Invermere voters will get their mayor back, but will have a mix of new and old choices on offer at the polling station this election.
Current mayor Al Miller will be acclaimed to the role for a second term, with no opponents having come forward to run against him. But two of Invermere’s current councillors are stepping down, and two are seeking re-election, and with three new candidates joining the race for councillor seats, the new Invermere council is guaranteed to be a mix of fresh and experienced faces.
Miller will step into his second term as mayor and his fourth overall as a member of Invermere council. He was first elected as a councillor in 2008. In 2011 he ran for mayor against then incumbent mayor Gerry Taft, and lost, leaving him off council for three years. In 2014 he re-entered the fray of Invermere politics, running successfully for a councillor seat. In 2018, when Taft stepped down as mayor (Taft opted to run as a councillor instead), Miller tried his luck as mayor again, this time winning the mayoral election over Mark Topliff (who, incidentally, is running for councillor this time around).
In terms of why he’s standing for a second term as mayor, Miller said it’s “because I don’t consider my work to be done. We’ve started several big initiatives and I’d like to see some of them through.”
These include the Lake Windermere Resorts (LWR) lands purchase, the transfer of control over James Chabot Provincial Park from the provincial government to Invermere and the Shuswap Band, and the expansion of Invermere’s joint active transportation network and trail system under its Friendship Agreement with the Shuswap.
Miller has lived in Invermere since moving here in 1988, and has been owner of Home Hardware that whole time. His volunteer experience includes the Columbia Valley Rockies, the Invermere Public Library board, the Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary Club of Invermere.
Long serving councillors Ute Juras (one term as Invermere councillor, but multiple terms as Canal Flats mayor and Canal Flats councillor before that) and Greg Anderson (more than a decade on Invermere council) are both retiring from local politics. Incumbent councillors Taft and Kayja Becker are both running again and are joined by Topliff, and newcomers Theresa Wood and Jack Caldbick. Four of them will be elected to council.
Becker first ran for councillor, unsuccessfully, in 2014. Undeterred, she ran again in 2018, and garnered more votes than any other councillor candidate. She was born and raised in Invermere and owns the local dance studio.
She outlined to the Pioneer that through the studio she “hear(s) from many children and their families about what they love, and what we can improve upon. I know Invermere has its fair share of struggles, but I think this town is a really incredible place. I’m excited to be running for my second term on council as I feel there is still a lot I can accomplish in making our town even better. I take my role very seriously, and would be honoured to represent our community again if I am elected.”
Taft is in the running for a seventh consecutive term on Invermere council, which makes him one of the longest — if not in fact the longest — serving municipal politician the district has seen. He was first elected has a 20-year old in 2002. Taft served two terms as a councillor, then became mayor in 2008. He served three consecutive terms as mayor over a decade (during which he also spent time on the Association of Kootenay Boundary Local Governments board and the Union of B.C. municipalities board) before deciding to scale back a bit and run as a councillor again in 2018.
His background is very familiar to many local residents already, having first gained local attention as the founder and long-time owner of Gerry’s Gelati (now called Stolen Church Gelato and Coffee). Along the way he married his wife and had a son and a daughter. He sold the gelato business in 2017 to focus on a shot at provincial politics. When that was unsuccessful, he switched careers and became a real estate agent.
He pointed out to the Pioneer that since he is now 40, he has been on Invermere council for quite literally half his life.
“I have been active and involved for the whole time. Although there have been some difficult times, for the most part it has been an amazing experience. There has been a diverse mix of other council members and perspectives over the years, but over the last 20 years I think we have accomplished a lot,” said Taft. “With my experience, and commitment to the community, I feel that I still have some energy and passion, some skills, and a bit of an obligation, to help mentor and guide another council. Although it is important to learn from the past, I am not stuck in the past, and look forward to the new energy and new passion that can come from this new council and being part of it.”
Topliff is hoping to take a page straight out of Miller and Becker’s if-at-first-you-don’t-succeed-try-again playbook. Miller lost his first run at mayor, but came back to win the position later. Becker did the same thing for a councillor position. Topliff ran four years ago against Miller for mayor, and lost, but is undaunted and is back in the running again, this time as a councillor.
Although he has not been a local politician, a great many residents already know Topliff through his work for many years as Invermere’s bylaw officer.
“I have been living and working in the district for the past ten years. I love this area and the friendly people of the valley. The business community is growing . What’s not to love?” Topliff said. “(As a councillor) I would like to address the existing and future needs of our community.”
Woods is another candidate who is already familiar to a lot of locals — partly, like Topliff, because of her work for the district. She was Invermere’s events coordinator for several years, and started quite a few annual events that continue to this day. Prior to that she was a director for the annual Wings Over the Rockies Festival. Wood is also well known to many residents as Taynton Bay Distillery’s social media and marketing manager and — most significantly — through her current role as the Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce’s business recovery advisor, and her efforts in that position to help create more affordable housing and seasonal employee housing in the valley.
“I have lived in Invermere for 16 years. I have been involved with the community in almost every way possible from board positions, volunteering, work and recreation,” Wood told the Pioneer. “I am running for council because I want to have a positive impact on the future of Invermere. I want this to be a community where future generations can afford to live a prosperous and fulfilling life.”
With residents already familiar with Becker and Taft (as past councillors), and with Topliff and Wood (through their work) Caldbick stands as likely the only brand new name to many Invermere voters. But new is whole the point, Caldbick told the Pioneer, pointing out can bring fresh ideas to the Invermere council table.
Caldbick has been in Invermere for five years, moving here in 2017 to take a human resources job with Parks Canada. He’s currently on educational leave from Parks Canada, completing a Master’s of Environmental Practice from Royal Roads University while also working as a farm manager for Old Blue Truck farm and an apprentice carpenter for thinkBright Homes. When not studying or working, he’s out enjoying the Columbia Valley’s great outdoors — climbing, hiking, swimming or ski touring.
“I’m originally from Ottawa, so politics gets in your blood, whether you like it or not,” said Caldbick. “I have a lot of friends, family, co-workers, and even my partner, who talk frequently about what can be improved. But that way I see it, instead of just talking about changes, you need to try to get a seat at the place where you can actually make some of those changes happen. You’ve got to walk the walk as well as talk the talk.”