Joan Westland, long-time mayor of East Bolton, has decided not to run in the upcoming municipal election, leaving a gap at the helm of the town’s council for the first time in nearly three decades.
“I have to admit, when I would think about going into an election and that whole procedure and then if I do get re-elected that I have another mandate for four years, I didn’t feel super enthusiastic, which I had always felt before,” said Westland.
She has been the mayor of the modest municipality for 28 years. She also spent several years as a member of the town’s council. Westland took over the position from Kathan (Keene) Peasley in 1983 at 32 years old, not knowing it would turn into a decades-long affair.
Now in her 70s, Westland told The Record that once she realized that she no longer had the same drive, she took it as a clear sign to bow out of municipal politics. The job has changed significantly over time, Westland explained, it requires much more time and attention.
“I think that people generally don’t recognize that it has become quite a demanding involvement, it’s not just showing up once a month for a meeting, so those things you take into consideration as well when you are looking to get involved,” she said.
When Westland began her foray into politics, she worked part-time as mayor, held onto her career, raised her family, and went on vacations. She admitted that it would be nearly impossible to do that today. It is harder to find a work-life balance.
Westland said that nowadays people interested in getting involved in municipal politics, especially as mayor, take sabbaticals from their respective jobs in order to fully commit themselves to a fouryear mandate. They need to be engaged at all times.
“There’s all kinds of legislation that you need to be familiar with […] you need to be out with your population, talking to people, listening to people, ensuring that the decisions that are being made really do reflect the interest of the community,” said Westland.
When asked about some of the difficulties she has faced during her tenure as mayor, Westland immediately brought up the Bell telecommunications tower controversy. There were several protests in 2013 and 2014, she said, but it was done under federal jurisdiction.
The federal government told Westland that she could negotiate with Bell, but it was mostly superficial, she noted. The telecommunications giant went ahead with the project, despite objections from East Bolton residents and council members.
“It was put where it really shouldn’t have been, it is taller than it was supposed to be, it has a light on it that it wasn’t supposed to have […] it made you feel like the municipalities sit at the kids’ table and Bell and the federal government are at the adults’ table,” said Westland.
There are other issues that have popped up throughout her many years in office, but Westland said there isn’t a municipality out there that can please everyone. However, for the most part, the town has always been quite positive and community-driven.
“In a municipality that really doesn’t have a village centre, or a commercial village centre, like Mansonville, Potton, Knowlton, and Brome Lake, I have always been impressed that community spirit is alive and well,” said Westland.
While there are many highlights in her mayoral career, Westland’s most memorable moment was when the town created a non-profit organization called Le Rucher boltonnois, which has since set up several initiatives, such as the adopt-abeehive project and a public market.
She has also put an emphasis on protecting the environment. Westland said she has been talking about the environment since 1983. She recently attempted to revise several land use bylaws, but residents turned it down because they felt it was too restrictive.
“The municipality also purchased a number of a years ago an old sandpit that part of it is behind town hall and part of it is behind Terrio Park, and the idea of purchasing that piece of land is to look at the feasibility of putting into place a type of eco-residential area,” she said.
Although Westland is leaving in November, she does want to see this project to completion. The town has already started to analyze the area, and test the water quality. She hopes at the very least to be part of the discussions going forward.
Westland plans to stay active during retirement. And while her political life is coming to an end, she will always remember the town’s community spirit, whether it was through the countless number of volunteers or the many residents who showed up to council meetings.
“You can get mired in the English, French, the locals and the outsiders, the weekenders and the full-time residents, and all of those can chop up into little factions and I think that over the years that I’ve been here, we have successfully overridden that kind of divisiveness,” she said.