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Sturgeon councillor looks back

While his county council comrades were busy with nomination papers Monday, Ken McGillis was taking it easy at home, resting up before another long day’s work on the farm.

“I’ve enjoyed my tenure as a councillor,” he said in an exit interview earlier this month. “It’s time for someone else with different ideas and an ambition to serve the public to step in.”

McGillis, 76, has decided not to seek re-election this year after nine years in office as councillor of Division 3 (Villeneuve, Calahoo, Pine Sands).

McGillis said he made this decision earlier this year in part because of the new provincially mandated four-year term for municipal governments, which he was reluctant to take on.

He also wanted to spend more time with his wife of 54 years, Irene, who had Alzheimer’s disease.

She died on July 15. “I certainly miss my wife a lot,” he said, but her death was not unexpected.

Regrets

McGillis was first elected in 2004, beating former Edmonton Airport Authority board member John Bowes by 237 votes. The then-retired Sturgeon School Division administrator told the Gazette that his top priority was to mend fences with St. Albert.

McGillis said he worked closely with then-St. Albert mayor Paul Chalifoux in those early years through an intermunicipal committee to add 1,336 hectares of county land to the city in 2007. “The amount of land was not in dispute,” he said – the city even let the county draw the new border – but the province had to get involved to settle the issue of lost tax revenue.

Relations have since fallen apart, with the two governments regularly clashing over development plans in this border region. McGillis spent years shepherding a proposed Villeneuve area structure plan through council, for example, only to see it shot down by St. Albert at the Capital Region Board (CRB).

“I wish I could understand how it’s gone so wrong,” McGillis said, adding that St. Albert’s “obstructionist” behaviour at the CRB has not helped. “They view this part of Sturgeon County that’s within range of St. Albert as just a future land bank,” he groused.

You need some new faces at the table in both city and county council to fix these relations, McGillis said. “When you have different people, you may have some different attitudes.”

Successes

McGillis said he was glad to see residential development take off in the Sturgeon Valley, noting that it would bring more schools and recreation facilities to the county. “You need to have people to make those organizations vibrant.”

He was also happy to have helped settle the long-running water line dispute with Morinville and Legal, overseen $11 million in community asset grants to local governments (including $500,000 to St. Albert’s Servus Place), and taken part in the county’s intervention over the Heartland Transmission Project.

A charter member of the West Sturgeon Aging in Place Foundation, McGillis was instrumental in the development of the West Country Hearth assisted living facility in Villeneuve, said foundation chair Colleen Soetaert, and helped the group get a $4.2 million loan from the province to build its new dementia wing. He and his family also built the place’s sidewalks.

Soetaert said McGillis was a wise and thoughtful person on council who gave her sage advice during her time as an MLA. “He has a broad vision,” she said, and did much to bring better planning to the county. “Those will be big shoes to fill.”

McGillis said he wasn’t sure what to do next now that he’s left office. “Considering my age and everything else, I probably should start slowing down a bit.” For now, he planned to keep working on his cattle farm.

He’s done with politics for sure, he added. “It’s better to get out while you’re still ahead of the game.”

Kevin Ma: Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.