Trent Ernst, Editor
Monday, April 15 was a day of mixed emotions for Blair Lekstrom. After 12 years as the MLA for Peace River South, after 20 year in public office, it was his last full day.
On Tuesday, April 16, parliament was officially dissolved and the election called. The dissolution of parliament meant that Lekstrom, who will not be running in the next election, is out of a job.
“I was down in Victoria last week, and I’m in the office today making sure some files are wrapped up, I know I’ve made the right choice, but I know I will miss it,” said Lekstrom from his office in Dawson Creek.
Lekstrom says that after 20 years in the public service he plans to go back to work, though he’s not quite sure what that will mean. “I don’t have anything definitive right now,” He says. “I’m pretty open. Dawson is home and it will always be, so I’m not going to move.”
Lekstrom says that he’s confident that he’ll be able to find something to do, though he’s not actively looking at the moment. “You develop relationships with businesses and people,” he says. “The resources sector has always been interesting to me, but I’m wide open to give anything a try.”
So is this the end of politics for Lekstrom? He’s not willing to say anything so definitive. “I wouldn’t rule out anything the future might hold,” he says. “I’ve watched people say they’re never coming back only to come back in the next election. I’m not doing this because I don’t like politics anymore, it’s just time for a change.”
Will it be hard to give up politics? Of course, says Lekstrom. “It’s not something that you let go immediately. I’ve seen a lot of good things in my time in office, and I’m going to follow what’s happening.”
Lekstrom says that he has no plans yet. He’s not even going on vacation as he and his wife are expecting another grandchild in the next two weeks. Come summer, however, Lekstrom is pretty sure he and his wife will be going on a cycle tour, but for now, says Lekstrom, everything is flexible. “There’s a 1954 GMC half ton truck that I’ve put in my shop that I’ll be able to work on more,” he says, “And I’m going to spend more time with family. Not knowing what’s happening is exciting. I’ve had people contact me about work already, and if the right job is there, I might go back right away. In the meantime, I’ll probably catch up on a few things around the house, but there’s no projects that I’ve put off for the last twelve years. I’ve had a pretty good balance with this.”
Of course, there are things that Lekstrom will miss about politics. “One of the things I’ll miss is going into the legislative buildings in Victoria. Every day I walked in there, I was in awe,” he says. “But what I’ll miss the most is interacting with people. That’s what the job was about. People came to you and you’d get to work to find a solution. We didn’t always find a solution, but it was something we worked hard on.”
What will Lekstrom be glad to get rid of? The armchair politicians. “Going into the job you know that you’re going to take the good with the bad. The vast majority, and I mean vast majority of people, are respectful. There are the armchair politicians who think they know what they’re doing and how they can do it better than you.” Lekstrom says he won’t miss being on-call 24/7.
Lekstrom says that, while he’s enjoyed most of his time in office, there have been a few trying times. “The biggest one was how we handled the HST. I had to make some hard decisions around that.” In summer of 2010, Lekstrom resigned from the BC Liberal Caucas over how the HST was handled, returning to the party in 2011 after the election of Christy Clark. “I want to be clear, I think it was a good tax,” says Lekstrom. “What I didn’t like was how we delivered it. There was no behind-the-scenes thought around that. There was a global economic meltdown happening, and our government got caught up in that. I wanted to put the brakes on the HST, engage the public. That didn’t happen.”
Lekstrom says the other big issue that he faced in office was when the government broke its contract with a number of unions. “We made commitments in 2001 that we wouldn’t break contracts. Coming from a labour background, my word was my word. When we had to break contracts, I had to vote against my party. I ran for my party because we had the freedom to vote as we wanted to, and I did that many times.”
But most of the time, politics have been good to Lekstrom. He says that in his time in office, he was able to get over one billion in infrastructure into the roads in the region, culminating in his serving as Minister of Transportation. “I’m also proud of the fact that I was able to bring in reduced flaring and setbacks on how close that oil and gas development could be to residential property. Any regrets? “No, none. I went into this with my eyes wide open. When I first was thinking about running, I sat down with family. They’ve always been my biggest supporter.”
After twenty years, Lekstrom has gathered some political wisdom, which he offers, free of charge, to all the candidates vying for Peace River South. “There is no higher honour than being elected to represent, never lose sight of that. Never be afraid to say you don’t know the answer. We’ve all seen politicians try and pretend, and that never works out well. Hold true to your values. Finally, if you are elected, there’s no way you can go through four years without making mistakes. The sign of a good politician is to admit your mistakes.”
And any last words? “If there is one thing I could say, it would be thank you,” says Lekstrom. “Thank you to people of Peace River South, and the province of BC.”