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Long-time Kelowna city councillor eyeing retirement

Robert Hobson, the longest serving member of the current Kelowna city council, has been a councillor for 25 years and has been chairman of the Regional District of Central Okanagan for 20 of those years. - Capital News file
Robert Hobson, the longest serving member of the current Kelowna city council, has been a councillor for 25 years and has been chairman of the Regional District of Central Okanagan for 20 of those years.
— image credit: Capital News file

Unless he has a major change of heart, the longest serving member of Kelowna city council will not seek re-election next year.

Robert Hobson says he is “heavily” leaning towards not running in 2014, after 26 years on council—20 of them combined with serving as the chairman of the Central Okanagan Regional District board.

“It will be tough, but I think it’s time,” said Hobson, who will be 65 when the next municipal election rolls around in November 2014. Hobson said he expects to have finalized his decision before next summer, but at this point he can’t see anything changing his mind.

Hobson said he strongly considered not running for re-election in 2011—a move he said his wife urged him to make—but he felt there were problems that needed to be addressed at the regional district, so he came back for another term. But now those organizational issues have been addressed and a new chief administrative officer has been hired for CORD.

Hobson said there were issues concerning regional parks which have also been addressed.

Hobson, whose wife and family members live in Edmonton and who became a grandfather six weeks ago, commutes to the northern Alberta city on weekends. He said he has been doing that for nearly five years and the travel schedule is taking its toll.  He said he is currently subdividing his property in the lower Mission area of the city.

During his years on council, Hobson, a planner by profession, has been viewed as a pragmatic, moderate voice of reason, often concerned with heritage, planning and social issues.

At times he has been viewed as the polar opposite of another long-time city councillor, local businessman Andre Blanleil, a city council member for  20 years.

The owner of a large and successful chain of electronics stores, Blanleil is often seen as right-wing and a voice of the business community on council.

But Blanleil has said that characterization is not always correct. In fact, he likes to point out how often he and Hobson agree on issues. “Over the years, I think Andre and I have moved (politically) and met in the middle,” Hobson told the Capital News. “It’s now like we both know where each other is coming from.”

Blanleil could not be reached for a comment on his political future but there is speculation he may not run again either in 2014.

Coun. Mohini Singh, who is currently serving her first term on council and who said she wants to run again, said losing Hobson and possibly Blanleil would be big losses for council and the city.

She said while she does not always agree with Blanleil, he has a wealth of experience and has been a very good councillor over the years.

She said replacing the knowledge and experience Hobson brings to the council table will be impossible.

“I would hate to see either them go,” said Singh.

She said before she makes up her mind to run again for a council seat, she wants to make sure her family and her employer, the Ministry of Agriculture, support such a move.

For Hobson, it’s time to move on.

He said even if he changes his mind and decides to run again in 2014 (as he did in 2011), he would not seek the CORD board chairmanship again. “I think it’s time for some new people to step up,” he said.

Hobson said leaving council will be difficult and while he has enjoyed all the councils he has served on, the current one is made up of nine individuals who he feels work very well together.

During the last 2 1/2 decades, Hobson has served under three mayors—Jim Stuart, Walter Gray (twice) and Sharon Shepherd.

Often considered a possible mayoral contender himself but never running for the job, Hobson said he was happy to serve as a councillor and chairman of the regional district.

He prided himself on not using election signs and his reputation and the work he did as a councillor always was enough to make him one of the most popular candidates when the votes were tallied.

For 14 years he served on the executive of the Union of B.C. Municipalities and is a past president of the organization that represents the 153 municipalities across this province.

He has also sat on many provincial boards including the Municipal Finance Authority and the B.C. Buildings board.

He is currently a director of the Municipal Pensions board and said he will continue in that role after the next election as his term does not expire until 2015.

Meanwhile, speculation is growing about the political future of Kelowna Mayor Walter Gray .

Gray said Wednesday it was premature for him to make an announcement about next year’s election but said out of respect for others thinking about running for the job, he would decide by the spring.

He said he plans to talk individually to each member of his council about their plans before making his decision.

At least one city councillor said he would consider a run for mayor if Gray does not seek re-election.

Luke Stack said while he has not made a firm decision to run, he would only consider doing so if Gray was not in the race.

If Gray does run again, Stack said he would likely seek re-election as a councillor.

Another councillor who could consider a mayoral bid is Colin Basran.

Basran would not comment on any plans for such a run, saying until Gray makes his intentions known it would not be right to talk about a possible mayoral bid.

But, like Stack, he said if Gray was to run again, he would not consider challenging him.

Coun. Gail Given said she is leaning toward running again but has not made up her mind, while Coun. Maxine DeHart said she thinks it’s too early to decide.

Coun. Gerry Zimmermann said he has not made up his mind either.

He said while he is really enjoying being a councillor, his wife will retire next year and there are things they would like to do, and see, together as a couple. He said he will likely make a decision by late spring or early summer.

 

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