By Steve Hubrecht

Last weekend’s municipal elections brought a few changes in the makeup of the Columbia Valley’s political landscape, but a great many of them were known well in advance. That’s because a significant number of long-time, well-known local politicians chose to step down instead of seek re-election. Among them were Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) Area G director, Gerry Wilkie; Radium mayor, Clara Reinhardt; Invermere councillor and deputy mayor, Greg Anderson; Invermere councillor and former Canal Flats mayor, Ute Juras and; Karl Sterzer.

All of them have served more than a decade in local office except for Sterzer, who, at eight years on Canal Flats council, is at least close to a decade. Each explained to the Pioneer, in separate interviews, that it’s time to move on.

Wilkie has been Area G’s representative on the RDEK board for 14 years, since first being elected in 2008.

“It’s been a real privilege to work with the people in Area G,” he said. “I’m so proud of all the fine community associations and great communities we have in Area G. That really is the heart and soul of it — the communities and the people. That’s the reasons you do the job.”

Wilkie also expressed gratitude to the RDEK staff and to his fellow RDEK directors from the Columbia Valley.

“We have consistently worked really well together and focused on the Columbia Valley as a whole and doing what’s right for the valley as a whole. I’m proud of that too,” he said.

Reinhardt was first elected to council at the same time as Wilkie, in 2008, and she too feels the 14 years have gone by swiftly.

“The reason you do it is that you want to do something for the community. I wanted to make a difference,” Reinhardt told the Pioneer. “The first thing that happens when you are elected is that you realize just how slowly everything goes at the local government level and you start to think what you can do as an individual is somewhat limited. But then you realize you can indeed make a difference, if you take the time to talk to people, to listen what the issues are.”

Several successful initiatives early on in her career as a councillor energized Reinhardt, and she began to take on a load far above that of a normal councillor.

When then-Radium mayor, Dee Conklin decided not to run for re-election in 2014, Reinhardt said it was a natural choice for her to run for the role. After she became the mayor, Reinhardt went on to become RDEK board vice chair and also sat on the executive of the Association of Kootenay and Boundary Local Government (AKBLG) and the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM).

“It’s just kind of escalated, but the whole time you always need to remember that your first responsibility is to Radium,” she said.

Reinhardt told the Pioneer that opening of the new Radium Hot Springs Centre is the highlight of her time on council.

“We began talking about it back in 2008, when I first started on council,” she said. “We got it in the official community plan (OCP), we did a community recreation survey report, and eventually, we finally did it. That was a pretty major deal. It’s a beautiful facility, it’s won awards, but for me the most important thing is that it’s well-used.”

On why she is stepping down, she noted, “It’s been 14 years. Change is good, for everybody. You need new ideas. You need to look at things with a different lens. It’s time for somebody new.”

Anderson has been an Invermere councillor for 11 years, and prior to that was Invermere’s school board trustee for 12 years, for a total of 23 years of elected officialdom.

“It’s always been about giving back. I love the community,” he told the Pioneer.

Starting with the school board was a logical first step since he had kids in the school system at the time. Once they left, “it was a natural progression to switch to council”, said Anderson. “My kids had graduated, and I think for the school board you want somebody who is close to the school, who has kids in the system for instance, because that gives them an understanding of what is happening and what is needed. So I looked around for another place I could do some public service, and it was as a councillor.”

His time as an elected official has been eventful, seeing the closure of seven schools during his time as a trustee (“It was a big deal, but I would say it was a ‘lowlight’ rather than a highlight,” said Anderson) and the purchase of the Lake Windermere Resort lands and the opening of the Columbia Valley Centre during his time on council. (“Those are more what you can call highlights,” he said.)

“I’m feeling positive. I was lucky to work with good councillors, good mayors and good staff. The town looks as good or better than when I started and it’s nice to have contributed to that, even if it’s just in a small way,” said Anderson. 

As for stepping down, Anderson told the Pioneer, “You can’t do something forever. I need to make space for new people with new ideas.”

Juras has more than 18 years of service as, first, a Canal Flats councillor, starting in mid 2004 when the village incorporated, then two terms as Canal Flats mayor, from 2011 to 2018, and then, after moving to Invermere in 2018, as an Invermere councillor for the past four years.

She told the Pioneer she’s moving on “because it’s been 18 years. It’s time for new challenges.” Juras has also started a new position with the local nonprofit Family Dynamix Association and because that group works closely with local government, she wants to avoid any potential conflicts of interest.

The highlight of Juras’ time on local government was helping improve life in two local communities and at the regional district level, she said.

“I will also miss the camaraderie of local government,” said Juras. “I’d like to thank the people of Canal Flats and of Invermere for their support. It’s been an honour and a pleasure to serve them.”

The Pioneer made repeated attempts to interview Sterzer, who has served on Canal Flats council, first as a councillor, then as mayor, for the past eight years, but was unable to reach him for comment prior to press deadline.