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“I am a Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, or free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.” ~~ John G. Diefenbaker

FRANK LEONARD: To Thine Own Self Be True

I returned to the University of Victoria (UVic) while I was Mayor, and completed my Master’s Degree in 2002.  As I defended my thesis, I knew I had passed when the conversation turned with this question: ‘so why didn’t you run with Gordon Campbell last year?’  I frequently encountered this question and still do but it did make me chuckle to hear it in this serious academic setting.  My reply?  Well, I bought this tee shirt that said ‘to thine own self be true.’”

I was a Saanich Councillor and Capital Regional District Chair in the early 1990’s, and was often working with Campbell while he was Vancouver Mayor and Greater Vancouver Regional District Chair.  I recall telling him that when he made the move to provincial politics that I’d go with him – even though I didn’t know which right of centre party he’d choose.  So, I was there as we built up BC Liberal constituencies and recruited candidates – and celebrated victory in May 1996, albeit for less than an hour.

Early results on election night in 1996 had us ahead in seats, and I was ahead in my own race.  This did not surprise me as there was quite a difference ‘east vs. west’ in the riding and I assumed the results were uneven.  However, within an hour both TV and radio were declaring me elected.  I was not accepting this as it was contrary to our polling but once my campaign manager called and said to hurry to the celebration, I accepted victory and my family rejoiced.  However, on the way to the campaign office, CFAX radio’s Alan Perry interrupted their program and said ‘Joe, there’s been a change in Saanich South.’   

I pulled the car over to the curb and we listened as the results did indeed change.  I drove my family back home and went to a very solemn campaign office on my own.

That night I knew I would be pivoting, and running for the vacant Mayor’s seat in Saanich that fall and was fortunate to win.  I was re-elected in 1999 despite so many assuming I’d step aside months later for a repeat run at provincial politics.  Many assumed the elections would be four years apart so the pressure was on for me to seek the nomination in 2000, but I really did need to have some distance from my November victory.  To be honest with myself, I was not so sure I wanted to make the move.

I really liked being Mayor.  Sure, the opportunity for ‘power’ was an attraction – and let’s admit it, MLA’s get a pension whereas Mayors don’t.  Yet I really liked being able to vote my conscience.  When I ran provincially, I had to support the party platform.  Deep down I’m a ‘blue liberal, red tory’ kind of guy and in order to capture the Reform Party vote, the BC Liberals were further to the right than I was comfortable with.   

Obviously, I accepted the platform knowing we needed to re-establish the right of centre coalition so I take responsibility for our choices and positions.  However, while Mayor, I was able to ‘call my own shots’ – I was able to vote my conscience on every vote and I was also beginning to see I could get results with my goals for ‘community building.’

I was pulling all these thoughts together when some of us were bored at a municipal convention in London Ontario and went for a drive that included a stop in Stratford.  It was there in the gift shop I saw my solution…. literally on the tee shirt I bought.  I’ve never worn the shirt; I keep it as a souvenir of such a big decision in my life; and I keep it to remind me of a guiding principle for my life in politics.

Even when my colleagues told me that their door knocking in my final campaign signaled that I needed to change two key positions in order to get re-elected – my support for the sewage treatment project and my resistance to amalgamation – I chose to stay true to myself. 

After that provincial campaign of 1996, I’d told myself I’d never take a position I didn’t believe in; that I would never try to win at all cost.  I believe that is one of the reasons I can look back with no regrets – and I recommend to the current crop of elected officials to keep that in mind. 

Compromising yourself may give you a short-term benefit but in the long term you really want to be able to say that ‘to thine own self ‘you were true.

Frank Leonard was Mayor of Saanich and Chair of the Police Board from 1996-2014 after serving as a Councillor from 1986. While in public office, Frank chaired the Municipal Finance Authority of BC, was President of the Union of BC Municipalities and a Director of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. He has also served as Chair of the Capital Regional District, the Hospital District and the region’s Housing Corporation.

He is currently Chair of Parkbridge Lifestyles Communities and a Director of Coast Capital Savings. He is a business instructor at the University of Victoria and has previously served as a Director of the BC Investment Management Corporation, Chair of the Municipal Pension Plan and Chair of the BC Agricultural Land Commission.

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