Mayor Stew Young overlooks Langford
Community, Feature Stories

Langford’s No-nonsense Mayor

May Feature

Langford’s No-nonsense Mayor

Interview by Anne Marie Moro

Photo Credits: Roxanne Low Photography, and City of Langford

“There’s nothing better than growing up
in a community, raising your family there,
and then stay and help that community…”

Mayor Stew Young, City of Langford

The City of Langford is the fastest growing municipality in the CRD. To become West Shore’s business hub, Langford has attracted large retail and wholesale stores, light industrial companies, and dozens of small businesses with a streamlined re-zoning process to serve an ever-growing consumer market.

Business and population growth has allowed the progressive Mayor and Council to invest in community development. Beautifying city streets and creating more recreation options for their residents, indoor and outdoor, are just a few of the City’s public projects made possible by their increased tax base.

Q: You know, Mayor, I just discovered this weekend that your family’s been here for over one hundred years.
A:  That’s right. We’ve been here for five generations; since the early 1900s. My dad went to Belmont school, then I went there and my brothers and my son and daughter. So, yeah, we’ve been in this community for a very long time!

Q: Speaking of growing up in Langford, I would imagine, back then, most of the kids you knew probably left the island to get better jobs?
A: When we graduated in 1978, there weren’t any jobs here. Unemployment was very high, 20-25%. So, you had to leave and go to Alberta or to the interior where forestry was still being done. A few of my friends and my family went to Trail to work in the mines. Everybody spread out to try to find work anywhere they could. Basically, you got raised in Langford and then you left.

Q: That’s sad that so many had to leave home, isn’t it?
A: It is sad. That’s why I believe people should be able to raise their families and stay in a community. As politicians, we need to make sure that we provide employment opportunities and jobs so they can do that. I have to fight for that. It’s not easy you know. Whether the business be industrial, tech or otherwise, I’m not going to be too picky. There’s nothing better than growing up in a community, raising your family there, and then stay and help that community.

Q: What drew you into municipal politics in a city that, at the time you got involved, was probably one of the poorest in the region?
A: It was very frustrating growing up in Langford in that kind of condition. I didn’t really want to leave Langford like everybody else. You know, it just kind of drove me a bit more [to stay]. I worked at the Dairy Queen and other places in town until I could raise enough money to do my own thing and start a business; even hired my buddies from school.

That’s what helped me in politics. I saw how difficult it was to be in business when politicians kept taking from the pockets of the business people when it’s small business that created jobs in the first place. I grew up when there was no development here [at all]. So, even today—after twenty-five years as mayor—I still fight every day to make sure that I make those hard decisions, put infrastructures in place, look for opportunities and make it into something. I love doing that. I also love leveraging dollars by working with the provincial and federal governments to make sure that we bring some of our tax money back home—which wasn’t happening before. Who’s not going to support a healthy economy where families can live, work and play in their own community, and can continue to grow the community in a positive way for everyone?

I get excited every morning to get up and go to work and talk to people. I like to see positive things happening. I just want to do the best job I can to make sure that opportunities are there for others to be successful.

Q: Looking back after twenty-five years, what do you see as the most unexpected and proudest moments?
A: Well, I think the biggest accomplishment was dealing with
high unemployment; that was one of our biggest challenges. Most of my council have worked alongside me for the last twenty-five years—just amazing, hardworking people who have grown up in this community. They committed themselves to making things better!

Another thing [that worked] is that we just moved all the bureaucratic stuff and the red tape out of the way.

Ribbon cutting ceremony for City of Langford's Arch Grand Opening
Ribbon cutting ceremony for City of Langford's Arch Grand Opening

Let’s go to work, let’s make the decision and don’t take six months or a year to figure it out—that’s what we’re elected for. I tell everybody, if it’s on the agenda, it’s a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. And no matter what happens, some people will be happy, others won’t. But I can tell you right now, we’re doing the best job we can as a committee to make the right decision [for Langford]—and we will make it.

Q: Along with your council members, who else helps advise, direct and inform your planning and decision making?
A: I want feedback. I’ve got over one hundred residents on [various] committees to help me make decisions. I want to know if something doesn’t work, let’s get rid of it and put something else in place that actually moves all of us forward in a more positive, progressive way.

Times have changed. It’s harder because everyone has more access with all of the media out there now. It’s more work than it was when I was first mayor. Now it’s basically turned into a full-time job, when before I used to be able to get things done in three or four hours. Of course, we also have almost 40,000 people living here compared to the 12,000 back when I first came into office!

I find that being face-to-face and able to actually talk to people, gives me great ideas and I’ll use them. That’s the most exciting part of what we’re doing as politicians that’s different.

Q: Speaking of doing things differently, what kind of things does the City of Langford have to have in place to get high-paying, high-tech companies, like Amazon, to actually locate here in the future?
A: Back in the 60s and 70s, communities and politicians chased logging and mining and jobs like that and we still need those industrial jobs. However, there needs to be that balance. In order to grow, I have to open doors to every job opportunity.

That means that I have to showcase Langford to companies like Amazon and say, “Hey we’re open for business! We have land, we have new infrastructure, recreation facilities; we’re a self-sustaining community where young family are moving.” I said that twenty-five years ago, so this is not something new Langford’s doing. I think people are just starting to hear more about what I’m talking about now on those issues.

We’ve got five thousand kids leaving the West Shore to go to Camosun College or UVic every day. How about finding jobs for those five thousand in our community? Also, with five thousand kids every year going into school system, we need to be able to look out into the future for the next fifty years, not just 10 or 15 years.

That’s why we do our own interchanges to make sure that we keep up with the infrastructure we’re going to need, keep up with technology, make sure there are enough schools being built. I’d love to see an extra post-secondary education [campus] out here to make sure that we have more education for kids and then the opportunity for good jobs, the type of jobs that they’re getting educated for. With this many people in the region, instead of driving into town for work or school, maybe we should be looking at keeping our kids in our community.

I’m aware we need tech jobs. So, if Amazon—or anyone like that—comes knocking again, I’m going to say we’re open for business. The City of Langford is not just competing locally with Victoria or Vancouver anymore, or New York or Chicago. We’re actually competing against the whole world and the more that we understand that, the more that we can actually get community support for our ideas. These are things that we have to do. This isn’t just, “Let’s look at it in five years.” No, it’s happening now and it’s happening fast. I want to make sure that Langford gets a piece of that [global] economic pie!

Mayor Stew Young at annual Show and Shine
An avid Hot Rod enthusiast, Mayor Stew Young loves to support the annual Langford Show & Shine

Q: Who are the beneficiaries of your Mayor’s Charity Golf Tournament you put on every summer?
A: Oh, it’s a long list! We’ve always supported the Legion and they’ve been there every single year for twenty-two years. We donate computers to the schools. There are various charities, police, volunteer fire departments and more. I look for volunteer groups who have been helping our community. People who are actually stepping up and doing great things in our community.

We’ve held this [tournament] for twenty-two years. We sell out and raise a lot of money to give back every year. It’s something that organizations rely on. It’s also a way for me to say thank you very much to the business community for all the work they’ve done and all the jobs that they’ve created, because without them, we wouldn’t be as successful.

Q: My final question to you was going to be what do you for fun. But it sounds like you’re already living your fun!
A: Oh yeah, I get up every morning, I’m happy, you know, happy to just carry on and do what we have to do for this great community. This weekend was a whirlwind [of fun]. I went over to Vancouver and we watched men’s rugby at B.C. Place. Forty thousand people showed up to watch a team that actually practiced and trained right here in Langford, their home base. Then, I came back to watch the Grizzlies game with the Mayor from Port Alberni and his wife. The Grizzlies were very successful so we swapped jerseys and he’s wearing my jersey at the Mayor’s Council Meeting tonight!

Exclusive video footage of interview with Mayor Stewart Young (2:14)

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