Former mayor Paul Chalifoux passes

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The city was saddened by the untimely passing last weekend of a prominent local politician and civic leader. Former mayor Paul Chalifoux passed away suddenly after falling ill recently. He was 74.

“He’d really been on the town lately. He was going to events, going to a lot of movies. He was really getting out there. He was getting involved again. He was back in his element, which makes it a little sadder. He was really starting to come into his own again after Mom passed,” explained Dan Chalifoux, one of Paul’s three surviving children.

Paul’s wife, Margaret, passed nearly two years ago after almost half a century of marriage. She was from Edmonton while he was born and raised in Morinville. He started his adult life as a teacher there before moving to St. Albert where he taught before spending nearly two decades as vice-principal at St. Albert Catholic High School.

Once he moved and put down roots here, that was it.

“He loved St. Albert. He was just a solid St. Albert boy.”

He soon became firmly established and set out to show the community the real extent of his abilities to both bring people together and his belief in making great places better. He tried variously to become involved in provincial and federal politics over his life, but it was his public service on St. Albert City Council that afforded him the greatest opportunities to give back to the world and show his strengths as a leader.

Daughter Michelle said that some of his proudest accomplishments were also some of the most contentious ones. There was Ray Gibbon Drive, the deal with Sturgeon County to annex land north of Villeneuve Road, and Servus Credit Union Place. That last one was something he had been working on for close to 25 years, she said.

All of those things required big agreements over tough issues.

“It was about the collaboration,” daughter Michelle said. “Ray Gibbon Drive … he’d been working on that for a long time and then it happened, but it happened because people collaborated and came to the table and made it happen. The relationship between Sturgeon and St. Albert before Dad became mayor was so strained that it had no chance. He got in there and a month later, they had it all figured out.”

That kind of work ethic also demonstrated something important about Paul Chalifoux: he was a guy who didn’t just sit back. If there was work to be done or if things weren’t going smoothly, then it was time to step up and do something.

“If you don’t like the way something’s being run or you don’t like it, you get involved and fix it,” said his other son, Rob, offering his dad’s philosophy. “Don’t complain about it unless you’re going to do something about it.”

“Paul always taught me about collaboration and about teamwork. He had so much faith in people, whether that was the rest of us on city council, city employees, other people in the region …” offered Neil Korotash, who served as alderman during Chalifoux’s last term as mayor. “He just knew that if you could sit down and chat with people, sort out your differences, and work on common ground, he was just an incredible communicator and collaborator. Those were his strengths. His faith in people was unbelievable.”

Chalifoux was a two-term alderman from 1992 to 1998 before becoming mayor from 1998 to 2001 and then from 2004 to 2007. After that, he sought the Progressive Conservative nomination in the next provincial election, years after an early shot at getting into federal politics in 1968. That unsuccessful bid didn’t stop him from serving St. Albert.

If it wasn’t politics then it was sports and he was a big fan.

“It was baseball in the summer and hockey in the winter. If we weren’t playing sports, we were out at the lake,” Dan said.

Paul Chalifoux wasn’t one to just sit on the sidelines. In between coaching teams and being on boards of sports organizations, he was director of the St. Albert Chamber of Commerce, and chaired the committee that facilitated the establishment of St. Albert Centre.

He was keen on Junior Achievement, served on various governance and organizational boards including those of the Sturgeon Hospital. He was invited by other community leaders in 1990 to help charter the first Rotary Club in the city.

Chalifoux had a CV as broad as his smile. His and Margaret’s community service was so extensive and appreciated that together they shared the 1987 Volunteer Citizen of the Year Award.

A service has been arranged for 10:45 a.m. on Friday at Holy Family Catholic Parish.

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Scott Hayes

Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns and profiles on people.