Councillor Maureen Nicholson discusses the personal costs and rewards of being on council (and more)

As the nomination period for the new council begins, Maureen Nicholson discusses the past four years

 Over the past month we’ve been asking what it takes to be on a small-town council. 

Maureen Nicholson’s in her first term as a Bowen municipal councillor. Among other things, Nicholson is known for her active social media presence.  

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How did your previous career experience prepare you for being a councillor?

I’m currently an editor, teacher and college administrator. For part of my career, I worked in federal prison education programs for men and in remote First Nations. That helped make me a better human being. At other times, I ran my own editorial services company. That helped me stand on my own two feet as a small business person. 

I’m accustomed to committee work, to teamwork and to reading lots of material of variable quality. I don’t get put off by superficial elements of work in progress or rough bits as a team starts to form and be productive. I expect criticism and change is part of working toward a better outcome.

My work calls for careful listening, patience, accuracy, empathy, and time management. I’ve had to develop those traits, and they are helpful in a councillor. I also have a good [cow poop] detector.

What do you wish you’d known before running for council?

I underestimated the time required and the negative impact of less time and attention on my family, work life, and friendships. 

Like Councillor Fast, I wasn’t aware of the opportunities for learning and for sharing with members of other local governments and organizations. That’s been a benefit that’s sustained me at times. I have met many people over the past four years whom I admire for their vision, compassion, commitment, and depth of knowledge.

You’re very active on social media. How do you balance being connected with needing personal time and space?

I’m not sure I do that well, but I’m getting better. I’m active on social media because it’s the primary connection some people have with municipal and council activities. It’s easy for issues to spiral if there isn’t a voice in the mix countering rumours or misinformation. 

My husband and I live on a big lot at the end of a gravel road surrounded by trees and trails and flowers and animals and stars and chores. I just have to turn off the technology and am in another world, with lots to do.

What committees do you sit on in your capacity as a councillor and how much extra time do they add to your municipal job?

The time adds up. I chair three committees (Communications, Snug Cove Improvements, and Heritage) and am a member of six other committees or working groups (Emergency, Economic Development, Community Lands, Community Centre Communications, and the two new additions of Housing and Environment and Climate Action). Most meet monthly for two to three hours each plus prep time and follow-up. So that could be 20 to 40 hours a month or more. 

I’m also the Metro director for Bowen and serve on the Board, Regional Parks Committee, and Cultural Subcommittee. That amounts to a day or two a month. And I serve on the North Shore Substance Abuse Working Group, which meets about three times a year. 

How do you balance your in-Town job and your council job?

Precariously. My full-time job is chair of the Douglas College Communications Department. After I was elected, I took on more administrative work and reduced my teaching commitment, so I had a more flexible schedule and less commuting. I also taught every Saturday for the first three years, and I passed on a promotion and salary increase. 

Those were the opportunity costs of taking on a council role. 

What do you see as the major issues the next council will need to deal with?

Housing should continue to be a strong priority, working with partners like Bowen Island Resilient Community Housing and seeing some new housing stock at Grafton and other sites under housing agreements. We have done a lot of foundational work this term. 

There are three major capital projects in the works: Cove Bay water treatment, the fire hall, and the community centre (assuming it proceeds). There is also asset management of our community infrastructure (roads, sewer, water systems.) We need a plan that can work and an affordable budget for improvement. There is also the need for long-term planning along the lines of conservation development, planning that is grounded and pragmatic rather than ideological and divisive. 

The new council may be looking at higher taxes because community needs and expectations are rising, and that is not likely to be popular.

Who (in a broad sense, not specific people) would you like to see on the next council?

People who are good listeners and independent thinkers, who don’t rush to judgment or embrace dogmatism, and who are persistent even if they feel discouraged or misunderstood. People who can learn and develop a reasonable perspective but remain true to their core values. People who know where they live. People who know they are going to lose friends.

A diverse group again so that everyone in the community feels there is someone on council they can reach out to. It has not been healthy or productive in the past when votes predictably resulted in four to-three outcomes. Our council has tended to vote issue by issue, and that has led to better outcomes.

People who are pragmatic optimists.

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