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Residents in the Rural Municipality of Ritchot are heading to the polls this week for a by-election.

Chris Ewen of Ile des Chenes is one of four candidates running for the position of Mayor. Ewen admits he has no past experience in politics but as a business owner, he says he has what it takes to lead the municipality.

"I believe that to run a government you need to be able to run a proper business, which includes customer service, talk to your constituents, see what's going on," says Ewen.

When he first learned that the former Mayor and two Councillors had stepped down, Ewen says he agreed with them standing up for themselves. But Ewen says he then started to hear the frustration from ratepayers who identified this by-election as a complete waste of money for taxpayers.

"I was frustrated with that too," acknowledges Ewen. "I decided to run because I think we need someone in there that's willing to get in there and do what's right for not only themselves but for the people around the government, the constituents."

Ewen says his campaign is going great and he is being well received throughout the municipality. Having already knocked on more than 1,500 doors, Ewen says he is a big believer in candidates getting their face out there.

As a bilingual candidate, Ewen says the RM of Ritchot does not do enough to support the pride of its French communities. If elected, he would like to bring more culture and tourism to the municipality.

"I think bringing tourism and culture into this area will bring more money for our municipality and our constituents so we don't have to raise these taxes all the time," he says.

Ewen says he is pushing people to vote on July 19th and says he expects a higher voter turnout than in recent elections.

Marianne Curtis is also running for Mayor. A resident of Ile des Chenes, Curtis considers herself a community watchdog. That is because Curtis has worked as a reporter for many years and says it has been a learning experience to now view an election campaign from the other side.

Curtis says she originally heard that only the former Mayor was running for re-election and that would force a win by acclamation.

"I believe in the democratic process and I was very concerned that we would be looking at an acclamation," shares Curtis. "And as a resident who lives in Ile des Chenes and loves this municipality from day one, I've volunteered, tried to help out as much as I can, because I know I could give back."

Similar to Ewen, Curtis says there is a lot of interest in this election.

"Oh yes, everybody's been doing their homework and everybody is paying attention," she says. "I know again a lot of opinions out there talking, a lot of people feel that the previous council should not be on the ballot."

Curtis says the common theme she is hearing from ratepayers is that it is time to elect a government and then to move forward.

"I personally would prefer to just kind of move forward," she says. "This is a learning experience, it was a bad learning experience and we got to get back to business."

Curtis says her message to residents is to get out there and vote.

"Everybody knows that this is a contentious by-election," suggests Curtis. "The issues have been heated, comments have been heated, people are angry, but it's easy to sit there on the streets and complain, you have to come to the polls."

Having said that, she says it is not the best timing for an election. With summer upon us, Curtis says many people are away on holidays.

The other two candidates in the July 19th by-election are Jackie Hunt and Gene Whitney.

ritchot mayoral2Gene Whitney and Jackie Hunt

Whitney is a retired federal civil servant who served as a Councillor in Ritchot from 1995 to 2002. Whitney says in the history of the municipality, that is probably the worst period because of the 1997 flood.

The Ste. Agathe resident says he decided to run for the position of Mayor because he had heard a rumour that the former Mayor had thought she would get in by acclamation.

"I believe strongly in our democratic system and figured that I would put my name in the hat to make sure that the people decide," he says.

According to Whitney, campaigning is going well. He admits being taken aback by the fact people still remember him, 15 years after leaving Council. His message to voters is that he has the experience, knowledge and leadership skills to guide the new Council.

Whitney says the common concern he is hearing at the door focuses on resignations from Councillors and the Mayor earlier this year.

"Nobody can rationalize as to why," says Whitney. "And then the big concern is the same people are running again."

Whitney says he gets the feeling that voters would like to see a change on Council.

"If you elect the same five people that were there, what have you accomplished," he questions. "They couldn't get along before, there were problems, at least there's time with somebody with experience that can straighten it out so that in the next cycle the people would start with a cleaner slate."

The need for an experienced leader is the same message Jackie Hunt is sending to voters. Hunt is the most recent Mayor of Ritchot. She says experience is important this time around because of the length of time before the next election.

"We have a fifteen-month mandate and if we have new folks on Council, there is a steep learning curve to it," says Hunt. "We don't have time to kind of wait on things, we have projects that have to get going."

Hunt says her relationships with staff, neighbouring municipalities and municipal officials make her the right person to take the reins and move the new Council forward.

According to Hunt, the concerns from voters vary from one community to the next. She says there is the standard road maintenance, ditches and dust debate but then there are also concerns with riverbank stability, road safety, daycare and seniors housing. Another big issue has been how reassessment is impacting farmland.

Hunt says there is a lot of interest in this election, which is evident by the number of candidates. She is hopeful the new Council can take this momentum and get people interested in what their local government is doing with their tax dollars.

"We want to see in the polls the reflection, the effort that the candidates have made and the folks that are asking questions have made," says Hunt. "So get out and vote and that's the biggest message I can pass on to folks right now."

Election day is Wednesday, July 19th.


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Sept 23 in the Morden Park, click for more details.

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