It was a tough decision, but after eight years of leading Portage la Prairie as mayor and eight additional years on council, Irvine Ferris has announced that he is not running for re-election this fall when Portagers take to the polls. Our City of Possibilities will have a new mayor this fall.
From 2006 to 2014, Irvine Ferris served as a member of council before he was elected as mayor in 2014 and re-elected in 2018.
Ferris is currently serving on the board of directors for the Portage District General Hospital Foundation, Regional Planning District, Regional Landfill and the Active Transportation Committee. He also serves as chair for the Portage Regional Recreation Authority and is a member of the Food Security Council of Portage. He hasn’t indicated whether these roles will continue past this fall, but it's obvious that there are some large shoes to fill come election time.
“It's been a privilege and an honour to serve the citizens of Portage over the last 16 years as four terms on council and two as mayor,” says Ferris. “I’ve certainly enjoyed the job and feel very gratified that I was able to contribute a little bit to our community, moving ahead. I thought it was important to make room at the table. I've had a chance to make my contributions and make room at the table so other people can step up and make their contributions to our community. We have a lot of great people in Portage that are very capable. I’ve given them enough time to talk with their family, their supporters, and there's still lots of time. Nominations don't close until September. I think it’ll give people a chance over the summer to think about it, as to whether they're able and wanting to make that four-year commitment and everything that goes with it.”
Ferris says he feels it’s the right time to make the change, noting he’s turning 67 next week, and would like to move on to other things.
He explains a highlight of the job has been able to see both the good and the bad, and outlines some memorable moments during his tenure.
“There are a lot of things,” continues Ferris. “The first term when I ran, one of our goals was to build an indoor sportsplex with an indoor pool for the community of Portage and the region. And we were able to do that. So, seeing Stride Place get built, and more importantly, being used for many, many activities far beyond what we had envisioned when we set out on that journey, and to be very close to retiring the debt from that project, that's all gratifying. I was around to see the setup of PRED (Portage Regional Economic Development). The way we do economic development is very different. And we’ve seen some big payoffs from setting up that organization. Of course, there has also been the recent completion of the causeway and upgrades to sewer and water.”
Ferris explains he’s spoken over the years about the infrastructure deficit that Portage has, noting most North American cities have experienced the same thing.
“We haven't eliminated that, but we’ve certainly taken some big steps to reduce that and providing more reliable services for our citizens, also the ability to attract and accommodate larger industry, and all the benefits that come with that,” adds Ferris. “We had big success with investment. We've seen over a billion dollars in new industrial investment. I was around for the update for Heritage Square East. That's a beautiful spot now where people can gather and it looks much better. It serves the community in a better way. I was around for the Kelly Kay subdivision and the Meighen Avenue subdivision. We've seen the housing starts come out of that first term on council.”
He says he was also privileged to have been involved with establishing the Portage Community Revitalization Corporation, which he notes has gone on to do tremendous work for our community in many different areas.
“We've invested a lot of time and effort over the last 16 years of making our community more walkable with the paths, paving them, and lighting them: the Fisher Avenue path, the Crescent Lake walking paths,” adds Ferris. “That's something that I’m very proud of and glad to see happen. Probably the one thing I'm very proud of is our community’s move toward becoming a little more of a welcoming, inclusive community. I think that is really, really important for quality of life and also for our city to progress in those terms.”
Among his thoughts on his great emphasis on progress in the city, Ferris says he’s quite pleased to leave his role as mayor with Portage in the state that it’s in.
“In a sense, we had the table set for us to take advantage of many opportunities,” notes Ferris. “So, I'll go back to before my time on council to the tax-sharing agreement with the RM. That was huge. And that allowed us to attract all that money for investment, create new jobs -- those kinds of things. So, I think we set the table well for the folks that come behind us and certainly, the mayor and the council in the future, I expect them to go on to even much bigger successes than what we've seen in the past.”
Ferris weighs in on some personal things that he’ll take away after having spent all those 16 years in the public light.
“I've certainly learned a lot and I've learned the importance of being patient,” continues Ferris. “You know about these things going in, but I've really, really come to know that you accomplish absolutely nothing on your own. The partnerships and all the help that we've had from so many people from our staff, and our staff really set the gold standard for public service. Our partnerships with the other levels of government, certainly our partnership with the RM, partnerships with First Nations communities like Long Plain -- those are things in which you really wouldn't be anywhere without that help. So, I've learned that our community is made up of a lot of really good people.”
He explains as mayor, a person is able to interact with all kinds of folks that one otherwise might not meet through the course of your employment or your social circles.
“That's one of the most enjoyable parts of the job -- talking to people,” says Ferris. “People call you and email you, they come to see you, they stop you on the street, and you learn so much about what's going on from people you run into every day.”
Ferris says the thought of becoming mayor was not in his initial plans whatsoever when he started out on council.
“It was kind of a grassroots movement to build a sportsplex,” continues Ferris. “That's really what got a lot of us interested when I ran. There were three very experienced people on council and three of us rookies. Of course, Ken Brennan was the mayor in those days. It was really that interest in what was going on in the community at that time. I would never have imagined this back then at all.”
He considers some thoughts that he’d like to share with the public today.
“I'd say to people, having a vibrant progressive community depends on all of us being involved wherever the opportunities present themselves,” notes Ferris. “I may be retiring from public life, but I certainly expect to be involved in the community, and get a chance to do some volunteer work with some groups, and that kind of thing. And I'd say to people, that these things just don't happen on their own. There's a tremendous number of people that have given their time over the years. And that's why we see the progress that we've seen. So, I'd encourage people to think about council. Obviously, there are elections in October, and it's really, really important to have a diverse group of voices at the table.”
He explains people should think about the time commitment of four years, of course, noting much is expected of members of council.
“I think it's a real chance for personal growth,” says Ferris. “It's a chance to contribute to your community, and it's a chance to really learn a lot about your community.”
Ferris adds about a thousand people have asked him what his future plans are lately over the last four to five months. He simply replies...
“We're getting into the election season,” notes Ferris. “So, there's certainly interest in that.”