Castlegar elected a new mayor in an April byelection and Castlegar News wanted to give Kirk Duff a few weeks to settle into his new role before sitting down for a Q&A to help the community get to know him better. Now with two months and a wildfire within city limits under his belt Mayor Duff talks about his background, experience and his philosophies about leadership.
Duff was born in Vancouver, but moved around a bit during his childhood — living in four different provinces. However, besides a one-year stint in Alberta, his adult life has been spent here in B.C. and most of it has been spent working for Teck.
Duff has spent 42 years working for Teck in Trail and before that spent nine years working for the company in Kimberly. He started his Teck days as a labourer, but moved through different jobs and up the ranks over the years. After working as an electric motor journeyman, he moved on to the training team and eventually into quality assurance.
But 42 years is about enough, and Duff has plans to retire next year.
Duff has also been heavily involved in volunteer efforts through the years, most notably working with the Lions Club for more than 40 years.
He has been married to his wife Myra for 40 years. Duff says his decision to run for mayor in the recent byelection was one the couple made together after much contemplation.
“After four weeks, my wife said, ‘Go for it, I’ll be with you all the way,’” said Duff. “I announced [my candidacy] the next morning.”
Duff’s interest in municipal politics started at an early age and at 24 years old, he was elected to a two-year term as an alderman in Kimberly.
“I like being part of decisions — not just living with them,” says Duff. “If it involves my money and the town I live in, I like to be at the table.”
He also spent 18 years on Castlegar’s city council, with his last term ending in 2011.
Role as mayor
When Duff decided to run for mayor, he says he looked at it as a five and a half year commitment with full intentions to run in the next election as well.
“Even in just two months, it is easy to start feeling a sense of ownership of the role and the work that is involved,” said Duff.
“After a year and a half, I can’t imagine not running again at this point.”
Duff says it has been a bit of a whirlwind since he started. And that was before the Merry Creek wildfire knocked on Castlegar’s door.
That put Duff in the middle of a literal trial by fire as residents of the city, including a care home, had to be evacuated.
“During the election, people asked if I was able to hit the ground running,” said Duff.
“I would say that question has been answered.”
He says he feels comfortable to be in the office and not overwhelmed at all.
“I knew what I was getting into.”
One of the issues Duff hopes to address during his tenure is the problem with smells from the South Sewage Treatment Plant. Council and staff have been researching, experimenting and trying to solve the problem for several years now, all the while applying for grants to fund the fix.
The city is waiting to hear on their latest grant application any day now, and Duff plans to keep the issue at the top of the to-do list.
His other goal is to keep his campaign promise of keeping tax hikes limited to the rate of inflation (roughly two per cent), although he acknowledges that will be a challenge.
Besides the deck in his back yard, Duff’s favourite places in Castlegar are Millennium Park — where he likes to go on walks with his wife, and Kinsmen Park — where he likes to play with his grandkids.
His favourite thing about Castlegar is the ever-increasing diversity in the city. But he wants to see more progress made with inclusivity.
“We are making strides, but we have a way to go,” he said.
During the election campaign Duff said this election was about personality and leadership style. He sums up his style as calm, pragmatic and having the ability to look at the big picture.
Duff thinks the best councils are made up of people of varying ages and different personalities.
“Together, it provides really good discussion. Different points of view come up and it makes a better decision-making process.
Locally, Duff says the big picture includes the whole Castlegar area, including Robson, Ootischenia, Glade and the surrounding area.
He also sees it as very important for Castlegar, Nelson and Trail to work together with a regional view.
“I want the best we can get for Castlegar, but preferably, not at the expense of somebody else,” said Duff.
“The province listens to the louder voice, and if the louder voice is the combined voices of Castlegar, Trail, Nelson, we have a better shot of getting things that will help the whole region.”
Duff says being mayor of Castlegar is a good job — if you want it and like it and your head is in the game.
With a wildfire still smouldering on the edge of town, a major infrastructure project on the city’s main thoroughfare and the reopening of business as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, Duff will have plenty of responsibilities to keep his head busy.