It was standing-room only as the new mayor and council were officially sworn in Tuesday, Nov. 1 with a ceremony that was unprecedented for the city of Williams Lake.
A Punjabi dhol drummer and a bagpiper led the new council into the chambers, followed by a group of local First Nation chiefs, councillors, elders and knowledge keepers who sang an honour song to bless the new council.
The city’s new mayor, Surinderpal Rathor, had requested those aspects when he met with city management to plan the event.
Before the honour song, Williams Lake First Nation Chief Willie Sellars said he felt the evening signified a changing of the guard and a new era that gave him hope for the future.
“It’s a change of the culture of the region,” Sellars said. “I really see a broad contingent of citizens from this region in the room right now. We have leadership from First Nations people, we have leadership from all walks of life,” Sellars said. “The diversity of this town is coming together to honour this significant day.”
Sellars said it was not only a day to celebrate the new city council but the outgoing city council, and it that he looks forward to standing together and holding each other up to showcase Williams Lake in a way that has not been done in many years.
Esk’etemc Chief Fred Robbins said he was honoured to welcome the new council.
“I look forward to working with you and holding you accountable, all of you accountable, to reconciliation as we move forward in this new era. As nations go, reconciliation does not fall upon the First Nations people, it falls upon communities.”
Robbins said communities need to step forward to help First Nations reconcile with the past.
After the prayers, Rathor, and councillors Sheila Boehm, Angie Delainey, Joan Flaspohler, Jazmyn Lyons, Michael Moses and Scott Nelson, read their oath of office with Provincial Court Judge Linda Thomas officiating, another request of Rathor’s.
The new mayor was then presented with the chain of office.
Each member of council then shared an inaugural address.
Rathor thanked the outgoing members of council, saying they worked ‘diligently’ while in office for the betterment of the city.
“I appreciate all the hard work, the sharing of their time and talent for this community.”
Rathor, who was a city councillor for 21 years and ran for mayor in 2014 and 2018, said in the 48 years he has lived in Williams Lake, he has been given so much and has always tried to give back.
He thanked his parents, his wife Charangit Parmar, his grandkids and his ‘Canadian mother’ Diana French who gave him a shoulder to lean on.
“I am coming back home tonight,” he said of taking the mayor’s seat, adding he was excited to see so many faces all coming together. He said by working together so much more will be accomplished.
Coun. Boehm said she grew up in Williams Lake and was always looking for an opportunity to give back and become a voice for change.
During her first term of council she learned a lot, although the term had a lot of interference with the pandemic.
“Hopefully with such a diverse group of people surrounding us and such great leadership I am looking forward to getting a lot more things done in the next four years. Thanks again for the very big privilege of been elected again.”
Delainey thanked everyone who participated in the election this year by putting their names forward.
“I would like to thank the community of Williams Lake for putting their trust in me to sit here and represent your voice. I promise to practice good governance to show up prepared, to be respectful and be available to you,” Delainey said.
Flaspohler, who left her position at the city’s fire department to run for council, thanked the community for electing this council.
“I am so thankful that you supported me in being successful here. I am also excited about the team that I’m with and I want to congratulate them.”
She said she wanted to reassure the community that the new team is going to be conducive to a better Williams Lake, to which the crowd applauded.
“You have new energy, you have new ideas, you have individuals that may not know the exact process on how this all works, but we are willing to learn, we are willing to research and we are willing to look for the means of figuring something out.”
Trust and transparency and communication were words Flaspohler used, noting the council is there for the betterment of the community.
“This community has spoken by electing this team and this team will continue to speak for you. Realize that, reach out to us, make sure we are understanding. We are here to be that link and that’s it. We are not just leading this community, you are the leaders. Tell us what you need and we will make sure it happens.”
Thanking everyone, Lyons said the diversity in the room was ‘incredible’ and ‘a great’ sign.
“I am really excited to see where this is all going to go. I think if we work together as a community we have a strong and healthy community and an incredible lucky one. I look forward to seeing what is going to happen in the next four years.”
Moses, who is First Nations, thanked everyone for being present at the meeting, for the support, and the previous council for all its good work.
“I am proud and honoured to be part of this team that consists of the mayor, the council and the city staff. I’m also proud and honoured to provide Indigenous representation on our city council. When we have increased Indigenous representation in governance it helps to broaden social perspectives, combat stigmatism and promote a better understanding of Indigenous views, needs and aspirations.”
Moses promised the community will hear him speak a lot about reconciliation, climate action and mental health of safety of all people.
He encouraged everyone to attend city council meetings and hold council accountable.
Nelson, who was re-elected for a third term, and is a former mayor, welcomed each councillor by name and said it was ‘truly an honour to be there.’
“This is the new face of our community here today. I believe we are extraordinarily blessed. We have 14 First Nations as our neighbours and partners for the future. Things are changing, and changing fast.”
Nelson said there will be big changes in the future, adding he is excited about the ‘boldness’ that is going to take place for the community.