My First Month

I’m about a month into my new journey of being a city councillor. It’s been a whirlwind and a huge learning curve as I try to learn every aspect of what it takes to run a city. First and foremost I have to say that everyone has been incredibly accommodating. It’s been an environment where the entire staff wants you to succeed from the City Manager to the Mayor to fellow councillors. I find that refreshing. There’s a lot to absorb and I’m trying to be as realistic as I can. I’m not going to learn it all by the end of this month or even in a year but I’m taking strides to get there and I hope the people who voted me into office will have the patience to allow me to the time to assimilate into what has been a life-changing paradigm shift for me. I always hated the word paradigm because when it was used it usually meant I was getting corporately downsized. But it applies in a positive way here. At least for me.

Councillors get a lot of invitations to a lot of things and I’m trying to space my time out to get to as many events as I can without forgetting who my wife is. We’re also assigned to a lot of committees. I’ve been to Heart of The City, EDL, Library and Animal Welfare meetings so far. The commonality of them all is that everyone cares. This city has wonderful people who want to make it an even better city than it already is. It makes going out to a meeting when it’s snowing and -10 much easier.

I’m currently acting Mayor. (Good thing I’ve had theatre experience….badumpah!!) It means I’ve had to sign a few things when the Mayor and the Deputy Mayor aren’t available.

I’ve had the great pleasure of representing the city at the kick off to the Angel Tree campaign at St. Teresa of Calcutta School. (What great new school they have over in Legacy Ridge.)

I attended the Philanthropy Luncheon at the Lodge honoring some amazing philanthropy in the city and I got to call Bingo at the Turkey Bingo at Agnes Davidson School. That was my first time ever calling bingo. When I got into my car, three turkeys were in the back seat. It was weird.

Still to come is the Bright Lights Festival and the Honouring Allies and Remembering Together Ceremony at the Vimy Ridge Armoury. Looking forward to those.

And now back to studying some Finance Committee stuff.


Justin Fisher: He’s Got Some Skills

Plumber extraordinaire Justin Fisher of Lethbridge recently came back from the WorldSkills competition in Abu Dhabi. While he was unable to bring home any hardware for Canada this time Justin has had great success on the provincial and national levels. Justin took some time out from installing a back flow preventer (I googled plumbing terms) to talk about his recent experiences.

First off, explain what a Worldskills Competition is all about.

At the WorldSkills Competition, more than 1,300 competitors (including 31 Canadians), accompanied by experts and trainers, gathered together from around the globe to test themselves against rigorous international standards that are representative of the skills required in their specific occupational area. This is done in an open forum that allows for the public to observe and gain a stronger appreciation for the complexity of these occupational areas.

What made you decide to get into a skills competition in the first place?

When I went through my first year of schooling at Medicine Hat College, I was asked by my instructors if I would like to represent the institution at the Provincial Skills Canada Competition. I was a little skeptical at first, but I decided to give it a shot.

What were your expectations going into your first competition?

I had no idea what to expect, as it was all new to me. My instructors did their best to prepare me for the competition, but we both had limited information on the event. Despite this, I was able to take second place in the competition.

Do you ever do any trash talking with your opponents?

There was not normally any trash talking, or not any that I was involved in. I had a different approach. I always tried to meet new people and make some friends along the way. If you are good, you’re good. There is no need to bring people down.

You’ve had some great success over the years. Discuss.

I have now been involved with Skills Canada for four years. In my first year, I competed in Edmonton at the Provincial Skills Canada Competition taking second place to who ended up being the 2015 WorldSkills competitor. In my second year, I competed in Edmonton again at the Provincial Skills Canada Competition where I won gold, which lead me to the Skills Canada National Competition in Saskatoon where I also was able to win gold. During my third year, I was able to produce the same results both provincially and nationally in Edmonton and Moncton, respectively. This lead me one step closer to a spot on WorldSkills Team Canada 2017 where I had to qualify once again on a WorldSkills Competition project for trials and meet a minimum Canadian standard to ensure that I could be competitive at a world level. Once I passed that step, I was then affiliated with Team Canada. I had the opportunity to go to an international competition in Hong Kong where I place third. Unfortunately, I ended my streak in Abu Dhabi where I was unable to place. Nevertheless, I have to stay positive as I had the opportunity to compete among the best in the world and have had a very successful journey.


What would you say is your biggest asset in these competitions?

I think my biggest asset is how well rounded my hand skills are along with my accuracy and perfectionism. However, this does cause me to have a weakness in the time department. When you are focused on making everything perfect, you tend to take much more time on things. Therefore, you always have to try and keep a happy medium, as time is a very important component of the competitions.

What do you think you need to work on?

I had difficulties with the time limits, as the competitions have very tight time restrictions and do not give you much room for mistakes.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I play in a men’s hockey league and ski in the winter. In the summer, I enjoy camping and fly fishing.

Talk about your experience in Abu Dhabi.

Competing at a world level was interesting on many facets from the amount of competitors, level of skill, and intensity. Everything was impressive. I truly did not understand what I was getting involved with until I first walked into the venue. I am very thankful to have had the opportunity to participate in the WorldSkills Competition. Overall, the Middle East was a great trip.  Everything was over the top. Both Abu Dhabi and Dubai were wonderful cities to visit – clean, safe, and not as expensive as one may think. I would advise anyone to take the opportunity to go if it presents.

What advice do you have to kids wanting to get into the trades?

I push trades all the time! I think these days it is getting harder and harder to choose a career with all the options out there. Sometimes, it seems that many people think the only way to be successful is to go to university. Don’t get me wrong, I think university is great, but it is not for everybody. All I can say to young individuals when they are choosing a career is not to overlook the trades; they can provide many great opportunities, such as competitive wages and consistent demand, as new trades people are always in need. I think the key to being successful is to always work hard, be driven, don’t take shortcuts, and make yourself the most well-round individual you can.


Is plumbing what you want to do for the rest of your life?

I plan on continuing plumbing for the next while, though hope to further my career and buy into the family business, Simpson Plumbing, in the years ahead.

Taking A Gamble In Lethbridge

I’m always intrigued by the stories of how people have made their way to Lethbridge. Take for example the General Manager of the Casino, Greg Van Stone. How does a guy who worked at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas end up in our little old city. Here are some answers:

Where are you originally from and how did you first get into the Casino business? 

I am from Houston Texas and I first got into the casino business in 1991. In 1989, I was working in a hotel in Galveston, Texas called the Key Largo Resort owned by Frank Fertitta. After a year and a half of employment as the F&B Manager, he sold the Key Largo. Six months after the sale, I received a call to see if I would be interested in a management position at the Palace Station Hotel & Casino (owned by Mr. Fertitta) in Las Vegas. I packed my bags the next day!

What other jobs did you do?

My first summer job was building fences in Texas, I then moved on to the building supply industry. I did this during my University days and after graduation I began working as a night club manager from 1986 – 1989 across various US states.

Did you go to University or College?

Texas State University graduated in 1986 with a BBA in Management.

I know it’s a long road but can your journey to get to Lethbridge?

Once I graduated from University, I was determined to become a manager. I entered the nightclub industry and was transferred from Houston, TX to Pittsburgh, PA, then to Columbus, OH and finally to Piscataway, NJ, each time being offered a promotion but having to move to attain the new position. I returned to Texas to begin working at the Key Largo (mentioned above), this lead me eventually to Las Vegas. Once in Vegas, I continued to seek promotional opportunities, which again made me look at different properties. I left Palace Station and started working at the RIO, then I opened the Stratosphere and finally made it to the big time getting a job offer as Executive Director of Beverage Operations for MGM Grand Las Vegas. I stayed with MGM Resorts for 14 years and while there, I opened the MGM Grand in Detroit and reached an executive level position at the Beau Rivage Resort in Biloxi, MS from 2001 – 2009. In 2010, with my whole career defined by casino operations, I decided to try a non-gaming hotel. I started working at the Waldorf Astoria in Orlando FL. While it was an amazing property and great learning experience, the call of the casinos came again when I was recruited for an executive level position with Maryland Live Casino. After opening the property and getting things settled in, I was recruited again to become the VP of Food & Beverage for PURE Canadian Gaming based in Edmonton, AB. After almost four years in this position, I was promoted to become the General Manger of Casino Lethbridge in June of 2017.  

What is it about the Casino business that keeps you in it?

I have always been inspired by the team of wonderful people that work in this industry. The opportunity to lead a team of service professionals has always given me great pride. Our guests are also a key motivator in why I enjoy the industry. Casino’s provide an escape from everyday life, with the thrill of winning, all while providing fast, friendly service in a safe, clean environment.

Where do you come out on moral issues like gambling addiction?

I am truly impressed with the AGLC GameSense campaign and the commitment from PURE Canadian Gaming to ensure our patrons are well educated on this subject. We always strive to ensure our patrons gamble responsibly. It is one of our top priorities.

You lived in Vegas. What kind of lifestyle was that for you?

One word “WOW” the stories I could share but we will save that for another time! It was one of the most amazing times of my life, mainly due to meeting my beautiful, amazing wife Renee and getting married while living there.

I’m sure there’s always going to be people who want to cheat. How big of an issue was it in some of the bigger casinos you’ve worked in and how much of an issue is it in Lethbridge?

Our industry and company take this type of behaviour very seriously and we take every measure available to mitigate this type of activity. These precautions assist us in preventing most cheat of play. We work very closely with our regulator (AGLC) and fortunately, it is not a common occurrence. Our excellent Table Games personnel, Security and Surveillance teams are highly trained and diligent in thei efforts to ensure a fair game every single day.

What is the most creative cheat you’ve ever seen?

No comment, but what I can say is the character Raymond, that Dustin Hoffman played in Rain Man. A card counter extraordinaire…..

I’m sure you’ve been accused of altering machines so they don’t pay when there are big crowds (or other accusations like that.) What can you tell people about the randomness of slot machines and how often they will pay out?

All wins and losses are completely RANDOM. Our machines are owned, maintained and regulated by the AGLC. The operator has no influence on this whatsoever.

You’re new to Lethbridge. What are your first impressions?

I have actually been travelling to Lethbridge for over four years now, finally calling it home in June of 2017. The city is vibrant, growing, diverse and offers a great deal of opportunities for its residents. It is a privilege to live here and I do not take that lightly.  As such, I along with my team at Casino Lethbridge are focused on giving back to our community. We have recently volunteered, sponsored or participated in a Habitat for Humanity build, Walk-a-Mile in her shoes, Canadian Blood Services donation team, Fresh Fest at U of L, Career Fair at U of L, Windy City Tattoo Convention, and various other local sponsorships.

What sort of plans do you see for the future of this Casino?

We will continue to focus on improving the guest service experience each and every day. No expansion plans in our future just a desire to serve the public in a fast, friendly and clean environment.

What do you say to people who want a career like you have?

I would wholeheartedly recommend the casino industry. It has been an amazing ride and the future is bright! Oh the things that I have seen…… be continued.

Snow Day

(The picture of the snow was from 1967…not really relevant but I thought I’d go with it.)

I’ve been busy with my new life trying to learn everything there is to learn about being a city councillor so I haven’t really been doing a lot of extracurricular writing. I thought I’d spend a little time doing just that.

Randomly I go…

In the words of Captain obvious, “We have a lot of snow.” Thank you to my neighbor Gary Paskuski who loves his new snow blower and has volunteered to be the new snow removal king of the block. I told him I couldn’t get him city wages for doing that.

I’m glad the kids got out Trick Or Treating before this snow hit otherwise there would have been more kids dressed up like members of an Antarctic expedition than super heroes.

We have a new pug. We got him from the Humane Society. He’s 5-years old and we named him George Clooney because he is older and quite distinguished. This is our first male pug which may be why he asked me to build him a man cave so he can watch a lot of hockey and football. My wife is struggling to believe me that I can communicate with a dog.

I was happy for the Houston Astros winning the World Series. Did any newspaper use the headline, “Houston, we don’t have a problem.” ?

I had a nostalgic reason for hoping the Dodgers would win because of their former connection with Lethbridge in the Pioneer Baseball League back in the 70s and 80s.

The Lethbridge Dodgers won a couple of Pioneer League Championships with the likes of Steve Sax, Mike Marshall, Greg Brock and Candy Maldonado. Sax & Marshall were on the team that won the World Series in 1988.

But you couldn’t help liking the Houston Astros story. They were a horrible team only a few years ago and committed to rebuilding. They got better and better on the field and their connection to the city of Houston after the devastating Hurricane this year showed what sports can do to help a community recover both financially and spiritually.

Thanks to realtor Trevor Stuart for the wonderful “house cake.” I sent him a referral and as an appreciation he surprised me with a pretty remarkable cake made in the shape of a house complete with edible shrubs. I don’t know if the house was built to the Lethbridge Home Builders code but Crazy Cakes did a great job.

And so I’m going to venture into the dangerous world of trying to fix a leaky sink in my kitchen. And yes I’m going to attempt it by myself. I think I’ve got this. (Famous last words.) I’ll have a report in the morning.

Stay warm. And dry.

And So It Begins….

What a week. I’ve had four solid days of orientation at City Hall as I begin this journey into the world of councillor. There has been so much information to absorb from role responsibility to agenda reviews to learning the massive Municipal Government Act which I am told is the second biggest legal government document next to insurance. I’ve also found that there is an acronym for everything which has left me in the dark on a number of occasions wondering what it is we’re talking about. To say there is a learning curve is like saying Nolan Ryan had a pretty good fastball. At the outset it feels like grasping all of this is as impossible as staging a Traveling Wilbury’s reunion.

But the good news is that everyone is here for support. Those who have gone through what I’m going through understand that it will take some time to grasp everything and are more than willing to offer their advice. I am going to take them up on it.

There is a very positive vibe I’m feeling. Whether that lasts for four years remains to be seen but it’s very apparent that everyone wants you to succeed. It’s for the good of everyone if we do and I really appreciate that kind of environment because I’ve certainly worked at places where that wasn’t necessarily the case.

I am humbled by the support that voters have given to me and I appreciate the people who have come up to me on the street or super market these past few days to offer their congratulations.

While that good will is wonderful, I don’t take lightly the fact that I was elected by those people and it is important for me to work for them. There is a book I’m currently reading called Cuff’s Guide for Municipal Leaders. It talks about governance and what it requires. Things like a willingness to learn, an understanding of the issues, research, fact checking and a readiness to compromise on issues. Those attributes are definitely doable and I’m ready for the challenge. Now as for those acronyms…I’ve requested a cheat sheet. LOL…

Oh What A Night!


It’s been a journey. I never thought I’d run for a political office. I didn’t think it was in my DNA. But after a great deal of contemplation and encouragement from people I respect I threw my hat into the ring to seek a seat on city council. To get the ball rolling I put out a press release, did a few interviews and made it official when I submitted my name on nomination day. Twenty-eight other people had the same goal in mind. There were eight seats up for grabs. Seven of the eight current councillors announced their intention to run again. Historically incumbents have a leg up on their competition. In my mind to have a realistic chance I’d be looking to fill that 8th spot.

There was a lot of trepidation. To quote my good friend and fellow candidate Dave Mikuliak, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” It’s daunting to realize that there is so much to grasp when it comes to how civic government works. But it’s up to me to learn it. Will I do that in a few weeks? I’m betting that I’m not. But I’m not going to stop figuring it out.

First off was a forum at Galt Gardens during Love & Records put on by CKXU. That was the first of many to come. Forums are a necessary but challenging part of this whole election process. You get a limited amount of time to express your views and sometimes you get some really tough questions that require more than a one minute answer.

One of the best parts of the forums was getting to know all of the other candidates. I can say unequivocally that I liked them all. Each of them brought their own passion and hope for the city. I respect them all. There was very little negative campaigning and I think we all agreed that we don’t know how they do it in the US when candidates go for almost two solid years running for president.

I did the standard campaigning: Signs, brochures, a website. I’m so thankful to get a team of people to help me with all of it

I made the conscious choice to not go door to door unannounced. I know when I’m at home watching a baseball game or Dancing With The Stars I hate getting interrupted by having to answer the door. I thought I would avoid what I think is an awkward situation and I’m not sure it gets you any extra votes.

I was very encouraged by the number of people who told me that they were going to vote for me. Whether that translated into real votes was yet to be determined. I was cautiously optimistic about my chances of sneaking in for that final 8th  seat. Monday night came and I was with a number of family members and supporters at Original Joes on the West Side. When the numbers started to come in and it showed that I was leading everyone I was quite stunned. It’s very humbling. While it’s a great feeling it also adds to the pressure of making sure I don’t let people down. I was asked last night if my reputation for not taking things too seriously will be a detriment to what my job is going to be. As I said to them I’ll never apologize for my sense of humor and will continue to add levity when appropriate but I will absolutely take this position very seriously and make sure I’m making  informed decisions that are best for the city.

My heartfelt thanks to everyone who voted for me. It means the world to me that you’ve put your trust in me and I’ll do my best to not disappoint.

I’m looking forward to working with Mayor Spearman and the rest of the councillors and here’s to an amazing 4 years.

The Wine List-10 Shows

Over the last 10 weeks Craig Baunton from Everything Wine & More has been highlighting a number of wines available at his store. Today I thought I’d let you peruse through all 10 wines we featured just in case you’re looking for “…a bottle of white, a bottle of red…perhaps a bottle of rose instead…”