When the next Niagara-on-the-Lake town council is sworn in, Jim Collard might be fishing. Or playing golf.
Whatever he is doing at that moment, it won't be taking his seat at the council table, as he has so many times before.
But when he exits the council chamber for the last time as a municipal politician, he will be leaving behind a memento of 30 years in municipal politics — one he made himself, and that may serve as a reminder to other councillors of the many responsibilities attached to the job.
About 20 years ago, he recalls, as chair of the planning committee during a meeting on some controversial development — he can't recall which, but those meetings are not unusual in NOTL — he was trying unsuccessfully to control an unruly resident.
Gavel in hand, he declared the person out of order, banging the gavel block so hard he broke it, and pieces of it went flying.
“Look what you made me do,” he said to the resident. “Now sit down.”
And he did.
“I always intended to replace it,” he said, “so finally, I decided I better do it before I go.”
In January, having made a decision this would be his last term, he presented a new gavel block to the town — one that is not likely to split “in this millennium,” and one he can say he made himself.
“I made it to last,” he said, pointing to a beautiful piece of walnut he saved when he had a tree cut down that had grown over his driveway, and a piece of a wild sour cherry tree from his back yard, salvaged for the block, which he completed in time for his political exit.
He's been retired from teaching high school since 2006 — he left a little early, he said, but went out on his own terms, after a good career.
He never regretted the decision, and he says he hopes he will feel the same was about this one.
It's been in the back of his mind for a while that the time was getting close — he and his wife Patty want more time to do things together, and he doesn't want to be tied to Monday evenings and the many hours a week that take up council business.
“I've always worried about the town and the things that needed to be done. Now it's time to let others do it.”
Not being at the council table to help move the town forward, and coming to terms with having others who will do that without him, will be difficult, said Collard.
“But I like to think I've done some good work along the way — everyone wants to think they've made a difference.”
One of his disappointments, he said, is coming to the realization that after years of advocating for change at the regional level of government, it just wasn't going to happen.
He has been outspoken about Niagara-on-the-Lake property owners being charged more than their fair share of taxes for regional services, based on assessments determined by market value. He advocated for the high cost of policing to be based on population, not assessment, which would have been more equitable for the smaller municipalities, but if it was not to the advantage to larger municipalities, it wasn't going to meet with success, he said.
“Eventually you have to dismount the horse — you have to realize the horse is dead.”
He said he's come to terms with the fact that although he feels there is more to be accomplished, there will always be more to do, and there will always be other people to do it — people who, like him, care deeply about their community and will do their best to try to get it done.
Representing NOTL, Collard has been on the board of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario for several terms, including one as vice president, tackling issues of a provincial nature.
AMO, he says, is the organization that holds Queen's Park accountable, and the province is continually handing off more services to municipalities to pay for “with no idea how it's going to affect us. I hope someone from the region will continue to represent small-town Ontario.”
He's going to miss it, he said, but again, “someone else will do the job.”
Collard plans to continue to work with the Community Schools Alliance, an organization formed about a decade ago when many small towns across Ontario were fighting school closures to help municipalities work with the province and school boards on decisions regarding opening and closing schools. He's proud of the work that has been accomplished, and hopes to see it continue.
That work is especially important to him because he's seen first-hand the impact of taking a school out of a small community and busing students out of their home town, he said.
“That community dies in many ways, and it becomes less attractive for families with children. The province never got that.”
School boards maintain the philosophy that “bigger is better.”
“That is just not the case, and there's no evidence to prove it,” Collard said.
He will continue as a resident member of the Town's Active Transportation Committee, which he now chairs, and which does work to develop healthy communities by supporting bike paths and walking trails.
On a personal note, Collard plans to spend more time travelling with his wife, and more time in the winter in Florida, without feeling he should come home for council meetings.
He says most people know he's crazy about golfing, but they don't know that when he's away, fishing is also a favourite past-time.
“I fish every day in Florida. It's so relaxing.”
Looking back over his career, Collard said, “I can honestly say I enjoyed every moment of it, well, almost every moment.”
He has worked with some really good people, he said, even though they haven't always agreed, and he has learned the important lesson of listening, and trying to find the middle ground.
As for new councillors that will come to the table when this term ends, he said his advice would be to heed the words of the Serenity Prayer, another lesson he had to learn and one that doesn't always come easily in politics — “to change what I can, realize what I can't, and have the wisdom to know the difference.”
And when it comes to the province, which controls the Municipal Act and so many of the decisions facing town councillors, he said “you can't change it. But it'll work out and life will go on. People will do the job or not.”
And if they don't, in another four years there will be an opportunity to elect another council, he said.