David McConkey - Columnist, Consultant, Citizen
Columnist. Consultant. Citizen.

Brandon Casino Plebiscite Result

April 7, 2008 - David McConkey

Yes, I’m going to take another kick at the casino can.

As I said in my earlier column, despite the disconnects, I voted yes. I was ready to roll the dice for three reasons: to show support for our First Nations neighbours, to help make the inevitable project as viable as possible, and to encourage downtown development.

I also predicted a “no” vote: the final result was 57% no, 43% yes. Too bad I didn’t bet any money!

The vote resulted from the people rebelling against their leaders. Virtually the entire political, economic, and even cultural, elite of the City – NDP, Conservative, labour, business, and more  – supported the yes side.

The no side mobilized public opinion with good arguments: on the letters page of the Brandon Sun, in discussions on the Internet, and in conversations throughout the City. Effective persuasion trumped organization and money.

The Yes Campaign performed poorly. As I noted before, there was hardly anything in the way of general public meetings or printed materials; no website for more information. If a meeting can’t be organized or a website built; how can complicated negotiations be conducted or a casino constructed?

The First Nations leadership also played their cards poorly. Sioux Valley, our closest First Nations neighbour, actually seemed to be opposed to the idea. The final twist was the bizarre ad from Sioux Valley in the Sun just before the vote.

Most astonishing for me was the Yes Campaign brochure and newspaper ad. They did not acknowledge that the casino would be a First Nations project.

A key position of the Yes Campaign was not credible: no specific information about the casino could be revealed before the vote.

I disagree, and offer a story.

My work happened to take me to Saskatchewan during the casino debate in Brandon. When I was in Swift Current, I asked some local people about the construction across the highway from my hotel. Turned out to be the new casino.

My local informants told me that an aboriginal casino in Swift Current was an unlikely development. For one thing, Swift Current is unique among Saskatchewan cities, having almost no First Nations residents. For another, the City has a conservative population, including a substantial Mennonite component, that is not keen on gambling.

Casino proponents in Swift Current, however, presented a specific plan which included a concert hall. Citizens liked the proposal and voted yes.

So, a detailed casino plan wins over a reluctant population. Too bad the idea wasn’t tried in Brandon – instead of being dismissed as impossible.

The no vote was not only a rejecting of the arguments of the Yes Campaign, but also a doubting of the abilities of City Council.
I was surprised how frequently a distrust of City Council came up in conversations and in letters to the editor. A common perception seems to be that City Council would not be able to negotiate a good casino deal.

The fire hall fiasco has certainly burned an impression into the consciousness of the public.

Interesting to see if this skepticism will impact the next municipal election. Brandon voters are often hesitant to elect anyone new.

In the last civic election, with only one exception on School Board, all incumbents were re-elected. Vacancies on City Council were filled by men who were former Councillors.

And I say “men” - not “people” - to emphasize the gender make-up at City Hall. In the previous Mayor and Council, two of the eleven were women. Today, there is only one woman.

Political reality, though, can quickly change. The American Presidential election is prompting people everywhere to wonder: “Could barriers be broken here as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are doing in the US?”

I hope that some day Brandon could have Obama kind of leaders. Leaders who can articulate the issues, challenge volunteers, raise awareness via the Internet, and inspire young people.

Leaders who can help energize the citizenry so that we would aim for higher than a 41% turnout at an important plebiscite.

Leaders who can welcome diversity: gender, ethnic, and more.

And leaders who can break down racial barriers and talk candidly about the aboriginal and non-aboriginal reality of our community.

Race is often the unacknowledged elephant in the room in political discussions in Brandon. Just look at the Yes campaign.  

The casino plebiscite is history.

The future awaits . . .

* * * *
See also:  

Brandon Casino Plebiscite

Brandon:  What Kind of a City Do We Want?  (two-part series)

Reflections on Brandon and on Calgary

Citizen Active



David McConkey,
Brandon, Manitoba
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