Port McNeill Councillor Derek Koel knows all about how tough it is to run for office when you have a young family.
Last week, Alison Nicholson, the Cowichan Valley Regional District director for Cowichan Station/Sahtlam/Glenora, requested that the CVRD institute policies to reduce barriers that many young parents face when considering running for elected official seats.
When asked if this was an issue here in the North Island, Koel said it’s actually been on his radar “since well before I was elected. I had young kids and I was going to council meetings as an observer as a part time single dad, and I thought it wouldn’t be possible to rely on family and friends to help cover every council meeting, so I knew that it just wasn’t an option for me.”
When his two children eventually became young teenagers, Koel realized he’d finally have enough time to be able to run for office without it having an effect on his family life. He campaigned for a councillor position in 2018 and won an important seat at the Town of Port McNeill’s decision-making table.
Koel works as a power engineer for the Vancouver Island Health Authority and was allowed to go on leave to run for council, but after being elected he found himself without any health benefits, which forced him to have to pay for them out of his own pocket.
Knowing this exact kind of issue would cause problems for people who might be interested in running for a seat in the future, Koel brought forward a motion to add health and dental benefits to the council package (with an option to add family members at a reduced cost) that was eventually approved. He also proposed a child care subsidy (so people with kids could attend meetings), but that motion ended up deferred.
“Council unfortunately backed off of committing to it,” he said, noting he would have liked to have seen a more proactive decision be made, but he was ultimately pleased they had managed to pass the health care benefits package.
With the next municipal election just around the corner in October, Koel stated he’s hoping the changes that Port McNeill council has made will have a positive effect in enticing people with young families to consider running for office.
“I would tell anyone that’s considering running, it’s an amazing learning opportunity that has great potential for professional and personal development that will last long after your public service, and the conferences you get to go to are rad.”
He added another idea that could help people decide to run would be shortening terms to three years instead of four.
“This would really help, as four years is a big commitment.”