WHEN Pam Goldsmith-Jones , the Liberal Party candidate for our riding, looks back at why she became a politician, her memory takes her back to the day she wanted to play with her classmates but faced restrictions on her time by her teacher.
“I remember saying there isn’t any time but we could do this… I can organise this, we can do this, we can do that…I think it’s in my nature to organise things that everyone can enjoy,” she says, smiling at the first memory of intervention in public life.
Some of those kids would remember her and many would work with her as Goldsmith-Jones tackled bigger challenges of public life decades later, first as an organiser for the Edgemont Community Association, then as a councillor in North Vancouver, and most recently as the twice-elected mayor of West Vancouver. Politics and community engagement was an integral part of her upbringing. Her father loved fishing and often took Pam to council meetings when it was discussing thorny issues of ditches and culverts in West Vancouver. During elections, candidate meeting and election night parties were held at their home. Her father’s engagement in local committees and municipal issues influenced Pam to take a more active role in community issues. She graduated with a Master’s degree in Canadian politics and ran for a council position in the district of North Vancouver in 1992 on a strong platform of revitalising Edgemont Village, a desirable place now but then a place where businesses struggled to survive.
Goldsmith-Jones became a councillor in her early 30s and that political experience has since guided her to the core of what she believes is good politics: Open and accountable community engagement. “I became a passionate person for open government and realised that our decisions and deliberations are better when they are held in public. Politics is hard, and it can be adversarial but the more inclusive you are, the less controversy and easier it is,” she says.
One reason why Goldsmith-Jones feels she has had a winning streak throughout her political career is her ability to ward off political cynicism. People, she believes, have respect for those who are in the public life and especially for those who make an effort to remain open and accessible. Some of her success in politics she attributes to a brief but valuable stint as a salesperson for AES word processors, teaching people how to do word processing and guiding them how to sending emails. Seemingly unrelated, but the lessons from her sales job have carried her in good stead in her political career.
“You learn to speak with confidence, you learn to present an idea, you learn to get consensus and you learn to deal with rejection and not give up and you learn to see potential in the future,” she said.
Her job as a salesperson may have given her practical ideas on working with people but for her inspiration she looks to the likes of German chancellor Angela Merkel and Christine Lagarde, the first woman to be elected as the head of the International Monetary Fund. Both are of course strong women and are able to convey an idea with conviction, she says, but closer home she has great respect for former Liberal Party leader and prime minister Paul Martin.
“It’s hard not to have a tremendous respect for his legacy, for what he did as finance minister and for how long he served,” she says.
Every politician faces challenges and for Goldsmith-Jones one of the biggest challenges was preserving the Cove and Mountain Forest areas that were slated for development with a projected value of $400 million. “We ended up taking that land out of development and dedicating it for a public park,” she says, recalling the decision. What seems like a routine matter now was a radical re-visioning of city’s finances as North Vancouver district depended on the sale of land as capital dollars for city’s revenue.
“We had been super shortsighted so now not only were we saying we are going to take this approach to save the environment and provide outdoor recreation for people but we are also saying we are going to fundamentally change our revenue streams,” she says.
Being a woman councillor and taking bold stances on policy matters wasn’t always easy, Goldsmith-Jones recalls. She would often get comments from people advising her to be at home with her children. She says she took those comments in her stride and used her time on the council to reflect on the need for quality child care in the community. One of the key accomplishments of her time as the West Vancouver mayor was building three city-supported child care facilities. The city dedicated municipal buildings and was able to get provincial funding for the child care facilities. Goldsmith-Jones says she is passionate about affordable child care and it remains a key part of her platform.
If there are challenges, there are also opportunities to bring a positive change in people’s lives. For Goldsmith-Jones, a favourite memory is seeing the Olympic torch come to the West Vancouver Community Centre. The city initially didn’t seem ready and had no concrete plan as a venue city. But everyone finally pulled together and she recalls the joy with which she saw thousands of people streaming down the streets and making their way to the lawns of the gleaming new community centre.
“That represented so much work, including raising $2.5 million to fund our contribution to VANOC and put on 17 days of celebration free for everyone,” she says with a smile.
As she takes the next step in politics, Goldsmith-Jones says she would use her political experience to strengthen her own core values: An open, honest accountable government where information is freely available, MPs have free voices, the environment is protected and there is affordable housing and child care available for families.