Of all those who threw their names into the civic election hat, John Van Laerhoven probably had the easiest election time.
With no one else running alongside him, the current councillor knew back in October that he’d become the District of Kent’s next mayor.
Current mayor Lorne Fisher had decided to run for council, and has since won, and no one else stepped up to the plate.
At the outset of the election period, Van Laerhoven told the Observer it was “a bit disappointing” not get the excitement of running a campaign. But in the end, he settled into that comfort zone, and began focusing on what he’d like to achieve in his three year term.
He even sat among the audience at the District of Kent’s all candidates debate a few weeks ago, to see the process from the other side of the coin.
“It was a lot easier to be watching,” he said, with a knowing smile. Whoever voters decided on, he was prepared to work with.
“We had credible candidates running,” he said. “And I want to thank the citizens who came out to vote.”
But he doesn’t see himself so much as a leader, or boss, as a part of an important team that will move the community forward.
“I value the team approach,” he said and wants to encourage open and frank discussion in council chambers.
He is proud of being a part of council the last three years, especially considering the council has managed to operate “with proper decorum.”
He is going into the job as mayor with a keen eye on the entire community, and not necessarily individual needs.
“It’s not about individuals, it’s about the community as a whole,” he said. “That’s what makes the job difficult. We have to look at all the information, listen to what people have to say, ask them questions, and then make the thoughtful decisions.”
It’s an approach, and the knowledge, that you can’t please all the people all the time.
Like most new mayors in B.C., Van Laerhoven will be meeting with his new council members over the next few days to find out where they’d like to devote their time.
With three years experience on council, he knows the time commitment involved with committees and portfolios. And it’s important to match council members up with the right causes.
“Anyone who has served knows they are making a significant commitment to the community,” Van Laerhoven said. “I want to applaud all of those who put their names forward.”
In particular, the roles filled by defeated councilor Ken Schwaerzle will have to be filled. Schwaerzle was a “great ambassador,” for the community of Agassiz, Van Laerhoven said.
“He gave a lot of his time on committees, attending a lot of meetings and often advocating for a lot of issues,” he said, and his love of the area was obvious.
While some mayors elected in are planning for sweeping changes, Van Laerhoven intends to step into the role quietly.
“I hope to make decisions that are good for the town, the future of the town and its citizens,” he said.
One of the items that has come up recently is the possibility of a new gymnasium that would be attached to the Fitness/ Activity Centre. The plans have only just come to council at its most recent regular meeting, and is in early stages. Funding may be available to help with the completion of the gym, which is the next phase of the 10-year-old fitness centre.
Van Laerhoven is supportive of the plan so far.
“When there are opportunities, we have to seize them,” he said.
Van Laerhoven has a bit of history with politics. A teacher for more than 30 years, he was also the Teacher’s Association President for two years, and the vice president for another two years.
Born in Holland, Van Laerhoven moved to Canada with his family at age five. They lived in Saskatchewan for one year before traveling to B.C. He and his wife Cathy have raised three children in Agassiz.
The new council will be sworn in on December 5 during a special council meeting.