Mayor Gary St. Onge says he has learned a lot, made a few mistakes and enjoyed his experience as the mayor of Estevan City Council.
The October 15 meeting of Council marked the final open meeting for St. Onge as mayor. He has been the mayor since June of 2005, and a member of City Council since 2000.
In his farewell speech, St. Onge applauded City staff, other members of Council, the media and the people of the community for their support during his tenure.
City employees are often in the public’s eye, St. Onge, said, and so they often receive unwarranted criticism. He recalls that when he first joined Council, the union representing the City's workers had been without a contract for nearly two years. There was a lot of tension between Council and City staff at the time.
“One of our first duties when we got elected in 2000 was to settle the contract, which actually happened quite quickly, a lot quicker than I expected it to happen,” said St. Onge.
His first term on City Council was difficult at times, he said, as meetings were often disruptive, and dissenting votes were common.
“The last three Councils since that I have worked with, I felt have worked well together,” said St. Onge. “Even though we did not always agree on every item, disagreements were generally differences of opinion rather than personality conflicts.”
The present Council has passed nearly 2,000 motions over the last three years; 1.958 votes were unanimous. St. Onge was on the losing side of 10 votes.
Building a cohesive Council that works together for the betterment of the community was one of his biggest accomplishments, he said.
When he first joined Council, St. Onge said he had all kinds of ideas on how to better the community, but the City had little money to spend. They have been able to increase capital spending in the last 10 years. They have replaced water mains, resurfaced about 100 blocks of roads, and completed other projects.
There have been mistakes, and there were issues he would have handled differently, such as the 2008 residential garbage collection controversy that led to petitions and heated debate between Council and the public.
But those errors served as learning points, and he encourages the future Councils to offer as much information as possible to the public.
The next Council will have to decide where to spend money, he said, so they can complete as many projects as possible.
“We’re short of contractors,” said St. Onge. “We could probably put more money into projects, but who are you going to get to do the work?”
There haven't been any doubts about his decision not to run in the October 24 civic election. He expects he won’t miss Council until he watches the first meeting after the election on television.
“I’ll be one of the best cheerleaders for the city, because I love this city,” said St. Onge.
St. Onge was appointed as a member of the Sun Country Regional Health Authority earlier this year, and that will keep him busy, he said. He hasn't decided what else he'll do with his spare time now that he's retired from Council.
Other members of Council paid tribute to St. Onge's commitment to the community and his work ethic while serving as mayor. They gave St. Onge a standing ovation after he finished his speech.
St. Onge was elected as a councillor in 2000 and re-elected in 2003. He resigned his councillor seat in the spring of 2005 so that he could run for mayor; he was elected mayor in June of 2005 in a landslide victory.
He was acclaimed as mayor in the 2006 and 2009 civic elections. He had stated throughout this term that he wouldn't seek another term as mayor.