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Time for reflection: Parting words from George Peary

Uncertain as to what would make him stand out in a large field of candidates, George Peary stood on his head at the all-candidates meeting.

“I delivered my speech inverted,” he said.

That was 1987, and the 47-year-old Peary, a local school district administrator, was running in his first election for a seat on Matsqui council.

His stunt had the desired effect.

“I got my picture in the paper. I wasn’t holding onto a sprinkler, but...”

The latter is a reference to council candidate Aird Flavelle holding a sprinkler aloft in a News photo from an all-candidates meeting prior to the Nov. 19 election.

Almost a week after he was defeated at the polls for the first time in his long political career, Abbotsford Mayor George Peary offered his thoughts about his life in politics, what he called an “ugly” election that resulted in his defeat, and the challenges that his replacement, Bruce Banman, will face after taking office on Dec. 5.

The public was distrustful of the city’s proposed Stave Lake water project, via a public-private P3 partnership. Seventy-five per cent of voters turned it down, and Peary, the plan’s champion, went down with it. He was defeated by newcomer Bruce Banman by about a 1,200-vote margin.

In the 1987 byelection, Peary was “just barely” elected. Harry De Jong, the former Matsqui mayor, had worked with Peary on the police board, and encouraged him to run for council. Peary had been in the community since 1973, coming here as the vice-principal of Abbotsford Senior Secondary.

He worked as a school district administrator for 28 years, serving as principal at W.J. Mouat, Abbotsford Junior, Yale and the Career Technical Centre.

The public antics continued. He did backflips. A second-degree black belt in judo, he would perform a chugari, which is a move “like a somersault with a big bang in the middle.” He hoisted people on his shoulders.

And his success in local politics continued from then until now. He switched from city councillor to the board of education in 2005, topping the trustee polls.

Peary returned to city hall as mayor in 2008.

He said local business people approached him to run.

“I had no great ambition to be mayor, but I talked to my wife and she said ‘You’re the best person for the job’”

A week from now, he will serve his last day in office.

Peary served under iconic local mayors – De Jong, Dave Kandal and George Ferguson.

“They all had a hand in shaping my view of local government,” he said.

He saw the political fur fly when Ferguson and Kandal had to “duke it out” for the mayoralty. But he said those campaigns never got personal.

Not like the 2011 election, which he says was the ugliest he has been through.

He was a target, saying “some of my opponents demonized me,” particularly online.

“I’m human. If you cut me, I bleed,” said Peary.

He clarified that Banman himself did not launch personal attacks.

He said he will answer Banman’s questions to ease the transition if he is asked, but won’t be giving any unsolicited advice.

Peary leaves it to Banman and his new council to deal with the water issue, which he maintains is crucial. He predicts dramatically higher water rates are on the way as demand for water increases and conservation becomes a greater necessity.

He predicts the new mayor will find himself caught between CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees) supporters who helped put him into office – and will now be wanting consideration in city bargaining – and the taxpayers groups who want him to hold the line on city spending.

Employee salaries are the city’s major cost. Freezing taxes means laying people off, he said.

And he hears constant pressure for added city services, like busing, a new theatre, a 50-metre pool, and “there’s no shortage of demands.

“The new mayor is quickly going to discover his life, and council’s life, is full of no-win decisions.”

Peary said in April that the city is poised for prosperity, and he still believes that.

His goal was to try to leave the city “in better shape than when (I) found it.”

Taking stock, he said Abbotsford has received $125 million in federal and provincial investment over his three years.

“No council has ever done that.”

That includes the Clearbrook and McCallum overpasses, airport improvements, housing for homeless women, the Discovery Trail and “a host of other things.”

There are also 200 acres of industrial land about to come onstream, bringing more jobs and more families to the city.

He said Abbotsford has gone from being dubbed the murder capital of Canada to having no homicides this year, and he is proud of the current administration’s efforts in crime reduction.

“I leave with my head held high.”

Peary plans to travel, spend more time with his wife Sylvia, who has been “rock solid for me,” and their grandchildren, and get back into his fitness regimen. He will focus on quality of life.

“I’m going to make sure that I live until I die.”

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