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Person of the Year: CaroleAnn Leishman

City of Powell River councillor seeks balance during challenging year
CaroleAnn Leishman Powell River
PEOPLE PERSON: CaroleAnn Leishman has found some balance in her life after adopting her late mother’s dog, Chocolate. David Brindle photo

For 2018, the Peak has chosen CaroleAnn Leishman as Person of the Year.

This year, Leishman won reelection to a second term on City of Powell River Council. As chair of the sustainability committee and the newly formed climate change portfolio, Leishman is the point person for the city’s efforts in meeting critical energy efficiency targets and planning what Powell River can do to combat climate change, and she chairs the arts, culture and heritage committee.

During the 2018 budget debates, Leishman successfully stood firm against cuts to Powell River Recreation Complex to cover the city’s budget shortfall and was a thorn in the side of qathet Regional District to cough up its fair share of operating the recreation complex.

But among the files on her desk and causes she champions, she said the closest to her heart is youth council.

“It's one of the highlights for me being on council, actually,” said Leishman. “They ask incredible questions. It's such a great chance for me as a community leader to hear from the youth and figure out how can we bridge that space and make sure things are heading in a direction that's conducive to helping them.”

Leishman learned politics and community leadership at an early age and now sits as one of Powell River’s most powerful councillors. In the election on October 20, she sought her second term in office and received the highest number of votes among 13 candidates. Her name appeared on 3,084, or 63.68 per cent, of ballots cast for the six seats on council.

Leishman’s mother, Myrna, died in July after a lengthy illness. With her mother gone, the rigors of serving on council, regional district and committees, a full-time job, the associations and societies she belongs to, and a fall election, Leishman said she looked for balance in a crazy and challenging year but found it difficult to achieve because she has a hard time saying no.

“I have said no to a few things,” she said. “I have stopped doing a couple of things and turned down a couple of things that actually I've enjoyed doing. They're the fun things in my life and somebody pointed that out to me, ‘oh, you just quit the fun thing you're doing.’”

Although she has tried to get more women involved in politics, it is a challenge because she is simply not a good example, she said.

“Don't look at me. I'm not a good example because I don't have kids, I don’t have a family. I just have my brother and my nephew,” she added. “I just tell people ‘you put into it how much you have to give.’ Obviously people’s families come first and you have to draw boundaries. I'm just not good at boundaries.”

There are toolkits and programs that encourage more women and more diversity in politics, but outreach should happen sooner not later, according to Leishman.

She learned about women in community leadership, politics, gender and diversity from her mother, who served on city council and notably was president of Sunset Homes Society for many years, an organization where her daughter continues to serve on the board.  

Leishman said she is Myrna’s mini-me.

“She always pushed me to chair meetings and take leadership roles even though I pushed back; I didn't want to,” said Leishman. “We didn't always agree on things. I always had my own direction. I'm definitely forging my own way and taking a different approach than my mom would have.”

Another inheritance from her mom is Chocolate, a Shih Tzu cross.

“With my mom's passing I inherited the dog and it forced me to take a break,” said Leishman. “I need to walk that dog in the morning, at lunch, after work. I walk it in the evening. On the weekend, we go for long hikes and that's really where I clear my head and she's such a great little companion. She just wants to be with me all the time.”

Although it is too early to make any political plans beyond this term, there will be an election in four years and mayor Dave Formosa has said this will be his final four years in office. Leishman said she has thought about being the first woman mayor in Powell River history.

“My mom, we had a few conversations about it before she passed and I think that's something that would make her pretty proud,” said Leishman. “She thought it would be something I would be up for in the future at some point.”