‘Never in wildest dreams’ did Jackson foresee 40 years in Delta politics

DELTA â€” When Lois Jackson embarked on her political career more than 40 years ago, Delta’s mayor says she never thought it would last as long as it has.

"Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would stay on this long," she said while addressing the monthly meeting of the South Delta Probus Club.

"This was not a planned career." When she was first elected in 1972, Jackson was a stay-at-mom with three young children. The family had recently moved to North Delta from Ontario and Jackson said she was inspired to run because she wanted to help improve the area.

At the time, North Delta didn’t have a fire hall and many neighbourhoods were lacking sidewalks.

"I ran because I wanted my kids, and all the other kids, to have a safe place to grow up," she said, adding that at that time 65 per cent of Delta’s population was under the age of 18.

When she won, Jackson became the first female elected to Delta council.

"Nobody was more surprised than I was when I got elected," she told the crowd.

Times were different around municipal hall in those days. Everything, from reports and accounting to budgeting and record keeping, was done by hand. However, by the mid-1970s Delta had gone high tech and started using computers.

"Things were very, very different in those days," she said. "Things were not as efficient as we have today."

Jackson said all the technology today means the municipality can "turn on a dime" when an issue or problem arises.

The way municipal governments operate has also changed over the years.

"Local government has almost grown up, if I can use that term," she said.

Today, municipalities take on much larger issues at the provincial and federal levels that were not tackled by local governments of the past.

"It was a different world then." Jackson took a three-year break from council in the mid-1990s but returned for another term in 1996.

Around that time, she said, her North Delta neighbourhood was starting to go downhill. There was a crackhouse next door and another house across the street had the door kicked in during the middle of the night.

"In 1999 my neighbourhood was pretty bad," she said, adding she decided something had to be done or she would have to move.

So she hooked up with Guy Gentner, who lived a few blocks away and went on to serve two terms on Delta council before becoming MLA for Delta North. He told her that if she wanted to change anything, she would have to run for mayor.

"We went out and I think we knocked on about 3,000 doors that year," she said.

One of Jackson’s first initiatives after she won the mayor’s chair in 1999 was to start a program aimed at brightening up, and cleaning up, North Delta.

That wasn’t the only cleaning up Jackson would do in her first term.

"I divested ourselves of some 32 senior staff in the first two years," she said, adding that she brought George Harvie, who was with the City of Burnaby at the time, on as chief administrative officer.

Jackson said she has always told staff to give their best professional opinion and not to just tell her and council what they think they want to hear.

"That’s the only way I can operate that hall," she said. "We certainly have the best of the best at that hall."

As for her biggest accomplishments over the years, Jackson said reducing Delta’s debt would be one of her greatest legacies.

"We’re almost paid off," she said, noting the debt is down to about $1.5 million.

In 2002, the municipality’s debt stood at more than $60 million and Jackson pushed to have Delta adopt a pay-as-you-go policy. Since then, the municipality has established several reserve funds to be able to pay for capital projects as well as maintain current facilities and deal with emergencies, such as the façade failure at Ladner Leisure Centre earlier this year, which is costing the municipality an estimated $3.8 million.

"It does us all in good stead," Jackson said of the policy.

Looking to the future, Jackson said she sees the port as a big issue facing the municipality.

"These are things that we’re going to have to manage," she said. "There’s a reason why that port is going full-tilt."

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