A passion for Castlegar
The mayor and council in Castlegar, B.C., are a team that’s willing to consider taking risks
“I just finished my 25th year in politics,” said Lawrence Chernoff, mayor of Castlegar, B.C. “I started in 1987 as councillor, and 11 years ago I became mayor. Previous to that I was an ambulance paramedic for 29 years. Service upon service, that’s me.”
Mayor Chernoff accommodated Kootenay Business by answering a few questions for us.
What have you learned about your community in the past year?
I’ve learned how much the community appreciates the things we do. We’ve taken some risks on some of the projects, and we’re always concerned about whether they will be accepted by the public. Seeing appreciation from the public means a lot.
The biggest project we’ve done is the Millennium Ponds—a very successful $1.6-million project. I think this project has put Castlegar on the map.
What have you learned recently about yourself?
I have to be a little more patient than I have been in the past. I’m a doer, and I push, push, push all the time. I need to accept that things take as long as they take.
What do you see as your council’s strengths?
The ability to work together as a council and also with the City staff. The other strength is their ability to think outside the box. The prime example would be our Sculpture Walk, which was begun six years ago. When it was first put forward, it was so unusual and untested—it was a big decision to go ahead with it. We did, and it’s been very successful. It’s built a whole lot of pride in this community.
With risk comes reward—that’s the concept that we work under. We’re willing to try new things and we’re a great team.
If everything were in place, what project would you like to get started with?
My project would be to improve the reliability of our airport. That will take a lot of people working together—Nav Canada, Transport Canada, Air Canada—to figure out how to get this done.
The airport is a huge economic development tool, and we need it—it’s key to the economics of the West Kootenay. The sophisticated technology is available, but it will be a huge step to acquire it for Castlegar.
What’s been a stretch or challenge for you in this position?
To balance the needs with the wants. If you can get the dollars, it makes the accomplishments easier. As a municipal government, we can’t run a deficit, and the City staff are great at keeping us on budget and in balance.
What’s a good piece of advice that you received?
Don’t let anyone tell you it can’t be done. I don’t remember where or when I first heard that, but these are words that I kind of live by.
What’s a meaningful compliment that you’ve received?
People notice my passion for the community, and they compliment me on that. The other thing people comment on is my smile—it seems to be my trademark. I’m told that when I’m not smiling there’s something wrong.
Tell me five words that, to you, describe success.
Integrity, optimism, discipline, open-mindedness, perseverance. If I can live by those words, I’ll live within my principles. I’m willing to change my mind, though, as long as it’s within my principles. In crises, those are what guide my decisions.
What’s the greatest risk you’ve taken in your work?
Going ahead with the Sculpture Walk. There was a financial commitment, and we had no assurance that the public would be happy with it. It’s worked out well and has built community pride more than anything else we’ve ever done.
What’s your favourite inspirational quote?
“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path, and leave a trail.” — Ralph W. Emerson.
That gives me direction. I like to be a pioneer, and I like to be a true leader and make a new trail. There may be conflict, but you work around it.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
My passion for my community is absolutely huge, and the easiest part of my job is talking about my community. I’ve built my career as mayor on the partnerships I’ve formed over the past 11 years. To me, that’s where the success is.
My biggest joy right now are my two grandsons, Aiden, who is four years old, and Matthew, born on December 6. They put new life into me. They changed my priorities and they are the future.