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Conversations

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Q. Are you originally from the Valley?
A. No, my hometown is the village of Inglis, between Roblin and Russell.

Q. When and how did you end up in the Swan River Valley?
A. I went to university to become a teacher and met Lew Taylor. He went on to be the supervisor of Physical Education in the local school divisions and in that time vacancies came open for both a Physical Education teacher and a Home Economics teacher, which my wife was. That was in 1976 and we thought we would only be here for two years. It’s been a little longer than that.

Q. Why did you stay?
A. We like the community and we got involved, doing a number of activities. I played hockey in Minitonas, my wife was into curling and we thought it would be a nice place to raise our family.

Q. What brought you to municipal politics?
A. I came from a family that was involved in politics. My father – Roblin-Russell MLA Wally McKenzie – was a politician and there was always political conversation at the dinner table. We were taught that if you wanted to see changes and you had a chance, rather than sit on the sidelines and be critical, you got involved yourself.

Q. How did your time serving the Town of Swan River begin?
A. I was first elected to council in a by-election in 1988. Councillor Denis Terrien had been having some health issues and had to step down. I ran, uncontested, and got his vacant seat.
Serving as a councillor gave me a great introduction into municipal politics. Serving on the various committees and seeing how things operated.

Q. How did you become Mayor?
A. In the 1995 election I, along with all the councillors, earned our seats by acclamation. I thought I could have a little more input into what was happening in the community and I had the time to do so.

Q. What did you enjoy about town council?
A. I think the main thing is the variety of people you get to meet. I was recently looking through the collection of news clippings my wife has kept and it’s pretty amazing.

Q. Along with your councils, what are some of the accomplishments you have been involved with?
A. I think one of the most important moves that municipalities across the Valley made is when the G7 (now the G4) was formed. Maybe we don’t make a lot of earth-shattering decisions, but we get to know the other people working in the other municipalities and when it comes to working together for the betterment of the valley we have more of an understanding with each other.
One of the first things we worked on together was the natural gas pipeline in order to get Louisiana Pacific to come to the community. I think the impact of that speaks for itself.
The same is true with Thunderhill Ski Area and the expansion of that project. Again, if we work together we can have so much more in our area.
Other things more recently are the doctor retention and recruitment and that is shown by the doctors that we have in the community. There are still things to happen there that the new council will move forward on but we have come a long way.

Q. What achievement are you most proud of?
A. It’s also the most controversial but I would say the wellness centre and the building of that facility. I know there are some issues that are being dealt with now by council but they will be able to work those out in the future.
If Swan River and the Swan River Valley wants to attract people and have them stay here they want the same amenities they can get in a larger community. We have to have things for families to do.

Q. As the mayor you are asked to attend every official event, grand opening and to bring greetings on behalf of the Town. What was your favourite duty?
A. What I really enjoy is when the schools bring their elementary classes to the Town office to tour and learn about the local government. The first question was always how much money the mayor makes. It’s very funny.

Q. What were some of the biggest challenges you faced?
A. Again, I’ll go back to the wellness centre and bringing that together. It started with a real wave in the community and sort of went off track somewhere. There were are lot of sleepless nights over that one.
It’s done now and we can’t undo it so we need to move forward and support it so that we can see it succeed and do it’s job of being an asset to our community.

Q. What are some of the misconceptions of either the mayor position or of council?
A. A lot of people have the mistaken impression that the Mayor has some great power but they don’t. When it comes to decision making, they have one vote, just like everybody else.
One person can certainly have an influence but if one person goes into a municipal council being antagonistic, thinking they can change the world by themselves, they are going to be in for a bit of an awakening. You can make your points and you have the opportunity to try to convince other council that your ideas are good but, at the end of the day, most people are moderates and anything too outrageous isn’t going to get the support.

Q. What are some of the major changes to municipal governance from when you were first on council to now?
A. One of the big changes is that municipal governments have become a lot more complex and are involved in a lot more things. The requirements from the province and the federal government have increased.
I’ve been very fortunate over the years to have very good administrative personnel and staff in the different departments to make things run smoothly. Again, it’s not the mayor that does these things, it’s the personnel we hire.

Q. What’s the most frustrating part of the position?
A. People have good ideas and there are things you want to do but it takes a long time to get things done with all the different hoops you have to jump through. You have to set your mind on the goal at the end and, if it’s worthwhile, it’s worth doing it right.

Q. Are you satisfied with what you have accomplished in your 30 years on council?
A. I’m happy that I’ve been able to make a contribution to the community. I had a sign on my wall for a long time with a quote from Gandhi that said, “be the change you want to see in the world”.
It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and dictate what should be done but it takes a different person to get in there and actually get involved.

Q. It takes a lot of time to commit properly to serving on council and serving your community. What are your thoughts on that?
A. I think a lot of new people don’t realize the time that it takes. One of my big regrets in all of it is the time I spent at meetings that I could have spent with my daughters or my grand daughters. That’s time you will never get back.
My wife and my girls have been very supportive. June is not political at all as she hasn’t been involved in it all her life. But, I want to thank them for all their support. I couldn’t have done it without their acceptance and encouragement.

Q. What do you see for the current council in the near future?
A. I’m very confident that Mayor Jacobson and the council will be able to move forward on the path they choose and hopefully there will be some new ideas that come out of it. It’s always good to have change and fresh voices.
Lance will be a different mayor than I was and that’s a natural thing. I think he already has some new ideas and some direction and I think that’s very good.

Q. Any last thoughts you want to share?
A. I would like to speak to Swan River and the Swan River Valley. It’s a really great place and I think a lot of people take it for granted. We have many of the amenities that people want and although it’s a little far from any major centres it forces us to develop our own interests in the community and get involved in what we have.
I think that the Swan Valley is the greatest place to be.