If it wasn’t for an incendiary prisoners’ revolt, Revelstoke’s longest-serving city councillor likely wouldn’t have landed in our mountain valley town.
Coun. Peter Frew will serve his 6,573rd and final day as a municipal councillor on Dec. 5.
The Burnaby native became a forest technician at BCIT, working for the B.C. forests ministry in various roles over his career.
Living in Sechelt, he helped run a collaborative program between the B.C. Forests Ministry and the provincial justice branch that put prisoners serving 729 days or fewer to work in labour-intensive bush camps.
It wasn’t really for him, Frew said. One night, a batch of disgruntled inmates put a match to their wooden lodge, burning it to the ground. It was the last straw and he sought a transfer, winding up in Revelstoke about 30 years ago.
He served in various roles including in enforcement and recreation, where he got his introduction to local politics while working on recreation resource plans.
In a long interview last week, Frew explained some of the highlights and challenges of his long political career, and his views on the state of municipal politics in Revelstoke.
Why did he decide to run for election in 1993? “My main interest was finding out how municipal government worked and what happened at city hall, and how does the City of Revelstoke run,” he said.
Which is almost exactly what he told Times Review reporter Gregg Chamberlain when he announced Frew’s candidacy for council in the Oct. 1, 1993 issue of the Times Review: “I’m interested in finding out how the city does run and, if I’m elected, how I can help out.”
Frew has a chuckle when I point out the similarity. The article is only a few hundred words long, but alludes to some of the major changes that affected Revelstoke during his tenure.
He said his first term on council was forgiving; he was voted in along with several new faces and his inexperience didn’t stick out too badly.
The remainder of the decade was a slog through the ski resort development process, something Frew had supported from the outset, but at a slower, more reasonable pace that didn’t offset Revelstoke’s quality of life. Just a few weeks before he was elected, the previous council fought off a lawsuit from Toronto-based development company that staked a claim on Mount Mackenzie.
“It was certainly a long, arduous road until finally [developer Don Simpson] came on board,” Frew said. He feel the city ultimately negotiated a “good agreement” for resort development.
Many bought into the resort marketing hype and hoopla of 2007/8, but Frew said the reality is the resort always had a 20–25 year phased build-out plan, which has been slowed in the past years due to macro-economic issues.
He tells me when he was a boy, his uncle was general manager of Tod Mountain, now Sun Peaks. That resort, like many, limped along for ages and went bust before finally getting investment and development. “It takes time,” he reminds me.
As of late, Frew says he’s more concerned about the demographics of the resort, noting baby boomers are dropping out of skiing and the numbers are young skiers are also declining, saying he feels cultural and arts amenities designed for older visitors may need more of an emphasis.
Looking back, what gives him the biggest sense of accomplishment?
The most basic of city services: clean water. In 1995, a series of boil water advisories and sicknesses made the city realize they couldn’t keep on taking raw water out of Greeley Creek, so they began a long process to build the state-of-the-art Greeley Creek Water Treatment Plant, finished in 2000. Frew said councillors enjoyed working with public works foreman Bryant Yeomans and contract engineer Jack Bryck to install the filtration plant. “It was very educational,” he said. “It is a good system.”
How has he dealt with the tough decisions, the criticism, and in the past several years, residents’ ability to get online and broadside council and city hall?
Frew said if he didn’t like the job, he wouldn’t have stayed on. “It was a job that I thoroughly enjoyed,” he said.
“Sometimes people are quick to criticize,” he says. “The city gets blamed for a lot of things.”
In the end, council advises and controls the purse strings, but they aren’t there to micromanage. Residents are often quick to isolate one issue — like a wine bar application or a sign debate — and go to town on the city. For council, “it’s just one issue that you are dealing with,” Frew says. For the record, Frew isn’t one of the most vocal councillors. He is known for trying to seek common ground when there is a controversial debate at the council table — in steady tones, usually wearing a smile. It’s a stark contrast to the harsh words, accusations, couldas and shouldas that often characterized civic debates online.
“Politicians are average people,” he adds. “It’s not as if we’re from some other planet.”
The important thing is that people do go and vote and exercise their democratic right,” he said.
What about the next election? What should Revelstoke voters be thinking about?
Tax burden has been a major issue, but Frew feels the ongoing lobby from business interests to redistribute the burden isn’t the solution. “Just shifting it to another tax class is not the answer,” he said. “If you want to pay less tax, you have to spend less money,” he said. “Where do you find those cuts?”
Another development he hasn’t been keen on is the committee of the whole structure that was instituted near the beginning of this council’s term. Under the old system, smaller, more specific committees met and discussed issues in depth. Now, it’s all condensed into one big meeting. There used to be more discussion with staff and he felt more informed. “Today, in the committee of the whole, that doesn’t happen.”
Frew’s main reason for leaving is to be closer to family; his daughter Erin and grand-daughter Abby live in Kamloops. He’s planning to put his house on the market in the spring. “I want to be a grandfather and see my grand-daughter on a weekly basis.”
His career in politics may not be over; he’ll take a look around in Kamloops and see if he can help out on committees or similar roles.
So, did he achieve what he set out to do?
“I’m well informed on all sorts of various issues,” he said, adding he “enjoyed the majority of it.”
To sum it up, he says he’s leaving with “a satisfying feeling.”
Does he have any regrets from his time on council? After some time thinking, the answer is no, not really.