Bidding farewell to Councillor Jim Rennie and Councillor Dale McQueen as they retire from municipal politics

·5 min read

During Woodlands County Council’s final regular meeting ahead of the Municipal Election, Mayor John Burrows spoke to the two retiring councillors, Councillor McQueen and Councillor Rennie thanking them for their many years of service to the community. “Councillor Rennie, you’ve got 20 years, and Councillor McQueen has 14 years of dedicated service to Woodlands County and its residents. On behalf of Council, I wanted to express my gratitude for your leadership over the last two decades. Being a councillor is certainly not easy, but the two of you took your duties with passion, dedication, and sacrifice for the community and its 4700 residents.”

Mayor Burrows then spoke to some of their accomplishments, starting with Councillor Rennie. “You spent much of your time building relationships with neighbours, as mayor, on projects like the Allan & Jean Millar Centre with the Town of Whitecourt and working with the Alexis First Nation on the Eagle River Casino. (These) will forever stand as examples of your ability to collaborate with others and achieve great things, not to mention your tireless work connecting with MLAs and provincial ministers championing Woodlands County and the economic opportunities in the region. You are pretty much the poster child for collaboration.”

He said he never forgot about his constituents and always “made time available for them” while attending events such as Party in the Park. “Some of the other achievements with your colleagues include the East and West Mountain Road, Hard Luck Canyon, Blue Ridge Library and the Blue Ridge Rec Area, cold mixes for the country residential subdivision and the many tourism and economic development initiatives that sprouted from your ideas.”

Turning his attention to Councillor McQueen, Mayor Burrows said that he always stood up for the hardworking farmers in the county. “You’ve stood by them through two agricultural disasters as your advocacy in the Agricultural Services Board helped bring about programs like the VSI, which ensured livestock raising and crop production remains healthy in our area. Your forward-thinking has made a great deal of change with developments in the division and the County as a whole. For example, promoting recycling and waste management in Woodlands County with CARE and helping introduce the BARCC System.”

Mayor Burrows said that “big or small” Councillor McQueen never minced his words. “You’ve made sure that residents’ voices were always heard. Early morning conversations have been the norm as you look for solutions to their road concerns or other questions. Your initiative and commitment will have a lasting impact on the community, whether it’s physically through projects like new fire apparatus in Goose Lake or through intangible ways like relationships you’ve nurtured on behalf of the County.”

He spoke fondly of both men and thanked them for their dedication. “There’s so much more that the two of you will be remembered for, and while you may not be returning, hopefully, we will still see you around to provide your wisdom and experience to the community and its future. Once again, thank you on behalf of Woodlands County Council for all your contributions, and we wish you the best in your next endeavours.”

Councillor Rennie spoke about his favourite moments, including two funny memories that he will never forget. “I remember one time all of council, after a conference, went back to Councillor McQueen’s room, and I sat down on a chair, and the chair exploded into about thirty pieces. There were seven members of council and probably all of us seeing a little bit double, trying to put that chair back together, but teamwork prevailed, and we got it back together,” he laughed. “I remember another supper where we were talking about Sylvia’s (Councillor Bonnett) arm wrestling championships, and I asked her, how good are you, Sylvia? Right at this big table in the restaurant, here’s myself getting absolutely annihilated by Sylvia in an arm-wrestling contest, and it was so much fun.”

He reminisced about his idea to build the world’s largest wagon wheel and pick axe in Fort Assiniboine and how the spot is now an icon. “We went on to work with Travel Alberta and made that a tourist destination in a very small area rich with so much history.” Councillor Rennie said that during much of his tenure, he dealt with the same MLA and the same MP; George Vanderburg and Rob Merrifield. “There was not an event where we didn’t have two mayors, an MLA and MP working together, and when we went to our respective levels of government to ask for assistance, we always got it. I think they are great role models for future MLAs and MPs.”

Councillor McQueen echoed his colleague’s remarks. One of his favourite memories involved the RAP program. “We got young kids in the community to get into different apprenticeships, and some of them aren’t kids anymore. They’re grown up, and they’ve got their own kids, and it’s nice to see that. I echo the same thing with having George and Rob looking after things in this area for years. I’ve never seen anyone who is more positive thinking than Rob Merrifield. It didn’t matter how bad things were or how bad the situation was. He always had a good word to say and would say we are so lucky to be in this province, and I agree.”

He also thanked the County staff. “I don’t know how you folks do that in there. Some of the stuff you have to do and always do it with a smile. It’s been much appreciated. It’s like a family.” He said the most constructive thing the current Council did this last term was the initiation of the five-year plan. “You guys that are carrying on, you’ve got it made, and you’re going to get it right. It’s coming together, and it’s a great plan, and we can see it already in the numbers showing up. We’ve had a bad kick, but I think in the long run, it looks good for the county, and it’s going to come around, and we will do just fine. Thank you to all the previous councils I’ve worked with. I appreciate all the help you’ve given me over the years.”

Serena Lapointe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Whitecourt Press

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