment, with our trucks, you name it. And bridges could be improved too, and I have a little experience with that as well.”

In fact, the liveliest part of the forum came when Reimer suggested that he could build roads cheaper than the municipality, to which incumbent Ron Opperman replied, “Maybe you missed your calling as a farmer. Maybe you should be a road builder.”

Opperman defended the council’s record, saying, “I’m more than pleased with the teamwork we’ve had in the past four years, working with limited budgets. And I hope that the people that are up here, and are running, do realize that the word ‘team’ doesn’t have an ‘I’ in it. We are all one municipality here,” he continued. “We have been for the last 12 years. There should not be a rural and an urban. We have to remember, we’re all here for the same reason, and that’s each other.”

Jack Ewatski spoke about bridging that gap between ratepayers living in different areas of the municipality, and insuring that there is an awareness that councillors are working for the best interests of everybody.

“Break down any type of walls – whether they’re real or perceived – that the urban area is treated better than the rural areas, or the seasonal recreational areas within the municipality,” said Ewatski. “And that’s a matter of building and maintaining good relationships with all taxpayers, regardless of where they live in the municipality.”

Incumbent Janice Smith spoke about the continuity of professionalism and forward thinking that she hopes to see on council over the next four years.

“What I wish to see is the continuation of the professional work practices from the mayor, councillors, and staff, just as it has been in these last four years,” Smith said. “I want to see a new fire hall built, funds permitting. Council is aware of our aging sewer and infrastructure, and knows it costs more each year to maintain. Our rural roads and bridges always have issues, and we know that they are the bloodlines that connect the rural area to our urban centre,” she continued. “We need to keep the lines of communication open with our surrounding municipal neighbours, and with the federal and provincial governments.”

Reinie Weenink said he wants to see the provincial government step up on things like roads.

“I would like to see the Highways department step up on their side,” he said. “And maybe it’s time that we can persuade them to download some of this municipal pressure and put it back to the provincial level. How be we build a highway that we can drive on.”

Incumbent Connie Blixhavn is proud of the obvious things that council has accomplished, like the curbside recycling, the e-waste trailer, the mile markers on roads, the HyLife plant, and hiring doctors. But, like all the candidates, road renewal is also on her wish list. 

“Highway 18 is so terrible to drive on that you would lose your teeth if you’re driving a grain truck down there,” she said. “So we have to make sure that we’re making sure the provincial government looks after their roads, because if they don’t look after their roads guess which roads they’re going to use. They’re going to use the municipal roads, and as everyone here has stated, those roads weren’t built for that kind of traffic.” 

One of the creative ways to help with road repairs was a road tax charge of $12,000 on each new hog barn site, which was implemented by council this year, she added.

Incumbent Joan Kemp is also very pleased with what council has accomplished, and she hopes to continue her work.

“I feel as a council we worked hard to deliver many things,” said Kemp. “A few examples that come to mind are: doctor recruitment, the HyLife expansion, rural bridge upgrades, upgrades to some rural truck routes, Oak Point water and sewer, the Broadway back lane water and sewer replacement. (These are) just a handful of the many projects we’ve worked on this past term.”

The candidates all agreed that aging infrastructure would continue to be a huge challenge in the future, and three term councillor and incumbent Randy Hodge is no stranger to this reality. 

“Aging infrastructure is a huge issue, and roads, and everything else. And that’s the unsexy part of government life,” he said. “To bury a bunch of pipes in the ground, who knows it’s there? And it costs millions of dollars to do that,” continued Hodge, who’s excited about a new digital asset management plan to be implemented in Killarney-Turtle Mountain. “It (digital asset management) will save us millions of dollars over a long period of years.”

Retired RCMP member Greg Ericson likens being on council to policing, noting that not everyone likes the decisions you make. He likes how council and Killarney has been progressing, however, and hopes that he can be added to the team to make it even better. 

“We’ve got it made here folks,” he told the crowd. “We’ve got six doctors, two optometrists, two dentists. We have a veterinary clinic that has three doctors and two vet techs. We have things that other communities do not have, and wish they had.”

Like Ericson, Lyall McFarlane is happy with where the Municipality of Killarney-Turtle Mountain is from a growth perspective, and he wants to be part of the decision-making that creates future growth. 

“As with most municipalities, the next four years is going to show and bring many new challenges,” said McFarlane. “We have to stick with some of the ones that are important to our community. Promoting our medical facilities. It’s an important concept. And forward thinking in agricultural areas is always going to prop up our farming community. We are an agricultural community.”

The youngest candidate on the ballot, Matt Reimer, believes in creating a healthy business climate and helping those less fortunate. 

“For me, our public services like the hospital, the schools, the new facility, things that everybody can access, that benefit the entire community – those things are extremely important,” he said. “The reality is, we have to figure out a way to pay for those things. And in order to do that, we have to make sure that the businesses in this community are vibrant and successful. I want to do whatever I can to make sure that businesses in this community are doing very well so that we can put that money to use on people that maybe aren’t.”  

These small candidate samples from Monday’s forum came from the questions: ‘How do you feel council has performed over the past four years?’; ‘What does the new council need to look at over the next four years?’; as well as a question to candidates on handling road maintenance and repair.

Other topics the candidates were asked to speak on, which were written down by public attendees of the forum, included: the need for more assisted living in Killarney, council term limits, and hog barn lagoon covers.

A meet and greet with the candidates followed the formal part of the forum.

Be sure to get out and vote this Wednesday, check out for more election coverage, and pick up next week’s Killarney Guide for election results.

Council fever hits Killarney


Why did a whopping 12 citizens, hailing from both town and country, file their papers in hopes of being voted in for a seat on Killarney’s council?

Everyone we spoke to – including a number of sitting councillors – said they couldn’t recall a municipal election like it, in recent memory at least.

So with just six plush chamber seats to fill, and a dozen applicants raring to claim one, we decided to ask each candidate a pretty simple question. 

It was: What are your top three reasons for running for a council seat in Killarney-Turtle Mountain?

And the answers were highly variable.

To find out what the motivation is behind each candidate – and to match a face to the stated facts – here are the 12 electoral candidates’ responses to our burning question.

The candidates are listed in the order they appear on the election ballot.

1) Barry Reimer

Our municipality is unique; we are a town amalgamated with a rural municipality. With this comes a large variety of issues that need a wide, yet balanced, perspective. 

As a farmer and town property owner, I will be a fair and balanced voice on council.

I genuinely care about this community, and every person in it. Born and raised in Killarney, I love our community. Over the years, I have volunteered on various committees, was a Junior Youth leader for 18 years, and currently sit on the Killarney Growing Project Board. I am a good listener, and with my experience I feel that I could represent your concerns on council.

Running my own farm and custom work business has taught me to be an efficient, creative problem solver. I want to see all of our tax dollars spent in the most efficient and productive manner.


2) Janice Smith

One of my highest priorities this term is to continue to be a strong voice for the viability of our hospital, lab, and extended care units. This will ensure that we will continue to have a proper complement of doctors, nurses, technicians, and support teams within our health care facility.

Killarney has seen a 6.1 per cent growth in population in the past few years, largely due to the business development that has been undertaken and the strong commitment of our agricultural community. Together with council I will work hard to continue working as a liaison. This will ensure Killarney and the municipality continue to become the ‘hub’ of southern Manitoba.

The Municipality of Killarney-Turtle Mountain has acquired the property from C.P. where the old Paterson elevator was located. I am committed to move the project of a new fire hall forward to its next stages without stressing our future budgets.


3) Reinie Weenink

I am looking forward to the challenges of running for council. I bring along eight years of experience as a councillor, with one term (four years) as deputy reeve in the Municipality of Whitewater (Minto-Elgin area). I have also had the experience of a province-wide forced amalgamation and being totally involved with a three-way merger.

We moved four-and-a-half years ago to the town of Killarney. I wanted to experience town living, and find out some of the new opportunities it brings with it. Since having a mostly agricultural background I am looking forward to new pursuits in the community.

I feel that I can contribute to both sides – rural and urban. Maintaining municipal owned infrastructure, be it gravel roads or paved streets. Sewer/water and municipal owned buildings are my concerns. I would like to see the recreational areas being upgraded (green space). I wish to promote economic growth within the municipality, be it industrial, agricultural, or private enterprise. It is important for the municipality in its whole and for the people of this municipality.


4) Ron Opperman

I am seeking re-election because I want to be a part of a team just like we’ve had for the past eight years, a team that was committed to the citizens of the Municipality of Killarney-Turtle Mountain for the recruitment and retention of a full slate of doctors.

Also, the ongoing battle of attracting new business, like the HyLife feed mill and the new lumberyard.

All of these types of things boost our economy, tax base, and increase school enrollment.


5) Gary King

I want to properly, fairly, and responsibly represent all taxpayers of Killarney-Turtle Mountain. 


6) Greg Ericson

In the past four years I have seen the awesome job that our current mayor and council have been doing, and I think we are very fortunate to have them. I would like the opportunity to work with that team to continue that same work.

With 25 years of policing experience with the RCMP, in eight different communities and departments throughout Manitoba and Alberta, I feel I can give back to our community by providing input and strategies to assist in the decisions being made, in order to keep our community growing and moving forward.


7) Connie Blixhavn

Here are what I see as our priorities going forward.

Addressing our aging infrastructure: As with all other communities, we are facing the degradation of our sewer and water line; challenges to maintain rural roads that were not designed for the current traffic patterns; and aging municipal buildings that need to be brought up to government set standards.

Keeping our Health Care services intact: Killarney Turtle-Mountain stepped out on a limb to hire two physicians specifically for our area; this move proved to the government that we were willing to put skin in the game. I’m on the side of continuing to advocate for our services.

Waste Management: Be still my beating heart, this is my passion. If we do not work to maintain and improve our waste management strategies, we may be leaving a legacy our children and grandchildren will be stuck paying for. The e-waste trailer and the recycling program are near and dear to my heart, but there is so much more we can do, and I am truly excited.

My priorities aren’t fancy, but they address the bones of the community. If we don’t start with the basics, everything else will suffer, and we will not be able to move forward.


8) Randy Hodge

I feel this is an excellent way to give back to the community that supported me throughout my working years.

I feel that being on council gives one the ability to help direct growth and prosperity within the Killarney-Turtle Mountain Municipality.

I would like to continue to strive for transparency and accountability in the spending of taxpayer’s dollars.


9) Joan Kemp

I am passionate about rural living, and very proud to be part of this community. I look forward to seeing our area continue to grow and prosper for future generations.


10) Lyall McFarlane

I am excited to be running for a council seat because Killarney Turtle Mountain is such a progressive community. I believe I have the energy that could add to our progression. 

We have a growing community with continually changing medical needs. In Killarney-Turtle Mountain we have one of the only multi doctor facilities in our region. With our senior population we have the need to assess and re-assess our medical status. It’s important to continue to recruit staff and equipment to keep our community ahead of the curve. 

It wasn’t too many years ago we saw grain terminals growing along the tracks in support of our strong agricultural base. Killarney’s business sector is strong. We need to encourage new business opportunities while maintaining fiscal responsibilities. 

As well, our youth are important to Killarney-Turtle Mountain. To support them we possess a strong educational system that accommodates a continually varying student body. Educators dole out many options for students, to prepare them for local or outside experiences. 

These are the reasons I seek a seat as a councillor. I feel it’s important to continue to be proactive with regards to our medical services, have a strong diversified agricultural base as our lifeline, and to continue with a solid curriculum to support the next work force. 

As we know, “Killarney: there is no better place.”


11) Matt Reimer

My wife Heidi and I have two young girls, and we want to make sure that they have a great community to grow up in. 

My number one reason for running for council is because I want to see our municipality, and the town of Killarney, continue to grow and flourish. 

I have grown up in this community, and I think it’s a great place to live and work. Except for winter… but I don’t think there is anything I can do about that.

I’m a farmer, and one of the things I’ve learned farming is that partnerships with friends, neighbours, and family are a wonderful thing.

I think this is something our municipality does well, and it’s a big reason our community is thriving. We are a community that helps each other out, rather than always being in competition with our neighbours.

I want to continue that way of thinking, and be ready to work collaboratively in win-win situations with other members of our municipal government and/or neighbouring municipalities, province, and community members.

My wife and I recently moved to town, so I understand that there is a balancing act to be played in spending our tax dollars.

Our public areas are the locations where community happens; it’s where people gather and mingle, and have a good time outside of our normal social groups.

In order to make our public areas, such as the beach, the fairground, and the new facility, thrive, we will need to spend money on upkeep and maintenance.

Something I’ve learned farming is that cutting back on expenses that grow a bigger crop is like shooting yourself in the foot. So in order to have the tax revenues to keep our community looking its best, we need to invest in the infrastructure that makes business tick.

Our main industry in Killarney is agriculture. Agriculture is a very diverse business, but one thing it has in common is that almost every form of agriculture in our community relies on having good roads.

This is a big challenge for our municipality because we have roads basically every mile from one end to the other. I want to be involved in the work of meeting these challenges head on, and striking the right balance for the entire community.


12) Jack Ewatski

I firmly believe that strong governance is the foundation for ensuring effective and efficient use of public funds and resources. People are concerned not only about value for their tax money, but that local government provides clear vision, direction and oversight of municipal operations.

To ensure our community remains vibrant, healthy, and safe, economic growth needs to be a priority. Growth, however, must be sustainable and respectful of the cultural needs of both the rural and urban areas of the municipality.

I am committed to being innovative, and to explore ways to meet the challenges posed by maintaining aging infrastructure such as roads, waste disposal, water delivery, and recreational areas.

My ability to work respectfully and collaboratively, combined with my knowledge and experience, positions me well to serve the residents of Killarney-Turtle Mountain as a member of Council.