Advice and Words of Caution from Old Hands

Jeff

Stance on hot-button issues can hurt a councillor’s personal business, says Jeff McKenzie, who runs All Keys and Locks in downtown Squamish. Photo: Gagandeep Ghuman

By Gagandeep Ghuman
Published: Nov 6, 2014

Former councillor Jeff McKenzie thought it was going to be just another day at his business—until some people started to show up with a message no businessman wants to hear.

“I’m not giving any business to you,” said one.

“I’m never coming here and I’m telling my family and friends too,” said another man.

Three others followed with the same angry message. Just a day before, McKenzie had voted against something those men would stand to gain from.

“Attend meetings, go to open houses, and just talk to people in your town.” Jeff McKenzie

In less than two hours, McKenzie, the owner of All Keys and Locks had learned an important lesson: Your vote carries power but it comes with personal consequences.

“However you vote, some people are going to be angry with you,” he recalls.

“And it can be hard if you run a business in town.” Lonsdale 1

McKenzie, who was on the council from 2005-2008, said he wouldn’t think twice before running again.

“You give back but you also learn so much about how government works,” he says.

Corinne Lonsdale, the longest serving politicians in Squamish, also has had to pay a personal cost.

In 2002, her husband broke his back in a car accident on way to Prince George. Both were on their way to attended a meeting Gordon Campbell had convened to discuss the sale of BC Rail.

But that didn’t deter Corinne Lonsdale from running again for council: She has served on the council for 25 years, of which nine were served as Mayor.

Lonsdale has a key piece of advice for all council candidates: Listen to the public. And listen to the public even when you think the public is wrong.

“Community is always right even when you know it may be wrong,” she says.

Remembering the debate over the proposed chip facility, she said she listened to the community’s concerns, but admitted that she didn’t act on those concerns. It’s one of the lessons she thinks a new councillor would do well to learn.

“Listen to what the people say, be open minded, and find a way to make it work,” she says.

She has another advice for council contestants. Fall in love with reading. There will be reams of reading material to be read before and after a council meeting.

“If you don’t like reading, don’t run,” she says.  

And for those who will win a seat, she offers a friendly reminder to take all staff’s advice with a grain of salt and McKenzie concurs.

“Listen to the staff, but make sure you are also listening to the community,” McKenzie says.

Staff and developers and business investors are quite savvy and can easily influence new councillors. A clever strategy against that is to simply talk to and know your community, McKenzie says.

“Attend meetings, go to open houses, and just talk to people in your town,” he says.

Lonsdale also has a word of caution for new candidates who will taste power for the first time. People will try to befriend you but only because they stand to benefit.

Don’t make any new friends, even though you are sure to lose some old ones, she says.