It is the highest honour that can be bestowed upon a member of the municipality and there is, quite simply, no one more deserving.
Former North Cowichan councillor George Seymour received Freedom of the Municipality Wednesday afternoon, in front of a packed council chambers during a special ceremony in his honour.
It was a who’s who of politicians, both current and former, and attending as well were municipal movers and shakers and friends and family, all to witness the event. While grateful for all of his supporters, it was his family that Seymour credited with his success in serving on council for 15 years, under four mayors.
“I am grateful for your love and support,” he told his family, represented by wife Marie-Claire, daughters Patricia and Catherine, their husbands, and his granddaughter.
Seymour acknowledged “with profound gratitude, one constant… and that is the selfless commitment of Marie-Claire, my partner of 54 years, my closest friend and advisor to supporting me in all official endeavours.”
He also revealed for the first time his confidential election strategy: “Recruiting three daughters who campaigned enthusiastically on behalf of their father.”
Seymour and his family had been escorted into the chambers by a piper and two Mounties. Following the procession, Mayor Jon Lefebure set to work attempting to explain just how meaningful Seymour’s contribution to the municipality and region has been.
Achieving brevity was a difficult task for the mayor, who counts Seymour as a mentor.
“There really isn’t time to list all the work George did,” Lefebure said. “There was no limit to how much he would do. I believe he cared about the community above all other considerations. There was never a political aspect about anything he did. It was all about what was best for the community and that was his highest concern.”
Seymour offered his sincere thanks for what he called an exceptional honour.
He confessed that when he was first elected to council after 35 years serving the government of Canada as a diplomat and bureaucrat, he expected the transition would be “a pretty straightforward” matter.
“After all this was the most junior level of Canada’s three levels of government so the issues at a local level, one would think, had to be considerably easier to manage,” he said. “That proved to be a serious miscalculation.”
But, after finding his way from the world of advising politicians to becoming one, Seymour began to make his mark on the region.
Key accomplishments during his tenure, as outlined by Lefebure, included establishing the Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve in Maple Bay and taking a leadership role in developing North Cowichan’s first modern Official Community Plan in 2002 and again with its update in 2012. Seymour unwaveringly supported the Cowichan Theatre at every opportunity and accomplished the amazing feat of bringing in financial support from the electoral areas.
“You have to be an insider to know how impressive that is,” Lefebure noted.
The long-time councillor also championed work to bring the Cowichan Branch of the Vancouver Island Regional Library to the then Cowichan Community Centre and was front and centre when there was a great deal of turmoil surrounding the future of Cowichan Lodge.
But it was his advice regarding a new hospital that will further cement his place in the community for years to come.
“George had the foresight to advise the Cowichan Valley Regional District board to plan financially for the new Cowichan Hospital, which is still five to 10 years out in our future,” Lefebure explained.
The advice? Start putting money aside now.
“The impact of that is that we have over $20 million already in the bank towards the purchase of property and eventual construction of a new hospital….That foresight is just brilliant and we’re getting the advantage of that advice he gave us,” said the mayor.
Seymour said he never really figured his work would one day be made into a reel of impressive highlights.
“The real reward for me has been both the opportunity and privilege to serve the community with other elected officials over a period of 15 years from 1996 to 2011 and with regional directors for nine years during that period,” he said. “I regard myself as fortunate to have had the opportunity to expose myself to their values and aspirations and to share in their commitment to the fulfillment of local government responsibilities to its citizens.”
The entire experience ranks high on his list of life achievements.
“My years on council afforded a rewarding experience, one uniquely different from, and I have to say more satisfying than serving the public at the federal level. Serving at the local level brought me into much more meaningful understanding of the importance of councillors’ responsibility to people, whatever their circumstances,” Seymour concluded. “I greatly enjoyed my 15 years in local government — invariably challenging, mostly interesting and only frequently frustrating.”