If you’re new to Collingwood, you might recognize his voice, but those who have lived in Collingwood for a while recognize his face as well as a former mayor of the town by the bay.
For this week’s edition of People of Collingwood we sat down with Chris Carrier, former mayor and councillor and current political podcaster.
Q: How long have you lived in Collingwood?
A: My mother moved us to Collingwood in 1977. I was 13 years old. She had met a gentleman from Collingwood at a Parents without Partners dance in Barrie and they fell in love, so she moved all of us here – myself and my brothers. So, I’ve been here for 41 years. This was the first place in my life that felt like home to me.
Q: What’s your background in terms of schooling?
A: I went to Wilfred Laurier. After that, I came back to Collingwood and worked at Good Year to pay of my school loans. Then I went back to college to get my CGA (certified general accountant) designation, but I was offered a job at a local roof trust manufacturer company. I worked there for 23 years. Three of us bought it after nine years.
I had plans to move away, but then I stayed.
In 1997, after we bought the company, I decided to run for local politics.
Q: What made you come to that decision, that you wanted to run for local politics?
A: My grandparents. When I was a kid, growing up on a farm in rural Ontario, we could only get three TV stations.
One of the stations was the CBC. My grandparents loved Front Page Challenge.
From when I was five until I was nine, we watched Front Page Challenge. My grandparents loved to talk about politics, but not in the way we talk about politics today. We talked about policy.
I found that interesting, and that was probably the thing that turned me on to politics.
Politicians weren’t put on a pedestal in my house, but they weren’t despised either, the way they seem to be today.
The most trustworthy person seems to be a local business owner. The least trustworthy person seems to be a politician, right?
I grew up in an era when you respected the public service. You knew that, in large part, they were volunteers at the local level.
I just found it interesting. I’ve always found it interesting.
Q: You grew up learning about politics as an outsider, but you grew up to become a councillor and eventually Mayor of Collingwood. Was there anything you found, once you were actual in it, that surprised you?
A: How excruciatingly slow the decision-making process is. Like, a planning application could be in the works for several years. When I was first elected in 1997, the downtown BIA was at the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) with the town because of the grocery store war and west-end development. They were opposing how close certain types of businesses could be to the downtown core.
That was the longest OMB hearing in the history of Ontario at that time.
It was interesting to see the different agendas at play and the balance.
I was surprised about the Public Utilities Commission (PUC). It was a separate electoral thing at the time. I liked the way the utility and the hydro were run.
On the weekends, I would come to town hall. They had what they called the cheque register in the council room. It was a computer print out so you could see where all the monies were allocated. I would go through that on a weekly basis just to familiarize myself with how disbursements went out and then I would relate that back to the budget. I spent a lot of time trying to learn the behind-the-scenes process of how the government did its job.
I remember in my first budget, I submitted 57 questions.
I was the first councillor in 20 years to vote against a budget. It wasn’t a political ploy, I just didn’t agree with how we were spending money.
In a private business, you’re spending your own money. In a public corporation, you’re spending other people’s money, and there’s checks and balances to make sure you’re doing it appropriately.
Q: You mentioned that politics has changed since you were involved. Can you talk about that a little more? Is it for the better, or worse?
A: I think it’s easier to manipulate politicians. I think it’s easier for politicians to manipulate the public. Now, with the phones and social media we have, it seems that anybody can take a cheap shot or a very marginalized point of view and try to build credibility.
Take a look at what they’ve done with, “Don’t get your kids vaccinated.”
Get your kids vaccinated! All the science says to get your kids vaccinated. It’s an example of a social media platform being used to push people to an obscene position that’s not in the public interest.
You have a lot of crackpot players now, as far as I’m concerned, on social media who are trying to position people to make a decision for their own interest, or they’re just a proverbial pot-stirrer.
Q: In Collingwood, how has politics changed over the years?
A: I ran for mayor in 2006, even though I promised my business partner I wouldn’t.
In 2006, former mayor Terry Geddes was retiring. At the time, Coun. Rick Lloyd wanted to become mayor.
I didn’t want Rick to become our mayor. I had issues with how he did political business.
A lot of questions that are being asked through the judicial inquiry today, I had a lot (similar) questions about his lack of boundaries or what I would call his business ethical practices.
I tried to convince three other members of council to run for mayor and all refused. I talked to my business partners and told them I loved this town and really felt Rick was the wrong choice for Collingwood.
So I ran, and I won.
The mayor is not the boss. The mayor is the chair of the board. My relationship with that council was extremely positive except for two people: deputy mayor Sandra Cooper at the time, and Coun. Ian Chadwick.
I think it worked well for four years. There was some controversial decisions, but I’m not shy. I know my intensity in the belief in myself and the process sometimes irritates people, but too bad.
The big change in local politics after I left was the appointment of an integrity commissioner. I wish we’d had that when I was in politics. That would have been nice.
In 2005, I asked for a judicial inquiry over the purchase of the Tremont Hotel. Several of the people who voted not to do that are involved in the judicial inquiry now and the OPP’s anti-rackets investigation.
As far as I’m concerned, there were things going on when I became mayor, and things going on after ward when I left office.
Q: What are your feelings about the judicial inquiry?
A: I feel bad for the town that we’ve had, what I consider to be, corrupt and unethical people operating government.
The greatest gift someone can give somebody, whether it’s in a personal relationship, a family relationship or a political relationship, is trust. Trust is extremely important.
I believe it was broken numerous times on numerous issues, and I feel badly for the town.
I think people should know I strongly believe that our current council is very ethical and honest. I’m proud of the support they’ve given to the judicial inquiry. It is needed. We can’t keep making the same mistakes we have in the past. I hope, over time, the trust relationship between council and the community is strengthened. It’s a tough job.
Q: The Federal election is coming up in October. What are your thoughts leading into that race?
A: I don’t like the Trudeau government. I’m very impressed with Jodi Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott for doing what I think more MPs should do, and that’s represent their constituents’ interest and the public’s interest before their political party’s interest.
Is climate change real? Absolutely. But the carbon tax is absolutely not the solution.
I think it’s going to be a minority government thus far. I think the NDP are going to see a decrease in seats under the leadership of Jagmeet Singh, but they’re going to control power in a minority situation. The Green vote and the Bloc Québécois vote don’t add up to enough to sway it either way.
The Conservatives are going to get the most seats. I think where Andrew Scheer is vulnerable is on the Climate Action Plan. He should be more bold.
Q: What about locally? Kellie Leitch isn’t running again. Do you think she did a good job leading Simcoe—Grey?
A: I don’t.
She’s somebody, in my view, who says, “Ask not what you can do for your riding, but what my riding can do for me.”
For me, she seemed to have a self-centred focus where it was a career path choice for her as opposed to working in the best interest of the people of Simcoe—Grey.
I think Terry Dowdall (running for the Conservative Party of Canada in Simcoe—Grey) brings a very strong perspective from local government, having served 17 years in local government.
Collingwood supported the Liberal candidate in the last election (MP Paul Bonwick). I say this respectfully to the Liberal supporters in the riding: Don’t delude yourself that you’re going to win. Polling says 47 per cent right now for the Conservatives, 28 per cent for the Liberals in Simcoe—Grey. There’s not enough support across the riding for Liberals here.
Q: Now that your political service days are behind you, what do you do now?
A: I’m a national accounts manager for a company that operates in six provinces, so I travel in six provinces, but I also have a home office. I’m fortunate that way.
I fly a lot. I think last year, I took 22 flights across Canada, and flying is not fun anymore. (laughs)
The intensity of it is fun, and I like it.
Q: You also have a podcast called Talking Politics. Can you talk about that?
A: Yes. I find it very cathartic for me.
I get to talk to Trent Gow, who is a PhD economist. We have some interesting listeners across the country. They like the perspective of somebody who has served in local government, and Trent brings an academic perspective.
I don’t mind calling out politicians on some of their actions. I try to do it respectfully, but sometimes I slip on that.
I enjoy it.
I’m not on the payroll of any developer, so when people see me advocating for something locally, it’s just because it’s what I think is the right decision.
Q: Are you part of any service clubs?
When I was in politics, I put a lot of time and effort into it. Especially when I was mayor, I’d work probably 29 out of 30 days a month. I would work 70 hours or more a week.
I went through a divorce in 2004/2005. I remarried in 2007. I want this marriage to work. Part of that is spending quality time with your spouse. I’ve also gotten to know my children.
With everything I did, I never got to see them that much.
They even tell me now as young adults that they’ve seen me a lot more in this stage in my life than they did when they were younger.
Part of it is me making up some of that time. They’re lovely young adults and I enjoy spending time with them.
I’m very protective of my quality, private time, and I like it.
For our feature People of Collingwood, we’ll be speaking with interesting people who are either from or are contributing to the Collingwood community in some way. This feature will run on CollingwoodToday every Saturday. If you’d like to nominate or suggest someone to be featured in People of Collingwood, email email@example.com.