Ritchot Elects a New Council

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Feature 01
Jeannot Robert, Janine Boulanger, Chris Ewen, Ron Mamchuk, Shane Pelletier RM of Ritchot

The recent political drama in the RM of Ritchot came to a quick end on July 19, with Chris Ewen sneaking past incumbent Jackie Hunt to be elected mayor. According to the official results, Ewen received 742 votes compared to Hunt’s 650. Other mayoral challengers included Gene Whitney (413 votes) and Marianne Curtis (106 votes). Overall voter turnout was 39 percent.

“I’m ecstatic about the support,” says Ewen. “I can’t believe how many people came out to vote. I think it’s a great number for a municipal election. So I was very happy, and I’m so thankful for my supporters. It humbles me.”

Ewen, who is well known in the region for owning and operating the popular Capo Coffe Lounge restaurants in Île-des-Chênes and Niverville, campaigned hard in the weeks leading up to the election, knocking on more than 2,000 doors and talking to as many people in person as he could.

“The last time I door-knocked was the day before election day. I was at 2,000 doors, and in the evening I said to myself, ‘Okay, I think I’ve done as much as I can. Now it’s time to focus on election day.’”

On election day, Ewen kept busy making phone calls to get out the vote. He also paid visits to each polling station to get a count on how many people had voted so far. This helped him to determine where to focus his attention in the last couple of hours.

After polls closed at 8:00 p.m., he held a wine-and-cheese celebration at Capo in Île-des-Chênes to thank supporters and the general public for their support.

“My strategy was a little bit of old school and a little bit of new school, which is door-knocking and social media,” he says about his approach. “I truly believe that the reason I won is because of the great support I had and the hard work that went into this, not just myself, but everyone who was involved in my campaign.”

The hard-fought election was triggered by a series of resignations in late April, when Hunt stepped down alongside councillors Jeannot Robert and Ron Mamchuk over allegations of bullying. Robert retained his council seat by acclamation, and Mamchuk was re-elected in Ward 2 (St. Adolphe) with 224 votes. Mamchuk defeated Jeff Egan (190 votes), Robert Doiron (122 votes), and Karen Jorgenson (43 votes).

In addition to Ewen, there will be two first-time councillors at the table. Shane Pelletier emerged victorious in Ward 3 (Île-des-Chênes) and Janine Boulanger pulled out a win in Ward 4 (Grande Pointe).

Pelletier says that a lot of people were asking if he was excited or nervous on election day.

“I was a little bit of both,” Pelletier concedes. “But at the same time, I don’t see it as a big stretch for me to move into this role. Having said that, after going through the orientation, there’s a lot of things [the three new council members] are going to have to learn pretty quick.”

Boulanger agrees that there’s a lot of information to get caught up on. On election night she celebrated with a toast at home alongside her friend and campaign manager, and ever since she’s been doing a lot of reading.

“We were given a binder of information, mostly budget information, and I have been spending a lot of hours reviewing it to familiarize myself with current subjects,” she says, adding that she has attended two orientations so far. “[Provincial administrator] Roger Bouvier spent some time with us on how council should operate and what the duties of council are. It was very enlightening.”

Ewen is pleased with the new makeup of council, which has a good mix of newcomers and councillors with experience. “It’s going to bring a fresh [dynamic]. There are some who really know what they’re doing, as well as some new faces in there. We’ll mix it up and be a completely different council.”

“I think it’s going to be a great team,” agrees Boulanger. “We have spent some time together already and it seems like we’re all on the same page.” 

Pelletier concurs. “I’ve worked with Ron [Mamchuk] and Jeannot [Robert] before, in my dealings with the arena and the TransCanada Centre, so I’ve already got a rapport with them. Chris I’ve known since he moved to Île-des-Chênes. Janine, I don’t know her that well, but I’ve bumped into her in the circles of the Grande Pointe Homeowners Association. I think we’ve got a good group of people that are going to look at the common good—and hopefully not get cranky with each other.”

In order to avoid any conflict of interest, Ewen says that he has relinquished all his shares and investments in his Capo Coffee Lounges, limiting his involvement to managing the restaurants’ social media accounts.

“People tell me mayor is a full-time position, and I believe that,” Ewen says. “The compensation may not be there, but it’s not about the money for me. It’s about the commitment I want to make to the municipality. And I’m willing to be in the back of Capo instead of the face or the front—to prove my worth, to prove myself. I only have 15 months to prove myself, which is going to be near impossible, but I’m going to work hard.”

All towns, cities, and municipalities in Manitoba have fixed election cycles, with the next vote scheduled for October 25, 2018. By-elections are those which are necessitated in the middle of a four-year term, to fill council vacancies. This results in a short 15-month term for the current council.

Nonetheless, Boulanger says she has much to look forward to in the months ahead. “Being involved and gaining the knowledge that I’ve always wanted to learn so that I can in turn pass on to my fellow constituents,” she says of her priorities, “and finding out where current projects are at and seeing what we can do as a council.”

“I’m just looking forward to serving with this council and getting as much done as we can in the short amount of time that we have,” Pelletier says.

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