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Who is Mayor Michael Smith?
With a common name like Michael Smith, it’s difficult to find anything certain about West Vancouver’s mayor on the Internet.
(Just for the record, his middle name is Richard, but this doesn’t make searching easier.)
Mayor Smith’s short biography on the municipality’s website is about all you’ll easily find on him.
A businessman who likes to “lie low,” he has more than 40 years of experience, including territory manager for an oil company and account executive for a national commercial lender. He has also owned his own wholesale distribution company and been a director for companies involved in finance, oil and gas exploration and mining.
Not to mention he’s owned three newspapers in Surrey and White Rock, acting as publisher of one.
Smith has two daughters and his wife has three, one of whom runs part of his company M.R.Smith Limited, the wholesale distributor for Imperial Oil and ExxonMobil in the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley. He has sold off two-thirds of the company, but still owns the last third.
With such an extensive business background, it’s hard to imagine his name doesn’t produce thousands of Google results.
“That’s good,” he says jokingly to The Outlook in his spacious office at district hall. It’s tidy and organized with a lot of natural light from large windows. His computer sits at one end of the mahogany desk, his Blackberry beside it.
Smith was elected to council in 2005 and 2008 and won the mayor’s seat by acclamation in 2011. Before this, he served on the West Van school board from 1982 to 1990, serving as chairman of the finance and facilities committees and board chair.
“There needs to be more business people around in local politics,” he says sitting at his desk, in a soft spoken but direct manner.
“Unfortunately, in my school board and council experience — I don’t say this critically — it’s usually dominated by housewives and retired people.”
Municipalities, including West Van, he says, need people with business experience to make sure operations run properly.
Because of his strong business attitude, Smith might not seem like the usual mayor.
“I’m not a politician. I don’t kiss babies, I’ve never held up a sign on a bridge or had a campaign office,” says Smith, who has lived in West Van for 50 years, and graduated from West Van High School and UBC with a major in economics.
And the blunt-speaking mayor doesn’t mind being the contrarian on council.
In one of the most recent and talked about cases, he voted in opposition to all six council members, all of whom wanted to immediately voice their opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline, which would increase oil tanker traffic in the port of Vancouver.
Saying he needed more information before opposing the Kinder Morgan project, he was outvoted 6-1.
His company, M.R.Smith Limited, has nothing to do with his stance, he adds, because it deals with a completely different kind of oil.
Michael Smith’s family moved from Brighton, England to Canada when he was eight years old and he tries to return every couple years to visit his aunt who still lives in the vibrant seaside town. He also owns a house in Hawaii.
Unfortunately, he says the seaside atmosphere in his own backyard doesn’t measure up.
He calls Ambleside an “embarrassment” that needs to be revitalized to properly reflect West Vancouver, adding that it needs more restaurants to grab a glass of wine and a bite to eat.
“There’s nowhere to have a drink on the waterfront, it’s ridiculous,” he says comparing Ambleside to other seaside cities with bustling waterfronts. “When I bring my friends here from downtown, it’s embarrassing.”
Smith says the 1300-block is a “mess” but will wait to see where the public stands on a proposed development, which would include a seven- and an eight-storey mixed-use building, before deciding what’s best for West Van.
“I’m in favour of good development,” he explains, adding more housing is needed close to services like grocery stores, banks and community centres.
He’s looking into the idea of putting a restaurant on district-owned waterfront land that would be run by a private company with no taxpayer money needed.
Revitalizing Ambleside, it turns out, could all come back to good business decisions.