Nine years after winning a byelection to fill a vacant seat on Coquitlam city council, Chris Wilson is saying goodbye.
The former Olympic wrestler and president of KidSport Tri-Cities is leaving civic politics and won’t be running for re-election.
"I've been struggling for the last couple of months to decide what I should do," Wilson told the Tri-City News this morning (Sept. 8).
"Like a lot of people during Covid, you reassess your life and your priorities. I think I'm just at the stage where I’m not enjoying [council] like I used to. I've been an entrepreneur since I was 16 and being in local government is not very entrepreneurial.
"I have lots of things I want to do to make a difference in other ways," he said.
Wilson, who also coordinated Operation Red Nose, a safe-ride home service during the holidays that raised funds for KidSport Tri-Cities, an organization that helps local youth with sports registration fees, said his main reason to seek public office was to get more subsidized housing in Coquitlam.
At the time, his wife taught at Mountain View Elementary in Burquitlam and, when the Evergreen Extension was approved to run through the neighbourhood, he knew many low-income residents would be displaced.
He volunteered with the Tri-Cities Homelessness and Housing Task Group to address the housing demands, especially in the Cottonwood area, and, on council, he continued to speak up about housing affordability.
"I think I've had some success there in moving the dial for the city," he said. "I helped others on council to really understand the issues and the importance of it."
Another box that Wilson checked off is childcare.
During his first year, council turned down two childcare facilities because of neighbours’ concerns. "It was infuriating. There were no city policies in place and council was treating them like business franchises. I thought childcare should be a city amenity."
Today, thanks in part to Wilson’s efforts, Coquitlam has a Child Care Partnership Strategy that offers incentives to developers who provide childcare space in their new buildings; if they don't, they’re required to pay a fee for the city to find room elsewhere.
"We've come a long way in childcare," Wilson said, noting the new program will "change people’s lives and I’m very proud of that."
"My wife and I were so lucky with childcare, but so many people are struggling and it’s making their lives difficult. It’s stuff that we should have done a long time ago."
Wilson said he'll miss city hall staff and especially city manager Peter Steblin, whom he credits for steering the civic ship well in rough waters.
Under his leadership, he said, Steblin has put succession planning in place and moved city staff into areas that see them thrive.
"We're respected by other cities for the staff we have," Wilson said.
"There's also a lot of respect between our council and staff. Sometimes, when we were creating policy, it was like when I was wrestling and got a shot of adrenaline. You know you're on to something. You drive home afterwards and you feel like you’ve really accomplished something for the community."
He said he'll also miss his discussions with residents, who are eager to learn how local government works in Coquitlam.
As for his successor and the next council, which will be elected Oct. 15, Wilson has these words of wisdom: "For the newcomers, I really encourage them to stay true to themselves. Have an open mind and soak in all the information you’re getting, especially in the first year or two. Don’t think you’re going to make huge changes initially. Take the time to learn how it works."