Esquimalt-Metchosin BC Liberal candidate Barb Desjardins hopes her years of experience in municipal politics will convince voters to send her to the legislature in 2017. Don Descoteau/News Gazette staff

CANDIDATE PROFILE: Veteran politician banking on experience in Esquimalt-Metchosin

On-leave Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins brings business frame of mind to campaign

Greater Victoria has many municipal leaders who have been on council for some time, a situation that can yield a broad understanding of local and regional issues.

One of those individuals, Esquimalt-Metchosin BC Liberal candidate Barb Desjardins, is looking to take her knowledge to the next level. This native of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., who spent her high school years playing sports and making friends in Sudbury, believes spending 11 years on Esquimalt council – the last seven as mayor – would give her a running start as MLA.

“One of the reasons I actually decided to run is because over the years, I’ve seen that if we had somebody in government in this area, things would have moved faster, better and we would have saved a lot of money, I think,” she says, making specific reference to the sewage treatment process.

During her time in local politics, she’s found various connections between Esquimalt and municipalities on the West Shore, from the military to traffic, and even the way councils in the western communities do things.

“At the CRD I’ve always related strongly with a West Shore position,” she says. “As governments they’re more nimble, they’re more flexible. I’ve tried to do what I can to bring Esquimalt toward that in many ways … they’re very much run like a business, and running like a business makes a lot of sense to me.”

Business was far from Desjardins’ mind in her first career path. She attended Laurentian University in the late 1970s, hoping to become a phys-ed teacher. But when the job market dried up for teachers she branched into physiotherapy, which became her long-term career, mostly on the West Coast.

During a stint at Royal Jubilee Hospital, she began doing outpatient work, which fuelled her interest in orthopedics and sports therapy. After another move back east she returned to Victoria and set up shop in James Bay.

Desjardins speaks fondly of her time operating a physio clinic and seniors-oriented fitness centre there. “It was based around things like balance and light activity, but they had a riot,” she says of her clients. “The oldest person that used to come in was 103.”

The proximity of her clinic to the legislature prompted professional colleagues to request that she take their collective causes to government. When Desjardins found they still weren’t being heard, she determined that she needed to be “on the inside” to affect change, which helped move her toward politics.

Her work advocating at Esquimalt and Victoria for replacement of the Westsong Walkway bridge lifted her presence in the community when friends suggested she take a run at Esquimalt council back in 2005. After serving one term as a councillor, she unseated Chris Clement for the mayor’s chair in 2008.

Between her workload as mayor, CRD board chair and Victoria-Esquimalt police board co-chair, as well as caring for her ill daughter, who passed away in January, Desjardins hasn’t had a lot of time for more personal pursuits in recent years.

“I love to sew and I love to walk,” she says. “Jammie pants are the thing that I’ve had the most fun with. People will ask me to make some for someone and I’ll ask about their personality, and the (pattern) fabric will reflect the person.”

She recalls that her parents used to give her the child tax credit (family allowance) of $30 as a monthly clothing allowance. “I learned very quickly that I could not afford to buy clothes, so I’d better learn how to make them, and it paid off.”

She carries that frugal sense with her today and it underpins her ideas about spending public money.

Running as a Liberal in a longtime NDP stronghold is “ an uphill challenge,” she admits. “I’m not under any illusion this is going to be easy … You can never assume anything,” she says. “It feels like my her first campaign as mayor when I ran against the incumbent.” Having one term as councillor under her belt in a town where residents expect their mayor to be “well seasoned,” Desjardins convinced voters she was the right choice.

She believes the broader electorate in Esquimalt, View Royal, Colwood and Metchosin will feel the same way come May 9.

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