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Fehr and Funk vie for mayor

By: Grant Burr

Posted: 05/19/2018 7:30 AM

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Not long after Steinbach mayor Chris Goertzen's Monday announcement that he will not seek reelection, incumbent councillors John Fehr and Earl Funk were already confirming their plans to fill his shoes.

Fehr said the mayor’s announcement took him by surprise, but allows him to consider a new role that others have encouraged him to pursue.

"I've had a lot of people that have been encouraging me to run," he said.

"I think that the last seven and a half years on council have given me a really good footing and better understanding of what it takes to run the city. I wouldn't say I know everything but I know a lot more than I used to."

Fehr lamented the lack of progress that has been made on new recreation and cultural projects, though he did note council’s work on the new curling club which was a major initiative of his first term.

Time is money, he suggested, when it comes to other plans.

"I feel that every four years that we lose, it is going to cost us way more money anyway. If we're going to do it eventually, we'd be better to do what we can reasonably afford without causing our taxpayers undo stress of their finances."

He said council needs to be assertive in pursuing these types of projects and be willing to press ahead, even without unanimous support around the council table.

"If you're going to wait to get everybody on board with everything you're going to do, you're never going to do anything," he said.

Pointing to experience in leadership at church, previously on the Hanover School Division board, as well as his time spent chairing the Manitoba chapter of the Muscular Dystrophy association, Fehr believes that leadership experience has served him well. So too, has his 25 years at the helm of his business, Trucks Unlimited.

"We've been running our business for 25 years, we've expanded several times, and you don't do that unless you need to. You got to know when it is a right time for the city as well."

Fehr said it may be time to rethink the city’s commitment to five-year amortization plans for paying off debt.

"It's not realistic. If we would have done some of the things eight years ago, that I'd like to see us do today, we'd probably have saved ourselves half of what it’s going to cost us today."

Success will also be had through pursuing partnerships with other levels of government and tapping into the generosity of the community.

"We have a very progressive, benevolent community and I think that people are prepared to support things that are needed. I just think we need to pace them and bring them to fruition at a cost that's not going to kill the taxpayers.

He welcomed Funk’s entry into the mayor’s race.

"Earl is a very good councillor. I've enjoyed working with him. We wouldn't agree on everything...we have to have different opinions...but if I thought all the things that I wanted to bring about would be done by someone else as well, there would be no point in me running against that person, right?"

Earl Funk agreed with Fehr’s view that the two of them don’t always agree, as he announced his intentions to pursue the mayor’s chair.

Both Fehr and Funk were elected to council in 2010.

"If you look back at history, the thing that separates us the most is the way we vote. We vote very differently most of the time on spending issues, on specific issues that could change the fabric of our community," he said.

Now with nearly eight years of service under his belt, Funk says that experience will serve him well.

"To come in cold. I think that's fairly difficult. The learning curve was steep. I remember when we got elected in 2010, I don't think I said a word for the first six months because there was so much to soak in."

While Funk has been critical of past plans for recreation and cultural projects, he shared Fehr’s view that those types of facilities should remain an important focus, while still ensuring that basic infrastructure projects get proper support too.

"I know. We've tried it and tried but, you know, one more kick at the cat might be the answer."

He stressed that lining up partnerships early on would be a strong measure of success, where other plans have failed in the past.

"We do need to bring in at the starting line, maybe even before we have a plan or project, we need to bring in the province, federal government and businesses. The private sector is huge in supporting this," he said.

In fact, Funk said he sees more opportunity for the city to partner with businesses and hopes to work with the local business community to market Steinbach "as the place to bring your business" and create "good, solid jobs."

Regional thinking is also a key he suggested, crediting the relationship building work referenced by Goertzen on Monday.

"Definitely the foundation has been started and now we can build on a foundation together, meet council to council and find out, you know what, we all have one common goal," he said.

He said with those type of efforts, the city would have a good chance of forging deals with neighbouring municipalities to develop regional multiplex plans.

"If it becomes a joint effort, let's say it becomes a La Verendrye concern or a Provencher priority...would we maybe get more of a voice," he said.

Tuesday’s announcement was another step towards a lifelong dream, he said, recalling his aspirations to be Steinbach mayor as a child.

"Even as young boy, I often thought...I would see the mayor in town and, ‘Man, it would be nice to be him,’" Funk recalled.

"John Vogt was the mayor...he was a good, close, personal friend of my day...I just really liked him and I always idolized his position."

Funk corrected his comments to The Carillon later on Tuesday by acknowledging that after a conversation with his mother, she reminded him that Vogt, a long-time town councillor, never actually held the position of mayor.

Municipal elections will be held in Manitoba on Oct. 24. Registration for mayoral candidates began on May 1. Council candidates can begin registering their campaigns on June 30.

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