Pat Wallace rattles off the years like a bingo caller.
“Eighty, ’82, ’86,” she said of her council terms. “That’s three two-year terms. And then ’93, ’96, ’99. Uh, well, I’ve been in 31 years, this is my 31st year. ’93, ’96, ’99, 202, 205, 208, 211, 214.”
In 2018, the 85-year-old veteran city councillor is hanging up her campaign signs after a tenured political career.
She is not seeking re-election after more than three decades in civic politics.
KTW visited Wallace at her home in the RiverBend Seniors Community in Brocklehurst in advance of her final meetings around the horseshoe at city hall.
“I’m ready,” she said of her retirement.
Wallace arrived in Kamloops from Ontario in 1974 and began teaching employment prep at the newly minted Cariboo College, which opened its doors in 1970 and has since grown into Thompson Rivers University.
She still keeps in touch with students, one of whom shares a position Wallace held — past-president of the Union of BC Municipalities.
Wallace’s first political involvement came shortly after, in 1975, when she was elected to a provincial board established to create efficiencies among local agencies funded by the province.
It didn’t last long.
“When they [B.C. NDP] went to the election, they lost … and three months later, we were all fired because Mr. Barrett [B.C.’s first NDP premier, Dave Barrett] didn’t get legislation passed to do it,” Wallace said. “So the government. Was it Campbell? Anyway, they fired us. No, probably Vander Zalm. So that was my first election.”
(The 1975 provincial election saw the Bill Bennett-led Social Credit defeat Barrett’s NDP.)
Wallace was first elected to Kamloops council in 1980, serving the city for six years until an unsuccessful bid for the mayor’s chair in 1986, when she lost to John Dormer. Had Wallace won that election, she would have become the city’s first female mayor. Kenna Cartwright eventually shattered that glass ceiling five years later — the city’s lone female mayor to date — and Wallace never again ran for mayor.
“Kenna had died and Branchflower was coming in,” Wallace said of the political scene in the early 1990s. “He was on school board for, I don’t know, 18 years — a long, long time. You know, you look at your options and see, I’m not going to go there. I won’t make it.”
After losing to Dormer, Wallace became executive assistant for Kamloops MLA (Social Credit) Claude Richmond. In 1991, she failed in her own provincial run — splitting the centre-right vote as a Socred candidate with Liberal Kimball Kastelen, resulting in the election of NDP candidate Art Charbonneau — and returned to the world of municipal politics in 1993 as city councillor.
From then on, Wallace would secure term after term for 25 years.
She is retiring now due to health issues. Wallace has visual and hearing problems in addition to continued pain from a fall two years ago that left her concussed with a broken neck.
She has missed council meetings as a result and said she regrets not quitting after that fall.
Wallace is grateful for support from staff and council colleagues during that time, noting Coun. Tina Lange swapped seats to allow Wallace a more accessible vantage point.
It’s been a good run, however, for the city’s most-experienced city councillor, who takes with her years of institutional knowledge about zoning, parking and recreational facilities — 31 years of city-related conversations.
Wallace has been a councillor since the position was called alderman. She met royalty, including Princess Diana, worked along provincial heavyweights and met a handful of prime ministers, from Brian Mulroney to Stephen Harper. Paper reports have gone digital and the public has become increasingly more involved.
“It’s all changed,” Wallace said. “And everybody today believes we’re more crooks than we were back then.”
Asked how she fared in a world oft known to be an old boys’ club, Wallace said: “From the time I got elected ‘till today, no man or woman ever hesitated to call me an asshole. They treated me both ways. In the beginning, I had people that didn’t know me. Some of the developers thought, ‘Oh pshhhh, she’s going to be great.’ But that passed. After they watched me vote or watched what I had to say, then that passed.”
Thick-skinned and never one to shy away from voicing her opinion, the longtime Thompson-Nicola Regional District director butted heads with then-mayor Mel Rothenburger, who she noted is now a friend. Rothenburger removed Wallace from the regional district board, but ultimately reconsidered.
“Council wouldn’t support it,” Wallace said. “I guess he [Rothenburger] read the charter and he found out he couldn’t.”
Accomplishments of pride included keeping the Westsyde Pool and Fitness Centre open. Wallace said all residents deserve a return for paying taxes.
She said she was also proud of speaking up and ultimately having a hand in maintaining polling stations at residential-care homes during this year’s municipal election.
On the flip side, Wallace said she was “burdened” by the city’s handling of the proposed Ajax mine.
“We should have agreed to take it to the environmental test, the final one,” she said.
“And if they didn’t pass, thanks very much. We didn’t even give them that chance and that bothered me. I think it’s a bad message to send to any would-be investor. And, you know, if you live in Kamloops, you’ve probably had most of your taxes paid through forestry or mining, you know. We forget that.”
Going forward, Wallace plans to take it one day at a time in her retired years.
Perhaps she will do some travelling and spend time with grandchildren back East. Maybe she will catch up with colleagues and enjoy a glass of wine or some of the liquor that’s been aging in her home for about five years.
Wallace will go from giving her time to the community to taking some for herself.
“My lasting thought, I owe a big thank you to the taxpayers and I hope by and large they feel I served them well.
“At the end of the day, why am I a councillor? Because of the people of Kamloops that supported me. And I even thank the people that didn’t,” she said with a laugh.